Faith-based fatalism is cruel…. (More)

“Deliver us from evil”

That’s the core text of Lutheran pastor Hans Fiene’s argument that God answered the prayers of the victims of Sunday’s Texas church massacre … by letting them die:

When we pray these words, we are certainly praying that God would deliver us from evil temporally – that is, in this earthly life. Through these words, we are asking God to send his holy angels to guard us from those who would seek to destroy us with knives and bombs and bullets. It may seem, on the surface, that God was refusing to give such protection to his Texan children. But we are also praying that God would deliver us from evil eternally. Through these same words, we are asking God to deliver us out of this evil world and into his heavenly glory, where no violence, persecution, cruelty, or hatred will ever afflict us again.
So when a madman with a rifle sought to persecute the faithful at First Baptist Church on Sunday morning, he failed. Just like those who put Christ to death, and just like those who have brought violence to believers in every generation, this man only succeeded in being the means through which God delivered his children from this evil world into an eternity of righteousness and peace.

You can read the rest of his argument if you want, but that’s the gist. Those 26 dead people are in heaven now, so God did answer their prayers for deliverance.

I won’t give that analysis an “amen.” Instead, I’ll give it an “ahem.”

“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”

After every new round of mass carnage, conservatives and GOP leaders toss out “thoughts and prayers,” as if that is their sole duty to the victims. Progressives rightly dismiss the “thoughts and prayers” as the empty phrase it is. But after this shooting – in a church – many of us had a more direct answer: “Why didn’t ‘thoughts and prayers’ work in that church?”

Fiene’s reply is that the ‘thoughts and prayers’ did work, because the dead are now at peace in heaven.

Maybe so, but their surviving families and friends are still alive. So are many of the survivors and loved ones from previous massacres. For many of them, each new mass shooting rips open old wounds and revives the trauma.

Also alive, for now, are the victims, survivors, families, and friends of the next mass shooting – and the one after that, and the one after that….

Mere “thoughts and prayers” will do nothing to comfort grieving families and friends who hope their loved ones were not vain sacrifices to the Second Amendment. Mere “thoughts and prayers” will do nothing prevent those future tragedies.

More than merely mouthing (or tweeting) “thoughts and prayers,” we owe it to them – and each other – to work to create a safer society, with fewer mass shootings and other gun deaths.

Indeed just saying (or tweeting) “thoughts and prayers” – with not even an attempt to reduce gun violence – is precisely the sort of foolish risk-taking that Jesus rejected in chapter 4 of the Gospel of Matthew:

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness or forty days, being tempted by the devil. […] And [the devil] led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; for it is written, ‘He will command His angles concerning you to guard you,’ and, ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”

And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

By merely saying (or tweeting) “thoughts and prayers” – with not even an attempt to reduce gun violence – we become the devil telling Jesus to leap off the temple and trust God to save him.

And by claiming that God did save them – by letting them die and go to heaven – Fiene asks us to become even worse. He invites us to be cruelly oblivious to preventable suffering in this life, on the theory that God will fix it in the afterlife.

“My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?”

Fiene also blithely ignores one of the most anguished texts in the Bible, Jesus’ plea from the cross:

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?”

I suspect many of the victims, survivors, family, and friends in Texas experienced a similar sense of abandonment. Saying they weren’t truly abandoned – that their deaths were part of God’s plan, just as was Jesus’ death – offers no comfort at all. Grief does not yield to fatalistic platitudes.

Worse, fatalism is moral quicksand. Taken to its logical conclusion, every death is part of God’s plan, so a murderer is simply an instrument of God’s will and who are we to question God’s will by judging the instrument?

So we should repeal laws against murder. While we’re at it, we should repeal health and safety regulations. We should shut down every hospital, doctors’ office, and pharmacy. Indeed why bother to grow and distribute food, or build homes to shelter from the elements?

If we’re all going to die when God wills it – and nothing we do will change that – then why waste time that we could better spend in blissful contemplation of our ultimate salvation?

Why not just sit around offering … “thoughts and prayers?”


Photo Credit: Rick Techlin (LightFromLight)


Good day and good nuts