Do-somethingism vs. the status quo
by Janie B. Cheaney
Posted on Monday, December 7, 2015, at 2:52 pm
Let me confess something: I’m a little fed up with the thoughts-and-prayers meme, too. Not that there’s anything wrong with extending comfort to the bereaved in this form, but when a majority of politicians use this formula (including President Obama, even though he expressed his frustration with the words back in October), it becomes clichéd at best—meaningless at worst.
“Thoughts” represent what, exactly? A non-religious moment of remembrance in the middle of a busy day, or a sending of “positive energy,” the equivalence to “May the Force be with you”? If the speaker is praying for the bereaved, why not say so? “My wife and I are praying for a Philippians 4 peace on these suffering families” breaks the formula and offers more specifics—and may even encourage a few skeptics to look up Philippians 4.
The New York Daily News headline that took issue with “thoughts and prayers” after the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., and boldly proclaimed “God Isn’t Fixing This” has been seen as anti-Christian. It’s probably only sub-Christian. If there’s a God, the headline suggests, He either isn’t interested or He’s expecting us to work this out for ourselves.
But looked at from another angle, the Daily News headline actually expresses a faith more naïve than the one it mocks. It’s the faith of “Do-somethingism,” based on the mechanistic view that life is more a problem than a story, and our greatest need is a tool belt, not an interpretation. The nearest tool at hand in a democracy is law, and if we only had the right laws we could “fix this”—whatever “this” is. Given the benevolent spirits of Approved Speech and Right Action, omnipotent Government can fix what God can’t, or won’t, if only the demons of Pious Platitude and Do-nothingism will get out of the way.
For conservatives, the major purpose of the law is restraining men. (And that, incidentally, is the basic philosophy behind gun rights: rough-and-ready restraint of the lawless.) For progressives, law is the means of re-shaping men. That explains their impatience and frustration when nothing seems to be happening: We’ve got the answer, people, so why can’t you get with the program? They’re fine with God, so long as He doesn’t express any disapproval of what they want to do. For that matter, they’re fine with prayer, as long as it doesn’t shove itself in the slot reserved for action.
The law doesn’t shape people; God does. That’s where prayer comes in, and where I go back to my original statement. Conservatives can become a bit flippant or programmed with our memes. We don’t have to say we’re offering prayers, especially if prayer has become a cliché. We just need to do it.