The sorrowful wake of failed prayers

Sometimes being honest sucks because there’s no way to sincerely comment on something without appearing insensitive.  It sucks less than being dishonest or being silent, but it still sucks.

In this case, I have to honestly comment on this.

The parents and their three children — all age 2 or under, including one buckled in a car seat — held hands on the hallway floor of their neighbor’s mobile home, praying a fast-approaching storm would show them mercy.

The result:

Mother Nature answered with a fierce tornado, which violently swept them up, separated them and deposited them about 100 yards away.

Four of their limp bodies were found soon thereafter. But for two days, hope lived on in the form of 14-month-old Angel Babcock.

That glimmer died at 4:10 p.m. Sunday, shortly after Angel’s extended family made the decision to take her off life support at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky.

I do not celebrate these deaths.  I’m not that callous.  The world is a an unfair place where people sometimes die before their time.

But sympathy should not prevent us from saying the obvious: if ever there was a time for god to answer a prayer, it was here.  It is an unpleasant job to describe these situations, where so many people are saddened, as they truly were.  And the truth is that these people died speaking to themselves.  There was no god to listen.

Their grandfather would go on to say…

“God will bring you and all of us out of this,” he said, speaking to those who offered thoughts and prayers. “That is what it will take.”

But god had the opportunity to prevent it and didn’t.  And yet people still rely on his benevolence after god has emphatically demonstrated that he has none.  We must stop relying on the compassion of a god who has so recently and so repeatedly shown himself to be pitiless.  Even if that god exists, he is unworthy of prayers.  Sadly, it seems there is no act on god’s part so heinous that it could mar his goodness in the eyes of the faithful.

I very much wish this was a realization people could reach without observers like me having to point it out to them.  But it isn’t.  People should assess their problems, plan to the best of their knowledge, and react.  They should realize that if anything is to deliver them from tragedy it is our own actions and reliance on others, not on the invisible hand of god.  Prayer is distinguishable from inaction only in that it’s seen as noble, not sneered at with the same disgust we generally reserve for uselessness.  This difference allows people to do less than they should while still feeling they are fulfilling their desire/obligations to act.  It’s not good.  It’s something we must do away with.

I repeat, I am not attacking the victims.  I am not attacking their family.  I am not standing in triumph shouting “Ha! I told you prayer doesn’t work!”  But the efficacy of prayer is an important subject that must be discussed, even if I regret that the discussion must so frequently come in the sorrowful wake of unanswered prayers.

The simple truth is that human beings can do better than prayer.  We can do better than faith.  We must.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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