‘Thoughts and prayers are not enough’ to address mass shootings

W Scott McGill

Many in Congress have finally gotten the message that “thoughts and prayers are not enough,” as Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Tuesday during a hearing on gun reform.

“And yet ‘thoughts and prayers’ is all we’ve heard from my colleagues on the other side,” Blumenthal added. “Thoughts and prayers must lead to action.”

In the last two weeks, the United States has again witnessed mass shootings, first in Georgia, where the lives of eight individuals were snuffed out, and then in Boulder, Colo., where 10 persons were horrifically killed in a grocery store. The Georgia shooting, where six of the eight victims were Asian-American and seven were women, has brought about a national consciousness about the violent targeting of Asian-Americans in the midst of the pandemic.

As we pointed out last week, the religious motivation of the Georgia shooter must also be taken into account. More on that in a minute.

But at some point the “whys” and “wherefores” become far less important than the hows. Anyone with a grievance, a disturbed mindset, an ax to grind, can get hold of assault weapons in our nation, usually legally. No one is safe — anywhere.

The House passed two benign bills this month to simply expand background checks for purchase of guns. Even in the midst of the recent bloodshed, the Senate majority appears determined to kill bills that would help stop some of the senseless killing.

At least 60 percent of Americans favor stricter gun safety laws, as does 94 percent of FFRF’s membership. But Congress has not passed any meaningful legislation addressing gun violence since 1994. That was a 10-year ban on assault weapons passed as part of a crime bill championed by then-Sen. Joe Biden. Yet it looks like all Congress is currently offering Americans is meaningless “thoughts and prayers.”

On the matter of the religious factor in the Georgia shootings, the role of Christianity’s teachings on “sin” cannot not be ignored. A piece on the evangelical allegiance of the shooter in The New York Times quotes several experts about that role. “So many men boil down how they’re doing spiritually to how often they have looked at porn recently,” notes Professor Samuel Perry, an expert on Christian nationalism. The Times also quotes Brad Onishi, a religious studies scholar: “Purity culture teaches young men to view young women who do not try to maintain modesty as sinister forces.”

The Times article states that the Georgia shooter had been treated for “sex addiction” at HopeQuest, an evangelical treatment center in Acworth, Ga., where the shootings occurred. The shooter and his family attended Crabapple First Baptist Church, in Milton, Ga., part of the Southern Baptist Convention. The associate pastor at that church, Luke Folsom, had preached recently on the “battle” against sin and quoted Matthew 18:9, in which Jesus advises followers to gouge out their eyes if they sin. Folsom sermonized specifically against pornography: “Cut it out by getting rid of your smartphone, getting rid of Internet connection, anything and everything that would allow you to do it. Your soul is at stake.”

The shooter tragically and apparently took that sermon more than literally.

“Sex addiction” is not a recognized psychiatric diagnosis and there is no evidence-based treatment for it. Just as we need reason in psychotherapy, not religious shaming and hysteria, we need to use reason in tackling the real problems our country faces, including mass shootings.

“Thoughts and prayers” just doesn’t cut it in offering a solution to this national scourge.

W. Scott McGill / Shutterstock

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

FFRF privacy statement