I don’t believe prayer works.
I don’t believe thinking about people from afar helps those people.
But this isn’t about that. This is about—literally—the term “thoughts and prayers” as issued by politicians after a tragedy. This is why, with very rare exception, it’s nonsense.
If you paid attention to Twitter yesterday, tons of political figures (on the left and right) issued their thoughts and prayers toward the people of San Bernardino. Now, if you’re a fan of thoughtless cliche rhetoric during hard times, this was a fantastic day. But if you recoil, as I do, it was infuriating.
Most big-time politicians do not write their own Tweets. They have handlers, media advisers, oftentimes someone hired to, literally, Tweet. I mean, did you really think Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were sitting on their iPhones, trying to come up with the perfect 140 characters? Um, no. Again, they have people employed to do this task. Sometimes the figures will sign off on every Tweet. Usually, they do not.
So, to review: Somewhere in his New York headquarters, or perhaps on a campaign bus, Donald Trump’s Tweeter Tweets on behalf of the Republican frontrunner. As does Hillary’s Tweeter. As does Marco Rubio’s Tweeter, Bernie Sanders’ Tweeter, Ted Cruz’s Tweeter. They are there to write sensible, presidential-sounding Tweets.
Like, in this case, “Our thoughts and prayers are with …”
But if Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and the others didn’t actually write “our thoughts and prayers are with …”, are their thoughts and prayers really with? I mean, if they didn’t think up the words they’re expressing, are they actually thinking them? Or is it merely the thing you’re supposed to express in times of tragedy? Like, an expected expression that makes no one feel better, but also doesn’t draw attention to your callous refusal to go along with the others and offer your thoughts and prayers?
Perhaps you think this is dumb. Hell, perhaps this is dumb. But language matters, and intent matters. The reason I hate “our thoughts and prayers are with …” isn’t because I hate thought and prayer. Nope, it’s because—when 14 people die—hollow expressions of remorse are both meaningless and inappropriate. They turn a tragedy (the ending of lives—forever) into drab repetitive nothingness. They drain the humanity. Oops, 14 people were shot in California. We need to express our thoughts and prayers. Oops, a TV crew was shot at a train station. We need to express our thoughts and prayers. Oops, a bunch of people were shot at Planned Parenthood. We need to express our thoughts and prayers. Oops, a school was shot up. We need to express our thoughts and prayers. Oops, an Arizona congresswoman was shot. We need to express our thoughts and prayers. On and on it goes.
Over the past 24 hours, I’ve come across many on the far right who view the “thoughts and prayers” debate as liberals attacking religion. Maybe, in some cases, they’re right. But not here. Nope, for my money, devout Christians and Jews and Muslims and others who truly embrace the power of prayer and hope should not be directing their anger toward those questioning the phrasing.
Instead, they should be mad at prayer being turned into a lame political cliche.
Because it’s crap.