Recently my father in-law was having medical problems and it had become a big chunk of news on Facebook. During this time you had two basic groups of people who were responding. The first were people who were giving medical advice and a bit of well wishing. The second were saying they were praying for him.
I couldn’t figure out why but the second group of people really bothered me. There was something that felt really arrogant about it. On the drive back (where apparently most conversation goes on for me these days) I came to the conclusion that it’s the nature of the two acts. Both well wishing and praying are considered acts of good will, the people saying them are not doing them out of malice.
My problem is not that they are tied to religion but the subtle difference between passive gestures and active empty gestures. A passive gesture is one where you accept that the situation is out of your control but that you really wish it wasn’t and hope it gets better. Alternatively you could do all that and hope it gets worse, but the notion of it is that you are powerless and both you and your target acknowledge it.
An active empty gesture is where you state that you are doing something that will have an impact on the situation but that thing you are doing doesn’t involve any actual investment on your part. People pray for victims of tsunamis, parents who lost a child, or people stricken ill. If the situation gets worse they will either keep praying or they’ll just move onto the next topic. If the situation gets better they will actively take credit for it. Perhaps not outwardly but internally they will feel a sense of accomplishment for literally doing nothing.
It’s really smug and obnoxious to me, because its basically saying that it’s the smallest possible gesture a person can perform while not actually doing anything. Its in some ways an act of selfishness, a person doing nothing and getting gratification for that nothing.
On the more philosophical end of it there come the questions of the implications. If you are praying to god for some natural disaster to change that suggests that you are arguing with god’s will. In most popular western faiths you are not supposed to use prayer for any sort of requests (it is supposed to simply be a reaffirmation of your connection with your creator). Then if a problem is only getting worse each time you pray are you accepting guilt for worsening it?
Again I recognize that the people doing it think they are being nice. But this is my honest problem with it. I can’t really look at it without seeing an act, perhaps ignorantly, of selfishness. There is much more compassion to be found in the mutual understanding that sometimes things are out of our control and we only have hope to fall back on. There isn’t always an escape.
“I got all weepy inside.”
This post ends a little dark doesn’t it…but for the record the source of this story is likely to end quite happily. Due in no small part to the tireless effort of my father in-law, my mother in-law, doctors, and a considerable range of devices that themselves exist because of the tireless efforts of countless people both living and dead. A bunch of people who actually did (and are doing) something.