If you hear it a certain way, “Pray for Paris,” the hashtag of the moment, simply means let’s turn our hearts and minds to a city that has suffered a brutal and terrifying attack. Let’s allow these events and their significance to sink into us, burrow through our self-absorption and our everyday concerns, still for a moment our constant, heedless motion. I, a nonbeliever, can appreciate this sort of metaphorical prayer.
If you hear it another way, “Pray for Paris” is the reflexive public expression of private beliefs, and I’ve always been tolerant of those. If someone says, “I’m praying for you,” I respond, “Thank you.” Anyone who would respond, “Well that won’t do any good!” is not, in my opinion, doing any good.
And yet I become just that person when my mood shifts and I hear “Pray for Paris” in yet another way, a third way: as an answer to the question, “What should we do?” What should we do? Call upon a supernatural being to help Paris heal. But that supernatural being is evidently either (a) powerless to prevent 129 people from being murdered while enjoying a lovely evening in the loveliest city in the world, in which case, what could he do now? Or he is (b) cruel enough to permit what he does have the power to prevent, in which case, why would we ask him for help? Or he is (c) nonexistent.
Whichever you choose, a, b, or c, it makes the instruction to “Pray for Paris” the purest expression of futility I can imagine. And thus devastatingly apt.
Cyberspace is a reflection of our true inner space which the internet reveals to be a vacuum. Whatever Man creates, he creates in his own image, including the internet and God. And being our creation, God is equally shallow, arbitrary, irrational and petty as we. As Kate said in the post, and many intelligent people have said so before, If omnipotent He is evil. If all good, impotent, and in either case unworthy of our prayers.
“Devastatingly apt,” and a devastating app. Being online seems to be one of the worst places to be to make sense of war, violence, and terrorism. Facebook and twitter allow users to post, tweet, and otherwise create content that is, often but not always, thoughtless. It feels like action, but like much of what occurs in the digital world, it is a way to erase oneself, to think shallowly, and to disappear from the real spaces that our bodies inhabit. Perhaps cyberspace is the ultimate tool of terror: we flit from post to post, reposting banalities, obscenities, and gathering nothing and no one into our arms.