This morning, I said on Facebook:
“I went to bed knowing about the attack in Las Vegas, but not knowing how bad it was. I went to bed with thoughts and prayers. I woke up and it’s at least 50 dead and over 400 hurt. Maybe thoughts and prayers aren’t enough.”
The first response came quickly: “Or, maybe thoughts and prayers kept the toll from being higher.”
I get that. I don’t write this to criticize the person who left that comment (and please, nobody else should give him a hard time, either). I understand that sentiment, and to some extent I share it, which is why I still pray at all.
In a situation like what happened in Vegas, for many people “thoughts and prayers” is all they can offer. When you’re far away, you can donate blood if you’re allowed, you can donate money if you’ve got it, you can call or write to your people in Congress…but then you’re usually stuck with nothing. You have to go back to your life. One hopes those affected will understand the sentiment of “thoughts and prayers” and feel they aren’t alone. One may also hope that maybe, through faith and divine intervention or whatever, those thoughts and prayers will have some actual positive effect on the outcome.
The problem is we hear “thoughts and prayers” from people who can do more. Much more. We hear this from legislators and people in high office and leaders in business and more. But thoughts and prayers and pithy, hollow comments are all they offer.
It’s fine to hope your thoughts or prayers matter. It is absolutely irresponsible to ACT—or choose not to act—on the presumption that thoughts and prayers will do any good. You can hope it will do some good. If you EXPECT it will do any good, you’re not helping anyone.
We might also consider that it might not be about thoughts or prayers at all. If God is waiting on us to hit some extra stretch goal to turn this around, we aren’t his children. We’re hostages. So maybe, assuming God isn’t just a colossal jerk in the sky, it’s not about that?
This is something I think about a lot. I write books with guardian angels as characters. I started out just wanting to write happy, fun stories about lonely people finding love and constantly having explicit smutty sex, but I wanted the characters to feel like real people. Given that one of those characters is a guardian angel, I had to work out her whole deal. My smutty-fun books got real existential real fast. After three books and assorted other stories over seven years of working at this, I have to tell you something:
Once you posit that guardian angels are real, nothing makes any god damn sense anymore.
Why do bad things happen to good people? What about the reverse? Do awful, evil people still have guardian angels, and if so, for fuck’s sake why? If guardian angels are real, why do we have child molesters and rapists and racism and people still in slavery? What the hell are all those angels even doing?
Or can they do anything?
For my books, I decided the angels are already doing all they can. They have limits, including practical limits. This runs contrary to the concept of an all-powerful God (who presumably could skip all the angel stuff if He so chose). I’ve dodged on that by showing the angels don’t have all the answers, either, but the contradiction is there and I recognize it. I also decided that free will is an all-important concept for those angels. To serve the higher purposes of faith and the universe and whatever, the angels have to value and respect free will…including the free will to do horrible, abominable things.
The primary angel of my books, Rachel, is a foul-mouthed, spazztic hot mess. A lot of readers have probably wondered why. They’re waiting for an explanation. I would ask them to go look at the news or the world outside, and then I would ask, “Wouldn’t you be a mess, too?”
The thing is, I don’t feel like this is a perfect fix. It doesn’t put to rest all my questions of faith, or of why the world is such a garbage fire. I don’t think any fictional depiction ever could, let alone one I might dream up myself.
I’m not remotely the first person to tackle this. If you’re a person of faith in an all-powerful God, you get to tackle this sooner or later. It has a name. Philosophy calls this The Problem of Evil.
You may be an atheist, or follow a religion without angels or divine intervention, and that’s fine. I have no problem with either and I’m not here to argue it. But the overlap on people who go for “thoughts and prayers” and the people who believe in angels is pretty strong.
Statistics on gun violence aren’t far out of reach. Unlike angels, they are verifiably real and not a matter of faith. Those bodies in the morgue or fighting for life in the hospital aren’t a matter of fiction. The fact that even a majority of gun owners want rational measures like background checks is not a myth; that’s verifiably true. And the powers of Congress aren’t all make-believe.
We could do something about all this. We’ll never get rid of all the violence or all the guns. Everyone understands that. There are no perfect solutions. I’m sick to death of seeing “Your proposal wouldn’t stop this particular mass shooting, so what’s the point?” The point is curbing some of the violence. Any of it. The point is making it harder to kill people in droves. The point is that we need to actually try and not just mumble some bullshit about thoughts and prayers.
The point is that we have to actually try. We. Us imperfect mortals. Right now we aren’t even trying. We’re just thinking and praying and hoping.
Angels may be a complete myth. Total fiction. If so, we need to step up to this problem. And if they aren’t a myth, if they’re real, then it’s damn clear that they’re doing all they can already. We need to step up and work at this ourselves.