Another day in America, another mass shooting. A lone gunman shot Rep. Steve Scalise and four other people at a park where Scalise was practicing for a benefit Congressional baseball game.
This is a tragedy. So are the tens of thousands of other gun deaths that happen every year in this country.
But after dramatic shootings like this one, there's a familiar ritual: "thoughts and prayers" are directed to the victims and their families.
I wrote about this in 2015 after the San Bernardino shootings. Here's an excerpt from "Another mass shooting. No more 'thoughts and prayers.' Gun control ACTION!"
Another week, another mass shooting in America. At least 14 dead, another 14 wounded. And what are we going to do it about it?
Mostly offer our "thoughts and prayers" to the victims. And their families And the first responders.
Which, obviously, does precisely zero, nada, zilch to stop the next mass shooting. And it will come soon. Because the next one always does.
Only in America do we have this much gun violence. Why? Because we have way more guns per capita than any other nation. So we have way more gun deaths.
Responsible gun control is the answer.
Thoughts and prayers are useless. They accomplish nothing (if a person directly affected by a shooting is told you are personally thinking of them, then they might feel a little bit better, but this rarely happens).
So, please Americans, stop with the thoughts and prayers.
All these rote expressions of sympathy accomplish is relieve your guilt that you're not doing anything to stop the needless gun violence.
Look, I understand the urge to pray after something horrible happens. I used to be a religious believer. I've done a lot of praying myself.
Now, though, I realize that (1) almost certainly God doesn't exist, so there is nobody to pray to, and (2) even if God somehow does exist, this is the same God who oversees the cosmos where the bad thing that stimulated the praying happened, so the God being prayed to is the God who allowed the horrific act to occur.
So when I see photos like this one of Democratic House members (also part of a baseball team) praying for their Republican colleagues, I think: I don't blame them for praying to their imaginary God, because they don't know any better; but if they think their praying is accomplishing anything, they're dangerously deluded.
Why do I say "dangerously deluded" rather than just "deluded"?
Because these people, being part of Congress, have a special ability to actually do something to prevent future mass shootings. In my 2015 post I laid out part of what I think needs to happens -- stronger gun control laws.
However, I realize that opinions differ about how to deal with the fact that the United States has way more gun deaths than any other advanced country (we also have way more guns). So I'm fine with lawmakers doing something other than what I want them to do.
I just want them to do something.
Unfortunately, it's a good bet that after a few days, or maybe a week, of "thoughts and prayers," this mass shooting will fade out of peoples' memory. Then another one will happen, and the thoughts and prayers will start up again, with no actual action having been taken in the interim.
This is the danger of believing in thoughts and prayers. Religiously-minded people feel that they've done something by thinking and praying, while in reality they have done nothing.
Sure, most Americans believe in prayer. This doesn't mean prayer accomplishes anything. No study has ever demonstrated the efficacy of prayer. Which isn't surprising, given that there is no demonstrable evidence for a God who responds to prayers.
So as an atheist, I look upon displays of prayer in this country much as someone would look upon a "primitive" hunter-gatherer tribe dancing around a fire, singing and chanting appeals to their nature spirits to bring rain. These are supernatural myths that are an integral part of most cultures.
Problem is, insofar as "thought and prayers" draw energy and attention away from viable actions to deal with a problem, these delusions are harmful to a society -- even though they may bring some peace of mind to individuals.
I wrote "Why I don't like 'Our thoughts and prayers are with you'" after the Boston Marathon bombing.
Obviously my blogging power doesn't extend very far, because thoughts and prayers are still as prevalent now as they were in 2013. But at least I don't believe that simply thinking or praying accomplishes anything.
Writing a blog post is taking some concrete action. Here's part of what I said in that post:
I respect the need people have to pray. But that prayer is meaningless unless you get off your knees and do something.
To which I Twitter-replied, "Amen." Later someone else commented on scriptdave's tweet. He told them:
I hear you. People need to reflect, meditate, process tragedy. But prayer being the end all is ludicrous. Do something real.
A double Amen to that.