Saturday, December 5, 2015

The First Amendment Needs Your Prayers

This commentary from Peggy Noonan Is a worthwhile read:

What gets you about what happened in San Bernardino is the shattering sameness of it. Once and not so long ago such atrocities, whatever their cause, whether the work of schizophrenics or jihadists, constituted a signal and exceptional moment. Now they’re more like this week’s shooting. We are not becoming blasé but increasingly inured. And, of course, armed up. 
You can see a coarsening in how we respond and react on social media. No one feels ashamed to exploit the tragedy for political purposes even while it is happening.
We are all free to say what we think, and must be, for without this freedom we will no longer be America. More on that below. But you always hope what is said will be constructive, helpful, maybe even at some point heartening. You have a responsibility as an adult to do your best in this area.

But as soon as the story broke Wednesday afternoon, and while it was still going on, there were accusations and bitter words flung all over the Internet. The weirdest argument came almost immediately. A person named Chris Murphy, who is a U.S. senator representing Connecticut, sent out what struck me as the most manipulative message of recent political history.

The background is that Republican presidential contestants responded online to the shootings with the only helpful thing you can say—or do, frankly, from faraway—when a story like this occurs. “Praying for the victims, their families & the San Bernardino first responders,” said Jeb Bush. Mike Huckabee said he was “praying.” John Kasich: “My thoughts & prayers go out to those impacted.”

This managed to enrage the progressive left. You can take your prayers and stuff ’em. The answer and the only answer to this tragedy is gun control, and if you’re not for it you’re not allowed to be part of the conversation. “Please shut up and slink away,” tweeted a reporter. Another: “Your thoughts and prayers don’t mean a damn thing.” A reporter at the Huffington Post damned public officials’ “useless thoughts and prayers.” Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos: “How many dead people did those thoughts and prayers bring back to the life?”

Mollie Hemingway of the Federalist noted that all these denunciations were literally coming in while victims of the shooting were sending out requests for prayer.
Journalists, bloggers, contrarians and citizens jumped into the fray. Then the U.S. senator, Chris Murphy, came forward rather menacingly. “Your ‘thoughts’ should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your ‘prayers’ should be for forgiveness if you do nothing—again.”
Wow. You might think he was aiming this at President Obama, who when he was a popular president with an overwhelmingly Democratic House and Senate did not prioritize gun control. But it was clearly aimed at all those Republicans and religious people who were praying, saying they were praying, and implicitly asking you to pray, rather than doing what they should do, which is supporting the senator’s cause. 

All this immediately won a name: “prayer shaming.”

Here’s an odd thing. If you really are for some new gun-control measure, if you are serious about it, you just might wait a while, until the blood has cooled, for instance, and then try to win people over to see it your way. You might offer information, argument, points of persuasion. Successful politics involves pulling people together. You don’t use a tragedy to shame and silence those who don’t see it your way; that only hardens sides. Which has left me wondering if gun-control proponents are even serious about it. Maybe they’re just using their wedge issue at a moment of high stress to hammer people on the other side of the ideological and philosophical divide.

As long as they do this, they’ll lose. Which they must be bright enough to know. Which again suggests either cynicism or, perhaps, an assumption that they are so inarguably right that they’re above debate. They certainly point their fingers from a great height. A number of tweets and posts had an air of, “You better be asking your make-believe friend in heaven for mercy.”

I suspect part of the problem is that a number of the progressive finger-pointers do not really know what a prayer is. Maybe no one ever told them. But prayer is a very active endeavor—it takes time, energy, concentration. You have to stop everything and ask God to hear you. Father Gerald Murray defined it for me this way: “Prayer is the movement of our mind, heart and soul in which we confess our belief in God and his goodness. We ask him to manifest that goodness in answer to our petitions.”

In the case of San Bernardino those petitions were for help, consolation and safety for those in danger or mourning.
It is hard to pray, much harder than it is to punch out a series of tweets. What actually isirritating about politicians saying they’re sending thoughts and prayers is the suspicion you sometimes have that they’re not, actually, thinking or praying. Maybe someone could ask Jeb Bush if he really prayed. Maybe he could talk about that. Maybe it would be interesting and constructive.
A connected point, it seems to me, is that Americans are growing weary of being told what they can and cannot publicly say, proclaim and think. We all know what’s going on at the colleges, with the mad little Marats and Robespierres who are telling students and administrators what they are and are not allowed to say or do. This is not just kids acting up at this point, it’s a real censorship movement backed by an ideology that is hostile to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It is led by students who, though they managed to get into the greatest universities in the country, seem never to have been taught to love the little amendment that guarantees free speech and free religious observance, the two pillars without which America collapses. And too bad, because when you don’t love something you lose it.

It is my impression that what is happening on the campuses is starting to break through as a real threat to what used to be called normal Americans.

There’s been a great gnashing of veneered teeth by the Republican establishment about Donald Trump and his so far unstoppable rise. That rise rests on two issues: opposition to illegal immigration to the U.S. and an obvious and visceral rejection of political correctness and the shaming and silencing it entails.
Mr. Trump, interestingly, has more or less stopped talking about issues, even his issues, and amuses himself by entertaining audiences. You get the impression he’s trying to keep himself awake.

Why doesn’t some thoughtful candidate on the Republican side address the issue of shaming and silencing? Why doesn’t someone give a deep and complete speech on what the First Amendment means, how it must be protected, how we pay a daily price for it in terms of anger, hurt, misunderstandings and crudity, but it’s worth it. Why doesn’t someone note that you fight bad speech with better speech, you don’t try to tape up the mouths of an entire country. 
The censorship movement is radical. It is starting to make everyone in the country feel harassed and anxious. It is odd to see candidates miss a rising issue that is giving pause to so many Americans. 
I pray someone will address it. Literally, I just did.

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