It’s Not “Prayer Shaming.” It’s Hypocrite Shaming

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Sorta transcript:

The New York Daily News, usually known for conservative tabloid garbage covers that revel in appealing to the lowest common denominator, has finally made a cover that many liberals can get behind. They call out Republican presidential candidates as “cowards” who tweet their “thoughts and prayers” to victims after mass shootings but do nothing to actually fix the serious problem of gun control in America.

This, of course, has many Christians worrying about “prayer-shaming.” I’ve even seen some particularly sensitive atheists saying that this is an example of close-mindedness, and we should never criticize how a person chooses to mourn, even if that means they’re praying to a god we don’t believe in. They’re right, of course, but also they’re very very wrong.

It’s true that no one should be faulted for praying to their chosen god, unless they’re praying for something really shitty like another Ted movie. We can argue about whether or not praying subtly convinces people to not contribute anything in the real world because they’ve already “helped” with their prayers, but the science is still out on that and if there is an effect, it’s probably a pretty small one. You could also point to the study that showed that praying for someone with a medical condition actually makes their health slightly worse, but again, that’s not conclusive and it’s not a huge affect. I think we can reasonably say that praying doesn’t really do much other than make the person who prays, and maybe the person they’re praying for, feel better.

But even though I don’t have a problem with people praying, I don’t think that the New York Daily News is “prayer-shaming.” To think that is to miss the point entirely: these politicians aren’t just praying for the victims, if they’re even actually praying at all. No, they’re Tweeting about praying for the victims of a circumstance that they themselves could prevent but choose not to. That’s not being a good Christian — that’s just being a huge hypocrite. That’s like praying for your aunt to recover from skin cancer while stuffing her in a tanning bed. “Stop struggling, Agnes, this is going to give you a healthy glow!”

And to really make the analogy work, in this case the tanning salon would be paying you to bring your aunt in. Because that’s the big problem, here: the National Rifle Association’s ridiculously wealthy and powerful lobby that has the GOP on the payroll. Gun control is the fastest way to fix this problem — it’s what Australia did in 1996 just days after a gunman murdered dozens of people. They cut gun homicides by nearly 60% and gun suicides by 65%, with no increase in other kinds of homicides and no increase in robberies and home invasions.

Of course, if we want to know more about the science of what works and what doesn’t work with regards to gun violence, we’ll have to lift the current ban on the CDC studying it. Oh that’s right, 20 years ago Republicans passed restrictions on gun violence research to make sure that no money accidentally went toward gun control advocacy.

So please remember all that the next time you hear a politician whine about prayer-shaming after citizens beg them to do something about the unbelievable rash of mass shootings happening in the US. It’s not prayer-shaming — it’s hypocrite-shaming.

it's not prayer shaming. it's hypocrite shaming.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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  1. …they’re Tweeting about praying for the victims of a circumstance that they themselves could prevent but choose not to.

    This statement presupposes any of the policy options available to politicians would have prevented the kind of mass murder that prompted the prayers. California already has some of the strictest background check requirements in the nation, as well as an assault weapons ban (the weapons used by the shooters in San Bernardino were not assault weapons according to the State’s definition). Further, the SCOTUS has made clear the Second Amendment severely curtails the kind of restrictions that might have a chance at being effective (confiscation, etc.), although there is much evidence to suggest any attempt at confiscation would result in widespread disobedience of the law, and perhaps even outright violence.

    This is not Australia, this is America, where the right to keep and bear arms is enshrined not only in our founding documents, but in our very social DNA. There is a strong argument to be made that the Civil Rights movement would not have been possible had black leaders not had access to firearms.

    Finding an effective solution to gun violence in America requires a shift away from attempts to curtail rights of the vast, vast majority of gun owners who will never harm anyone, and a laser focus on the reasons people become so desperate they feel deadly violence is the only answer.

    1. It doesn’t presuppose or assume. She actually lays out an option, the Australian option. Your claim that it is undoable is poorly evidenced, and not really evidenced beyond, “Because I say so.”

      The claim that the vast majority of gun owners are responsible might have been true 40 years ago, but the culture has shifted. Nowadays, responsible people increasingly realize the most responsible option is to not own guns at all. In reaction, the gun industry markets directly to the most irresponsible people they can. Most gun advertising is aimed at men with massive insecurity issues around their own masculinity and/or paranoid people who believe they have to arm themselves for the coming race war, i.e. the two most alarming groups possible to have amassing weapons.

