Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Religious Slacktivism

Slacktivism is not a term most people know or use.  However, it is something that a great many people do, most in complete ignorance of what it is they are doing, or more importantly, what they are not doing.

The website UrbanDictionary.com defines slacktivism as, "The act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem."  Many of the best examples of slacktivism can easily be found on Facebook.com.  "If you are against torturing animals click LIKE!", or, "Share to raise cancer awareness!".  This enables anyone to click one button in their browser and move along to the rest of the activities of their day feeling great about themselves.

However, what did this person actually accomplish?  They participated in an expedient act that in no way expended any actual effort to fix the problem that they are so concerned about.  Clicking "Like" does not save an animal from torture.  It does not help fund cancer research.  It is not even as useful as signing an online petition, which is usually as effective and impacting as Facebook acts tend to be.

What acts of slacktivism do accomplish is to give the person a false feeling of involvement.  It allows one to believe they have contributed to a cause that they believe in without impacting their otherwise busy lives.  It makes them feel good.  Isn't that at least something?

No.  In fact, quite the opposite.  That feeling is completely unearned.  The slacktivist now feels as though they did their part, but in fact did nothing.  That feeling will now act, if just subconsciously, to prevent them from taking real actions to help the cause.  When approached by someone earning funds for cancer research and asked, "Would you care to donate to the cancer fund?", the person can more easily and with a clear conscience say, "No, I already 'liked' that once."

Obviously this is a bit of exaggeration, but hopefully we can realize that slacktivism does absolutely nothing to actually aid problems one sees in their society and can actually can hinder real work being done by making people feel happy with themselves through the slightest of acts of nothingness.

Now that we all have a good idea of what slacktivism is, let's look at it in its religious form: Prayer.

Prayer is by far the largest form of slacktivism.  If you think the number of smug slacktivists on Facebook is likely astounding (and you would not be wrong to do so), the number of prayers being said, I can safely say, outnumber the largest Facebook slacktivism rallies in existence.  Prayer as defined by Dictionary.com is, "a devout petition to God or an object of worship".  That is, in praying, you ask for the suspension of reality, the laws of nature and physics, by a divine (supernatural) being, in order to change the outcome of a specific event to be in your favor.  It is not really YOU doing anything, is it?  You are expecting the divinity to do it.  This is very similar to clicking "Like" and expecting a grand outcome.

What a total show of arrogance this is!  First, you must believe in a being that is all-powerful, or at least powerful enough to suspend universal constants.  This being is likely, according to your belief, to be the creator of all things, *the* original creature or intellect.  This great and powerful creator of the universe is expected to listen to the aspirations of one of billions of mortal beings and not only take heed, but change what is, that which he/she/it set into motion, to fit your own desires.  You must think pretty highly of yourself to think that what you want is far and above what the creator had in mind.  If a deity set something into motion, what do you think the likelihood is that they will alter their mood based on the desires of one person?  How about a prayer group, a church, or even a whole denomination?  I would think that any divinity who set literally everything into motion would likely not change his mind based on how many prayers were being said or by whom.

Imagine a youth named Jimmy, riding his bicycle down a suburban street.  He does not hear the car approaching from behind and starts to make a left turn.  He is hit by the vehicle and seriously injured.  The parents spend days over the boy in the hospital, praying for his recovery, but eventually he succumbs to his injuries.  It would not be uncommon for a pastor, imam, or rabbi to convey some form of consolation, likely to the effect of, "It was God's will."

Now, let's slip into the idea that the parents, praying over their child, can petition the deity to change its mind.  But, what of those who do not follow this deity or don't believe in a deity at all?  Would the divine choose to let the boy suffer and die because his family chose to not follow his wishes and pray to him?  Or what of the family born in a nation that follows differing beliefs?  Are they simply not listened to?  Should the children of a nation not of the same belief suffer just because of their circumstance?  That would not be a very caring divinity.

I've often been witness to "prayer circles", groups who call each other to notify of pending doom which they then wish to subvert via larger quantities of prayer.  This really reminds me of being on Facebook and seeing, "LIKE then SHARE so we can overcome X problem!"  Is there really a doctor somewhere holding the cure to cancer to himself, waiting, watching Facebook, until there are what he considers enough "Like"s to cure those suffering?  Is God sitting back letting the child die until there are 100 "up-voted" prayers?  Is he saying, "Sure, I could help, but there are only five people praying, it's just not enough for me to bother."?

Of course not.  No deity worthy of worship would do this.  The truth is people pray because they feel helpless and they want to do something, anything.  Most people are helpless in these situations and must wait it out to see if Jimmy's body is able to recover from the trauma.  So their prayers, as with many religious ceremonies, is there to pacify and comfort themselves.  It makes people feel better about their own helplessness.

At this point it must be asked, is this really a problem?  People praying to better their situation doesn't really hurt anyone does it?  Well, it all circles back to belief.  Do they truly believe that their prayer may alter reality?  Perhaps if they simply had more belief, more faith, their prayers would be taken more seriously.  Again, this raises the question of whether a deity that requires more faith to step in is really worthy of praise. But more importantly, should one believe with faith that Jimmy will be healed instead of going to the hospital?  Perhaps this shows lack of faith and should be avoided.  This is a scary thought, even more scary once we realize it happens every day in one of the most advanced civilizations on the planet, and quite a bit more in less advanced areas.

Certainly, though, this is not the norm.  Most prayers are simple, unobtrusive and do no harm.  However, that does nothing to change the fact that just because they are comforting does not make them a reality.  Prayer is slacktivism.  Most people who pray do not seriously expect their prayers to change an outcome.  Those who do believe they can ask the divine to change reality are at best deluding themselves and at worst suffering from a complete mental insanity.  Any god worth his salt would morally know when they should step in to intervene.  Either they choose not to or they do not exist, and either way they are not worthy of respect, let alone worship.

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