Outstreched arm

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

On sad news

The body of James Kim, a senior CNET editor, has been found following a long search which had previously recovered his family alive and reasonably well. James had left their car, stranded in Oregon mountains, to look for help. This was a brave, if ultimately ill-advised and tragic, decision. It's not possible for me to relate in any meaningful way to the feelings of his loved ones, so here's merely hoping that they proceed strongly and that our memory of him is a good and long one.

Having said that I must comment at least briefly on the lamentably predictable response from many, many observers. To quote the above-linked CNET article:

Upon hearing the news, CNET readers immediately began to post their condolences on message boards and via e-mails.

"My family and I will continue to pray for James' family...When I try to put myself in his shoes, I think James did what every parent would do for his family. James, God bless," one reader wrote.

Wrote another: "Please realize that there were so many people praying for his safe return...I'm sorry!"


Let's be honest so as not to make mockery of Mr. Kim's unfortunate death: prayers for his safe return did nothing, since prayers do nothing for those prayed for. Prayers for his family will have the same result.

The limited (and, let's face it, dishonest) ways in which prayer "works" are: it mobilizes people to contemplation and action, and it lets victims know that they have our support. It is unnecessary, fruitless, and mildly contemptible to hide that kind of basic human compassion behind a mask of falsely hopeful and ludicrously ineffective chanting that is Christian prayer.

I understand that it may have consoled the Kims to know that others were praying for them, and it may console them now to know that prayers continue. This, however, is merely a baffling product of our tradition of praying for prayer's sake. We could have consoled them in countless other ways free of the pretentiousness and pointlessness of prayer.

In times of uncertainty and grief, let's express our sympathy honestly. Saying "I pray for you" usually means no more than "I think of you" anyway. Let's leave fictitious divine beings (who, were they to exist, don't seem to care either way) out of it.

There are 2 Comments:

Anonymous magpie-moon said...

you've probably already noticed that the families and friends of the three climbers lost on mt. hood were also counting on prayer to bring their loved ones back, too. fat lot of good that did them.

i have a hard time with the prayer part as well, so rather than feel like a hypocrite, i always paraphrase a line of marilyn monroe's that i've always liked -- i tell people i'll "hold a good thought" for them. it's more honest.

1:11 AM  
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