On Prayer As Disaster Relief
Readers who’ve been hanging tough with me for awhile might have expected I’d want to double dutch into the conversation about Pat Robertson’s vile suggestion that Haiti had it coming.
I really don’t. To my mind Robertson is the Spencer Pratt of the Christian world, a sick soul hip to the public’s appetite for villains, a spotlight addict who knows that the more repellant he is, the more magnetic. Robertson is predictable, he’s odiously numb to the pain of others, and most importantly, he isn’t in the least representative of what’s going on in the evangelical mainstream.
Note that the church of the late Jerry Falwell–a preacher whose ignominy crested in an appearance on Robertson’s very own 700 Club just after 9/11, where Falwell postulated that God had lifted the veil of protection on America because of a culture dominated by “pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians”–note that Falwell’s church, now helmed by son Jonathan, isn’t dreaming up supernatural explanations for human suffering, but urgently dedicating itself to raising money for earthquake relief in Haiti. Jonathan Falwell is on the Tweet beat, and the church’s homepage is set up to shuttle visitors right to a donation hub. So that should give you some starting sense that Robertson is off the reservation, where I hope he stays to go fuck himself.
Closing the curtain on that sideshow, I do want to muse on and solicit thoughts about something more complicated, something that does happen in the religious mainstream after a disaster: prayer for those affected.
If you followed those Falwell links above, you’ll notice that there’s a tremendous effort underway to get people praying for Haiti right now. Issue-specific prayer collectives sprout up whenever disaster strikes, and on a personal scale you always hear religious people reply to news of someone else’s trials by promising to pray for them.
Sometimes I find it moving to hear a believer offer to commit to a ritual they earnestly believe will help someone, even if I believe the ritual amounts to talking to oneself. The intention to help is there.
Nonbelievers don’t have any expression that measures up, powerwise, to “I’ll pray for you.” I’m always struck by how hard it is to find an expression ample enough to hold deep compassion. Yesterday, I talked to a Haitian student whose parents lost their home, and another whose grandmother is missing. What could I do? I could listen, say “I’m very sorry,” I could volunteer help (knowing it would probably be refused), and I could finally, lamely offer the nonbeliever’s shallow-sounding alternative to “I’ll pray for you”–”I’ll be thinking of you.” So I feel pangs of envy that believers have this service they offer.
BUT. It’s always seemed to me that when you say you’re praying for someone you imply 1) that God wasn’t looking when disaster struck them; 2) that now God needs to be persuaded of the merits of their case; and 3) that human teamwork can somehow intensify the powers of his blessings. Which all strikes me as a teensy bit self-aggrandizing and patronizing, all at once.
And one does worry that there will be some believers who see prayer as a functional substitute to financial contribution.
What about you, Internet users? What do you think when people offer to pray on the behalf of others? And nonbelievers, do you have a better expression of compassion than my feeble line above?
God or no God, we can all give, right? Even though my corner of the internet is but a mouse hole, and even though you’ve seen these a billion times already, I’m of the opinion that the following links should be everywhere. We should roll over in bed and see these links on our pillow. These links should be floating in our milk when we finish our cereal. When we open our mouths to speak we should find that we’re only able to communicate in these links. So here are these links, some places the Internet suggests as safe bets to give money to earthquake relief in Haiti:
Yele – Wyclef Jean’s Haiti-specific organization, which is pooling resources with other first responders (You can also make donations in $5 increments by texting YELE to 501501.)
Partners in Health – Boston-based organization providing medical care to poor communities, with 25 years’ experience operating in Haiti. They’re also calling for medical volunteers.
Red Cross - Donate specifically to their operations in Haiti using the link to left, or text HAITI to 90999 to donate in $10 increments.
Charity Watch has posted a comprehensive, ranked list of organizations working on Haiti earthquake relief HERE.