First up from the God Machine this week is the introduction of a bizarre new religio-political meme, quickly popularized on the right, called “prayer shaming.”
The conservative Washington Times on Thursday ran a piece with this headline: “Prayer shaming and the media assault on faith after San Bernadino [sic].” Here’s the lede:
The moment the New York Daily News proclaimed “God Isn’t Fixing It” following the San Bernardino shootings, other news organizations raced to belittle Republicans whose first reaction was to pray for the victims rather than launch into a policy speech.
The piece went on to highlight no examples of anyone belittling Republicans – or anyone else who recommended prayer after this week’s mass shooting – but the piece was part of a larger onslaught.
Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul told Fox News, for example, “[F]or people to be snide, snotty and arrogant about the fact that they believe prayer doesn’t impact our lives, I’m offended by it.” The senator added, “I’m shocked by that kind of attitude. I think it’s a big mistake for the president – a big mistake for liberals in general – to mock people of religion and to mock people who believe in prayer,” pointing to no examples of liberals mocking people who believe in prayer.
Conservative media was even more aggressive, with Rush Limbaugh complaining of “deranged liberals” who “attack God and prayer.” A Fox News host, who apparently thinks religious fanatics are also atheists, told viewers, “If you want to line up with terrorists and try to take God away, you’re not on the right side. That’s all I’d have to say to those politicians who want to tell you to stop praying.” (No politicians have told anyone to stop praying.)
Even the Washington Post published a piece complaining about “prayer shaming,” which seemed oddly detached from the basic elements of the national conversation.
The impetus for this entire line of argument were messages from some, including Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who said offering thoughts and prayers after gun violence don’t bring us closer to a solution. What’s needed, the argument goes, is action from policymakers, beyond just well-wishes. I haven’t seen a single public official mocking prayer – if conservatives have found any evidence to bolster their complaints, they kept them well hidden – but I have seen many argue that thoughts and prayers should be the start, not the end, of a constructive conversation about reducing gun violence.
The right, perhaps hoping to derail a policy discussion, has seized this argument to turn religious conservatives into victims of imagined mockery. In reality, however, “prayer shaming” is a convenient mirage that does not exist.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* An amazing church-state story out of Indiana: “Gov. Mike Pence maintained his request Wednesday that the Catholic Church not bring a family of Syrian refugees into Indiana next week… After meeting privately with Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin and his staff, Pence told The Associated Press that he can’t make an exception to his request that no Syrian refugees move to Indiana until he’s satisfied that the vetting process can stop potential terrorists.” It’s not common to see far-right governors try to tell Catholic Church leaders what to do.
* The Washington Post’s Sally Quinn asked Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson if he believes God wants him to be president. “Well, I don’t know what will happen to my campaign for the presidency, but I do know that up until this point it’s been a force greater than myself,” Carson replied. “And no one can really explain what’s happened here. I was talking to a famous pollster within this past week and he said, ‘We were all sitting around talking and, you know, none of us can explain why you’re doing so well.’”
* A striking development in France: “French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says three mosques have been shut down in France since the Paris attacks as part of a crackdown on extremist activities. Cazeneuve told reporters it was the first time mosques are being closed in France ‘on grounds of radicalization.’”
* Pope Francis raises eyebrows in the Central African Republic, where he “rolled into the center of this country’s civil war Monday, crossing the dangerous border between Christian and Muslim neighborhoods.” More surprising still, when Francis “arrived at the city’s Koudoukou central mosque, a group of community leaders and schoolchildren were waiting for him. During a ceremony inside, Francis bowed toward the Muslim holy city of Mecca and sat on a plush white sofa next to the imam.”