let them “pray for Orlando” in peace

Dearest citizens of the Internet:

Your number contains many of the kindest, most caring, most charitable people I know. On one occasion, an acquaintance from the Internet was bodily shoved through a plate-glass window by a stranger at his place of work; he was badly lacerated. From the hospital, he merely observed that this stranger must have been having a really, really bad day. Some of you guys are literally too nice. As such, you break my heart when you start hurting each other instead.

A bunch of people have been shot in Orlando. One, maybe two, of the people I that know have posted about this on the Internet: “Pray for Orlando.” Many of the people I do not know have said that, too. Some of the people that I know — more of them — have posted, “Don’t pray for Orlando.” They have said, instead, one should “actually DO something about gun violence or fighting radicalism.”

You misunderstand, and in your misunderstanding, you hurt people, making enemies that you do not need — and in doing so, you hurt yourself. This is a time for the nation to come together, but instead you are pushing it apart.

It’s reasonable that you misunderstand, because you guys are not Christian and you do not hang around with Christians being ostentatiously Christian. You want more than prayer because you think that prayer is a call to ask God to fix something, and after the prayer the person praying goes off to forget about that something. Or you think that prayer distracts people from action, and that as such it is the opposite of what you want. But to a typical Christian, that’s not how it works. I do try to be careful talking about Christians in general — there’s enough variety of denominations out there that very little is true of all of them, and I certainly don’t speak for them — but in this matter I think it’s basic enough and common enough. To a Christian, prayer is more than a metaphorical one-way UDP packet aimed at God saying “fix things”. Even from the atheist, materialistic perspective that holds that religion is all a delusion in your head, this is so.

When a Christian spends time to pray for Orlando by himself, several things may happen. His mind considers the matter of the shooting, as he considers Christ and the ideals of his faith. The Christian ideal is that “if today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts” — if you are moved to action, overcome inertia and take action. The Christian ideal is that you comfort and care for the afflicted, even if it would otherwise be normal to consider them as enemies from an enemy tribe, like the Samaritans or the gay community. (For that matter, the Christian ideal is to treat sinners with respect and dignity — Christ was notorious for dining with thugs and prostitutes — wish that bit was better remembered.) In summary, the call to “pray for Orlando” is a call to lay a mental foundation for action in response to the tragedy, the strongest foundation that the Christian knows how to prepare.

Moreover, most Christians benefit from a community in their local church. This community prays together. If the community is praying together about Orlando, they are also considering what they can do as a community about Orlando. They are considering what their values are, and how to put those values into practice, how to put their faith into action to make a difference in the world.

The call to prayer itself contains the call to action inside it, implicit, and the sort of person who actually heeds the call to prayer will know this.

I mentioned that I had one friend who had posted about praying for Orlando. She continued in a separate post on Facebook:

How many more acts of gun violence on innocent victims before we can have reform? Why is America still so resistant to change? Who wants their kids to grow up in such a terrifying world?

If the American right wing is going to seriously change its mind and start supporting gun control, it will be through the influence of prayer at its religious constituents’ churches.

In light of all this, then, consider for yourself how you should treat these strange people from another culture — maybe even an enemy culture — who would nevertheless pay their respects to the dead in Orlando as best they know how: prayer. Approach the situation with an open mind. Consider it from the pragmatic perspective, whether it is a productive way to achieve your ends, if gun control is among your ends.

Beyond that, too, while many of you will certainly remain enemies with (or at least estranged from) the Christians or the American right, consider also in the here and now what sort of response to them is the best way to honor the dead of Orlando: waging a culture war near a funeral is something terrible people do to people they hate.

Now I’m going to go off and cry few tears about the totally awesome citizens of the Internet who have already blocked me over this little matter.