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Prayer Is No Help to Haiti

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Before reading on, please consider doing the one thing that we know will help Haiti. Give money to the relief effort. I have, and (if you have not already) I hope you will, too.
Reluctant though I am to even appear to pull a Pat Robertson and exploit tragedy, I feel I must write this. It's not for me. It's for us. If we don't break the ancient habits of superstition, we stand no chance of meeting the great challenges ahead.
Though I am no eschatologist -- 2012 is just another year to me, and signs of the End Times are a bad joke too often told -- I firmly and rationally believe that we are rushing through the rapids of history. We're all in the same boat now. This is the century in which we either learn to paddle together or hit the rocks and go over the falls.
We cannot succeed if we fail to recognize how the world works. Which brings me to Haiti. Our brothers and sisters there are suffering pain almost beyond imagining. In less than a minute, everything familiar crumbled, loved ones died or were left pinned and dying under immovable rubble, and government, whose job it is to help in crisis, all but collapsed as well.
It is proper and fitting that people should respond with the desire to help. One of the great achievements of civilization is that we have widened the circle of empathy to encompass all of humanity. Not so long ago, many whites would have considered the Haitians mere black heathens not worthy of concern.

But just as we would repudiate Pat Robertson for the ludicrous suggestion that a vengeful God smote the island of Haiti for something their ancestors allegedly did, so we should resist the notion that prayer can somehow help the Haitians. I am not saying don't pray -- just do not mistake it for action.
What am I talking about? Here's a sampling of what I see as misguided response:
"[C]oncerned individuals can help greatly by joining in focused prayer for Haiti's 9 million people," says a Baptist relief worker, who, to his credit, also calls for donations to the relief effort.
"The most powerful thing we can offer the people of Haiti at this time is the power of our prayer," says the Rev. Chester Arceneaux.
I have no problem with prayer as an act of solidarity, an expression of sympathy, a rallying of the human spirit, or an effort to cope with tragedy. The trouble stems from belief that it is a means of bending God's will to some desired outcome.
That kind of superstition leads directly blaming the victim and "leaving it in God's hands." Do I exaggerate? I wish!. Here's one of dozens of instances on the Beliefnet community forums:

The innocent are not innocent, for all, young and old are under the law of sin and death. The only way you can come to grips with the destruction of this body is to become aware of what are the Plans of God. The world we live in is not without the worst evil and God can show us the way by strengthening our 'Faith' in times of a great catastrophe, such as Haiti.

The illogic of prayer as petition is inescapable. If God struck Haiti to "strengthen our faith" or punish the Haitians for consorting with the devil, and God is all-knowing and all-good, He must have had good reasons. What, then, could possibly be the point of praying to change the outcome? Do those who pray know better than God? Or is God liable to get overheated and need the cooling balm of prayer to bring Him to His senses? Unless you are stuck in the tribalism of the ancient Hebrews, you surely cannot think so.
To those who believe in the God of love and in the findings of science, the meaning of the Haitian earthquake is clear: it happened because of plate tectonics. It has happened in the past. It will happen again in the future. The only thing that God has to do with it is to inspire believers to open their hearts and their wallets to help.

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Update (1/17/10):

If, as so many people continue to claim, God had it in for Haiti, why did he let geologists in on his plans? And how did he forget to tip off Haiti's archbishop, who perished in the temblor?

Geologists predicted severe Haiti quake
COX NEWS SERVICE
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Tuesday's magnitude-7.0 earthquake in Haiti came as no surprise this week to a group of scientists who in 2006 predicted a magnitude-7.2 quake for the region. "This is not good. This is very bad," said Jian Lin, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, one of those who sounded an alarm that was ignored.
He, fellow USGS geologist Uri ten Brink and others pushed for more research in the area, one of the most complex, under­studied and potentially volatile seismic areas in the world.
They were hoping to spur ac­tion. Stricter building codes, early warning systems for tsu­namis, public education and disaster planning, such as exist in California, were among their goals. But between poverty and gov­ernment corruption, nothing happened.

More at: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/americas/haiti/story/1424157.html

-- Clay Farris Naff