In Defence of Thoughts and Prayers

Yesterday was a day of horrible evil.  There is no other way to genuinely describe it.  A man booked into the Mandalay Hotel in Las Vegas armed with a massive arsenal of weapons, at least some of which appear to be illegal, and mowed down dozens of innocent people at a country music gig.

Faced with such ghastly, unpredictable acts, it is hard to express any sort of response without feeling trite.  There is a feeling, especially if we are men, that we want to fight and protect, but also the realization that the deed is done, and nothing will save those people now, at least not in this life.  My own response was unashamedly a regression to childish helplessness – I needed my Mummy.  That is to say, I needed the Theotokos, my Heavenly Mother and the Mother of God.  It was all I could do but to pray “Holy Mother of God, intercede for us, for Las Vegas, and for all who sorrow in this evil, fallen world!”

My response was, and still is, precisely thoughts and prayers.  Firstly, a regard for my own sinfulness and evil, and the desire for repentance, for metanoia (a change of mind).  Secondly, in my own helplessness before evil, an appeal to one who has successfully triumphed over evil through her Son.

The Left don’t seem to get this, in any way shape or form.  Last night, on television, Jimmy Kimmel echoed the sentiments of many when he said “Your thoughts and prayers are insufficient!”  On a secular level, he may be right.  In a world like that of Stephen Paddock, where the sensual, material and visible world is all there is, where humans are just meat machines instead of divine creatures made in God’s image, where man is the measure of all things and can control things if he just puts his effort into it, thoughts and prayers are useless.  But if that is the true world, then there is no difference between Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Paddock.  One cares about the lives of the meat machines, the other does not.  So what?  It is two flipsides of the same secular philosophy.  If thoughts and prayers do not matter, then neither do those lives.

Fortunately, neither view is true.  Those lives do matter.  And so do thoughts and prayers.  Which is not to say that there are not practical things that can be done in the material world to stop evil things from happening.  But in most cases, you can’t legislate against evil.  Evil doesn’t care whether guns are legal or illegal.  Evil doesn’t care if you have mental health programmes in place to help people.  Evil is bodiless and immaterial, and cannot be stopped by laws, or even “moar gunz”.  And in the case of Stephen Paddock, it seems like he planned this pretty thoroughly.  He was always going to kill a whole bunch of people.  I don’t think the government could have stopped him.

So evil is a spiritual problem.  Which means ultimately evil can only be defeated through, yes, thoughts and prayers.  Our thoughts (repentance) and prayers are our greatest weapons against evil.  It is in the absence of thoughts and prayers that evil comes.  The United States is currently in a state of spiritual crisis, which is why evil such as the Las Vegas massacre can so easily occur.  That is not to say, as those like Jerry Falwell did, that these shootings happen because people themselves sin or are evil, but rather that there is a vacuum of spiritual life and awareness.  Even in Evangelical Protestantism there is now a profound lack of awareness of the image of God in man (that is to say, the incarnation), and an almost Gnostic separation of the material from the spiritual.  We need to return to the incarnation as the basis for our lives, to see God’s image in others, and thus be incapable of hatred.  We need to return to repentance.  We need to return to prayer.

So yes, I enthusiastically, but humbly, offer “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their families in Las Vegas.  And I say to Jimmy Kimmel et. al. that, not only are our thoughts and prayers sufficient, they are the only way we can put a stop to the endless occurrences of senseless massacres.  Thoughts and prayers are more than sufficient.  They are essential.

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