By Annie Laurie Gaylor
For many years, it was only FFRF and the U.S. community of nonbelievers who routinely spoke out against the pious kneejerk platitude of “thoughts and prayers” — and only “thoughts and prayers” — invariably accompanying every mass shooting in the United States.
But I’d like to issue a secular “hallelujah” because the tide has turned in the last year or so, with journalists, families of victims and survivors increasingly calling out this self-righteous and premeditated excuse for taking no action. As New York Times columnist Timothy Egan put it: “Stuff the thoughts, hold the prayers, and do something.”
Seventeen lives were senselessly snuffed out by a young assault-weapon-wielding misfit at the high school in Parkland, Fla., including 14 students whose bright, hopeful and far-too-long faces are haunting. This is the seventh shooting rampage on school grounds so far this year. Anguish and sorrow may be our first national reaction.
But a growing chorus of Americans of no religion and various religions is also expressing disgust over the do-nothing “thoughts and prayers” response by the very public officials in the best position to enact real gun reform and spare future lives from gun violence.
Survivors, victims’ families and the public at large are increasingly echoing the long-expressed views of freethinkers, atheists and agnostics, ridiculing prayer and demanding meaningful reform and action. Time magazine reports: “Adults offered ‘thoughts and prayers’ after the Florida school shooting. But students who survived want action.”
Vogue ran a reaction story headlined: “The students who survived the Parkland, Florida, shooting aren’t interested in ‘thoughts and prayers.’ ”
One of those Americans rebelling against the ubiquitous #thoughtsandprayers is Fern Malila of Michigan, a constituent of U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Mich. “Dear Rep. Bergman,” she wrote, “since you and your colleagues in Congress seem to feel that this is the solution to mass murder, please accept this contribution.” She then posted on her Facebook page the “check” with a “campaign contribution,” the check amount filled in “Thoughts and Prayers.” Others are following suit. I hope this tactic goes viral.
Actor Mark Ruffalo tweeted: “Prayers without accordant action are silent lies to oneself, heard by no God, amounting to nothing. Action is the language of truth, the prayers of Saints.”
Another famous nonreligious American, author Stephen King, had this tweet: “Broward school shooting — There will be prayers from Blabbermouth Don, Pence the Grinch, and their rightwing cohorts. There will be no call for any sort of sane gun regs.”
I don’t know Kim Kardashian’s views on religion overall, but she gets that “nothing fails like prayer” on the gun violence crisis: “We owe it to our children and our teachers to keep them safe while at school. Prayers won’t do this: action will. Congress, please do your job and protect Americans from senseless gun violence.
The Guardian reports other subversive reactions: “Bess Kalb, a writer for the late-night television show ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live!’ tweeted the amount of contributions they received from the National Rifle Association (NRA).” The Guardian reports that the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics estimates that during the 2016 election, the NRA and its affiliates spent a record $54 million to secure Republican control of the White House and Congress, including at least $30.3 million to help elect Donald Trump.
Right on cue after the Florida carnage, Trump tweeted: “My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting.”
One of the most despicable responses to the school shooting came from House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has received nearly $50,000 in direct campaign contributions but far more in indirect boosts from the NRA, who told a local radio show:
“I think we need to pray, and our hearts go out to these victims. And I think, as public-policy makers, we don’t just knee jerk before we even have all the facts and the data.” Times Columnist Egan, by the way, called this “platitudinous mush.”
Then there’s Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whose tweet ironically seemingly confirms FFRF’s motto that “Nothing fails like prayer”: “Just spoke to Broward School Superintendent. Today is that day you pray never comes.”
Florida Sen. Rob Portman, whom the NRA has spent two-thirds of a million on, tweeted this: “Heartbreaking news out of Florida. Jane and I send our prayers to the school, the community and the victims of this tragedy.”
It’s tragic that it has taken inaction over continuing mass shooting atrocities to wake up the nation to the emptiness of political prayer platitudes.
Annie Laurie Gaylor is co-president of FFRF. This column reflects the views of the author, not FFRF.