UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
iStock.com/Vladimir Cetinski

Prayer as a distraction cheapens its real value

A Christian critique of current affairs

By Michael Coren


Last November, yet another gun-fuelled massacre took place in the United States. More than 20 people were murdered, and as many badly hurt, when a lone killer walked into a Texas church and opened fire on men, women and children. The outpouring of grief was immediate and intense. But was it all genuine?

One thing we heard repeatedly was that people were “praying” for the victims and their families, and that their “thoughts and prayers” were with them. Prayer is vital, of course, and no Christian life is even close to completion without it. But it has to be in addition to effort and not a substitute for it. In other words, to pray rather than act is a betrayal and a misunderstanding of prayer.

After the Texas obscenity, many Republican politicians who are financially and electorally beholden to the National Rifle Association and who repeatedly vote against any form of meaningful gun control announced that they, too, were praying. Praying, that is, for the victims of the very policies they have defended and protected for generations. The hypocrisy is nauseating.

But even at a less acute level, we have too often reduced the concept of prayer to a social nicety, a spasm or a greeting as banal as “hello” or “see you later.” It’s far worse south of the border, but it permeates Canadian society as well. It’s partly a product of the decay of communication due to social media and the demands of 24-hour news for instant emotional reaction. If we don’t know what to say, we announce that we’re praying.

Prayer is opening the doors of our soul, the innermost vulnerabilities of our being, to our Creator. It is speaking and listening to God, making requests that may be answered in any number of ways, sometimes not to our liking. As theologian C.S. Lewis asked, “What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good’? Have they never been to a dentist?”

To reduce all of this to an empty response to difficult and even terrifying situations is to misunderstand prayer and to exploit the holy. In all honesty, while we cannot see into his heart, do we sincerely believe that when U.S. President Donald Trump tells us he is praying, as he often does, that he means it?

Prayer can be difficult; it can seem as if it’s unheard; it can be transforming; it can be profound. But it is never pointless, and it is more about changing us than changing God. If it doesn’t lead to a nobler life and to a greater love for our neighbour, it is flawed prayer, and perhaps not even prayer at all. To pray for an end to hunger while ignoring the hungry, or for an end to war while remaining silent about the arms trade, is not prayer but indifference.

Michael Coren is an author and journalist in Toronto.



Author's photo
Michael Coren is an author and journalist in Toronto.
December 2017

A Christian college’s unchristian posturing

By Michael Coren

A Christian critique of current affairs

November 2017

How strident pro-lifers boost abortion rates

By Michael Coren

A Christian critique of current affairs

October 2017

Christianity and Khadr: What would Jesus do?

By Michael Coren

A Christian critique of current affairs

August 2017

‘Sorry’ is much more than an empty slogan

By Michael Coren

A Christian critique of current affairs

July 2017

Ecumenical squabbling in the heart of Christianity

By Michael Coren

A Christian critique of current affairs

June 2017

When ugly politics masquerades as religion

By Michael Coren

A Christian critique of current affairs

May 2017

Leadership race mired in racism and xenophobia

By Michael Coren

A Christian critique of current affairs

April 2017

Euthanasia is an issue of empathy, not ideology

By Michael Coren

A Christian critique of current affairs

March 2017

Economic justice is a core Christian value

By Michael Coren

A Christian critique of current affairs

February 2017

OMG: What it really means to take God’s name in vain

By Michael Coren

A Christian critique of current affairs

January 2017

Middle East: 5 things we can (maybe) all agree on

By Michael Coren

A Christian critique of current affairs

December 2016

Swimming against the tide

By Michael Coren

A Christian critique of current affairs

Announcement

New Observer editor and CEO, Jocelyn Bell. Photo by Lindsay Palmer

New editor named

by Observer Staff

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations

by Jocelyn Bell

We’ll miss you, David Wilson

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: My Year of Living Spiritually

by Observer Staff

Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.

Promotional Image

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

October 2017

A tale of two cancers

by Catherine Gordon

One year after the writer discovered she had breast cancer, her sister in California received the same diagnosis. They both recovered, but their experiences were worlds apart.

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

November 2017

Grey matter

by Trisha Elliott

Is consciousness just a function of the brain — or something more?

Promotional Image