Responding to the Response

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

By Eric Jayne

Photo of Eric leaning on a table in a listening pose.

Back in April, on Good Friday, a tornado ripped through St. Louis, Missouri. There was some property damage but not one single person was killed or badly injured. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon credited divine intervention for this fortunate circumstance. Sadly, Nixon’s omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent god failed to intervene five days later when tornadoes shredded through Alabama killing over 200 people. God also didn’t bother offering life-saving miracles in Japan the month before when over 20,000 people succumbed to a massively fatal tsunami. Nixon understandably didn’t bother invoking divine intervention when a tornado killed over 150 Missourians in Joplin one month after the St. Louis tornado. Victims included children like 10-year-old Shante Caton and her 6-year-old brother Trentan. Public mourning and national relief aid seemed to be the appropriate response, but Gov. Rick Perry of Texas offered a different kind of response. Perry invited other state governors, including Nixon, and the rest of the nation to Houston’s Reliant Stadium next month to pray and “call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles.”

The prayer and fasting event is titled The Response and is sponsored by the American Family Association (AFA). According to their philosophical statement, the AFA believes “that a culture based on biblical truth best serves the well-being of our nation and our families.” Part of their mission is to “restrain evil by exposing the works of darkness” and “convince individuals of sin and challenge them to seek Christ’s grace and forgiveness.” If that wasn’t disturbing enough, one of the Directors of AFA, Bryan Fischer, recently said “Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews.”

To be sure, Fischer isn’t the only anti-rational pious hack sponsoring the event. There’s a whole bunch of them: Cindy Jacob, who insisted the recent unexplained deaths of blackbirds in Arkansas was a result of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. There’s Doug Stringer, a pastor in Houston, who suggested the 9/11 terror attacks were the result of increasing secularism in the U.S. And among the many other rationally challenged supporters is Mike Bickle, Director of the International House of Prayer (IHOP). Not to be confused with pancake diners, the International House of Prayer is an extreme fundamentalist organization based in Kansas City, Missouri that proclaims “when unbelievers die, they are consigned to hell, there to await the Day of Judgment when they shall be punished in the lake of fire with eternal, conscious, and tormented separation from the presence of God.”

According to The Response’s website, “only God had the power to solve both the internal moral decline and the external economic and military threats.” Therefore, as the argument goes, praying to God is the only way to address our nation’s debt, natural disasters (tornados, wildfires, drought, flood, etc.), and terrorist attacks. Of course this kind of reasoning makes one wonder why Response supporters would bother voting for policy makers in the first place if they believe prayer is the only way to solve problems.

Sponsors cite the second chapter of the book of Joel to better explain their cause.  It is there that a prophet calls on the Zion nation to gather in one concentrated group to weep, fast, mourn, and pray so that God will hear their plea for replenished crops that were destroyed by an overwhelming army of locusts. According to the New International Version, God became “jealous for his land and took pity on his people” after the group prayer (Joel 2:18). He said “I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil, enough to satisfy you fully; never again will I make you an object of scorn to the nations” (Joel 2:19)

Not only was God apparently responsible for sending the destructive army of locusts, but the chapter concludes the same way it opens: apocalyptic and pernicious. God promises to eventually destroy the world and punish nonbelievers by first turning the sun dark “and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (2:31). It seems then, that Gov. Perry and his delusional coterie of Response sponsors are suggesting that the United States is hopelessly at the mercy of a power-hungry, jealous, maniacal, psychopath whose thirst for human suffering is quenched only by a centralized large group of groveling followers.

Whether our lawmakers are crediting God for fortunate circumstances or fearfully prostrating to him for relief we must not tolerate their wasteful and misguided responses for worldly struggles in our shared corporeal world. When our elected representatives say they will be praying, or encourage us to pray, to address societal struggles we should respond by sending them an email that reminds them that they—not God—were elected to address our collective challenges. As the secular proverb goes: Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer.

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