When Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough

Prayer Beads

March 2018 saw the sad death of the hugely respected physicist, cosmologist and author, Stephen Hawking. Hawking, a life-long atheist, suffered from Motor Neurone disease; a condition which attacks the brain and nerves, often rendering the sufferer unable to walk, speak or function normally. It wasn’t, however, his condition that caused Stephen’s lack of faith, but his science. As a physicist, Stephen Hawking dealt in hard fact and logical reason.

“Disasters such as floods or diseases must have seemed to happen without warning or apparent reason. Primitive people attributed such natural phenomena, to a pantheon of gods and goddesses, who behaved in a capricious and whimsical way. There was no way to predict what they would do, and the only hope was to win favour by gifts or actions.”

Passing the buck

The themes of hard fact and logical reason have been emotive ones for many of us over recent months. After a number of devastating terror attacks, school shootings and natural disasters such as Hurricane Irma, a backlash has begun against weak leaders and politicians offering ‘thoughts and prayers’ to the victims and their families instead of decisive action.

A common misconception of atheism and those who practice it is that, without religious guidance, people will run amok without any regard to their fellow man. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it goes without saying that the majority of the terror attacks mentioned were fueled by religion, as has been the case with wars for as long as religion has existed.

Cold comfort

In a week which has seen the UK mark one year since a terrorist attack killed five people on Westminster Bridge and injured dozens of others, this passive approach is felt more than ever. At the time of writing, #thoughtsandprayers have failed to bring back Andreea Cristea who was killed in the attack, or to even bring the powers that be closer to finding the brains behind the cowardly attack on innocent people.

We’ve always known that, for many, religion is simply a security blanket - a way of comforting themselves after losing a loved one or suffering a serious illness and, to this end, religion is, essentially, harmless. However, when religion is used in the manner of ‘thoughts and prayers’ as a way of insinuating that devastating events such as Westminster Bridge are due to the will of God and not the apathy and ineffectiveness of Government departments, it becomes insulting and dangerous.

God works in mysterious ways

...As do Government departments and world leaders. After the London attack, Theresa May stated that ‘Enough is enough’ but very little has changed in the 12 months since that attack which was carried out in the name of religion. At the time, Mrs May said, “It is an ideology that is a perversion of Islam and a perversion of the truth,” she said. “Defeating this ideology is one of the great challenges of our time. But it cannot be defeated through military intervention alone.” Whether she was alluding to a need for re-education or an examination of that religion remains unclear but, one year on, the Prime Minister did, of course, join in with offering her thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims.

A shot in the dark

Similarly, after a school shooting which killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida, President Donald Trump tweeted, “My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting.” Although his condolences may have been welcomed, many parents who would soon be burying their children would no doubt have preferred something a little more tangible. Connecticut Senator, Chris Murphy, wrote, "It is positively infuriating that my colleagues in Congress are so afraid of the gun industry that they pretend there aren't public policy responses to this epidemic. There are, and the thoughts and prayers of politicians are cruelly hollow if they are paired with continued legislative indifference."

We live in a world where increased technology and a greater understanding of science allows us to make great leaps in medicine, intel and space exploration. A fitting tribute to Professor Hawking would be to use this to create hopes and dreams rather than thoughts and prayers.

Written by Nicci Rae

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