House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Thursday blasted critics who say prayer isn't an adequate response to mass shootings and defended his rifle-loving party's do-nothing approach to gun violence. "The attitude in some quarters these days is, 'Don't just pray; do something about it,"' Ryan said at the annual National Prayer Breakfast. "The thing is, when you are praying, you are doing something about it. You are revealing the presence of God."
First up from the God Machine this week is a reaction from a leading Republican lawmaker to the "thoughts and prayers are not enough" argument in response to mass shootings.
President Obama has been a leading proponent of the idea that well wishes in the response to gun violence are welcome, but are ultimately inadequate. After one mass shooting last fall, the president argued, "[T]houghts and prayers are not enough.... It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America, next week or a couple of months from now."
Two months later, after even deadlier mass shooting, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) took the sentiment a little further. "Your 'thoughts' should be about steps to take to stop this carnage," the senator said. "Your 'prayers' should be for forgiveness if you do nothing -- again."
This week, Congress' leading Republican offered his response to the argument. The New York Daily News reported:
As part of the same set of remarks, but outside of the context of gun violence, the Wisconsin congressman added, "It says a lot about our country that people of both parties -- and all faiths -- will drop everything and pray for their fellow Americans. What it says is, we believe in the dignity of the individual. And that is why prayer should always come first."
As for mass shootings, the GOP leader did not elaborate on what should always come second.
President Obama, as he does every year, delivered his own remarks at the event, including an interesting and compelling exploration of "fear" on a theological level.
"For me, and I know for so many of you, faith is the great cure for fear," he said. "Jesus is a good cure for fear. God gives believers the power, the love, the sound mind required to conquer any fear. And what more important moment for that faith than right now? What better time than these changing, tumultuous times to have Jesus standing beside us, steadying our minds, cleansing our hearts, pointing us towards what matters.... And so like every President, like every leader, like every person, I've known fear. But my faith tells me that I need not fear death; that the acceptance of Christ promises everlasting life and the washing away of sins."
Also from the God Machine this week:
* In a bit of a surprise, Bernie Sanders said at an event this week he has "very strong" feelings. Asked about his faith at a televised forum, the senator replied, "It's a guiding principle in my life, absolutely, it is. Everybody practices religion in a different way. To me, I would not be here tonight, I would not be running for president of the United States, if I did not have very strong religious and spiritual feelings."
* This ought to be interesting: "Pope Francis and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church will meet in Cuba next week in what could be a historic step towards healing the 1,000-year-old rift between the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity. The Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate announced on Friday that Francis will stop in Cuba on Feb. 12 his way to Mexico to hold talks with Patriarch Kirill, the first in history between a Roman Catholic pope and a Russian Orthodox patriarch."
* And following up on a story out of Arizona that I mentioned last week: "The Phoenix City Council voted [Wednesday] to replace its invocation practice with a moment of silence -- but members didn't exactly do it for noble reasons.... The 5-4 vote appears to have been a response to a request from the Satanic Temple. A local representative of that group had applied to deliver an invocation at one of the council's public meetings. That didn't go over well with some councilors and with certain members of the public. At a heated public meeting, several citizens opposed the Satanic Temple's presence, and some cited the Bible to justify their position."