      Nowadays, an extremely common sort of gun owner is the last person on earth you would want owning a gun: Prone to fantasies, insecure, hot-tempered and with a strong will to dominate others to make up for his inadequacies.

      Huge amounts of research backs this up.


      Myth #3: An armed society is a polite society.
      Fact-check: Drivers who carry guns are 44% more likely than unarmed drivers to make obscene gestures at other motorists, and 77% more likely to follow them aggressively.
      • Among Texans convicted of serious crimes, those with concealed-handgun licenses were sentenced for threatening someone with a firearm 4.8 times more than those without.
      • In states with Stand Your Ground and other laws making it easier to shoot in self-defense, those policies have been linked to a 7 to 10% increase in homicides.

      Myth #6: Carrying a gun for self-defense makes you safer.
      Fact-check: In 2011, nearly 10 times more people were shot and killed in arguments than by civilians trying to stop a crime.
      • In one survey, nearly 1% of Americans reported using guns to defend themselves or their property. However, a closer look at their claims found that more than 50% involved using guns in an aggressive manner, such as escalating an argument.


      Roughly 22 million Americans — 8.9 percent of the adult population– have impulsive anger issues and easy access to guns. 3.7 million of these angry gun owners routinely carry their guns in public. And very few of them are subject to current mental health-based gun ownership restrictions.

      Considering that only about 35% of Americans own guns, this suggests that people who are prone to outbursts, who seek out fights instead of avoid them, who are impulsive and angry—i.e. irresponsible people who should not be messing with guns—are more, not less likely to own guns. Which isn’t a surprise, as guns are marketed directly at them.

      1. Some people own guns because they’re genuinely afraid of the government killing them. Such as, for instance, American Indians. Indian women were actually forced to undergo sterilization within my parents’ lifetime, and look at decisions like Oliphant and Duro. #CheckYourPrivilege

        Another reason people might own guns is rural Americans fighting off bears.

        That said, I favor sensible gun control. Mental illness should be a disqualifier. So should a history of violent offenses or other major crimes. Or, yes, being tied to known terrorist groups, whether they be Daesh or the Aryan Brotherhood or Right to Life or Sea Shepherd; that the right wing could create a terrorist watch list and then fail to deny people on it guns just boggles the mind.

        1. Jon: The government has done awful things to many populations, especially American Indians, but a gun isn’t going to help people stand up against the American government. The idea of the 2nd Amendment as intended to enable revolution in case of tyranny is pretty outdated, given the sorts of weapons available to the government.

          1. By the way, Jon, what do you think is going to happen in the Dollar General case? I just heard about that today, and I have to admit I’m terrified of what this court might rule.

          2. I noticed. Yeah, it’s going to get worse. Congress could fix this sort of thing, but that would depend on them actually caring. Even liberals will sacrifice us very quickly.

            Actually, that’s another concern of mine. You remember back about 10 years ago, there was talk about putting a women’s health clinic on Pine Ridge so as to be exempt from SD (It’s about safety…and ethics in games journalism.) state laws? Some of the forced-birthers’ propaganda talked about ‘savage child sacrifice’. Yep, we know about the forced-birth movement’s employment of stochastic terrorism, but I never expected straight-up blood libel.

            That moment actually provided a great deal of clarity for me.

          3. That’s awful =(
            Well, I’m going to follow, and if they make the awful decision I suspect they will, I’ll contact all my members of congress demanding they do something to fix it.

          4. I wouldn’t hold my breath. The Duro fix ended with it just saying we could prosecute unenrolled Indians, but not non-Indians.

            In other words, typical white liberal support: 10 degrees left of center in good times, 10 degrees right of center when it inconveniences them.

  2. …the Australian option…

    …is not an option in America because of the Second Amendment.

    The “study” you reference is exactly the reason many gun owners oppose CDC studies of gun violence. Yours is the politics of fear: a spoonful of demonization makes the abridgment of rights go down much easier, no?

    No matter how you choose to view (or characterize) gun owners, the fact is gun violence rates have been falling in American since 1993 while at the same time gun ownership rates have increased dramatically, and ownership laws–including and especially concealed carry laws–have become far more liberalized.


    This is not to suggest an “armed society is a polite society,” but it does clearly debunk the myth that more guns equals more violence, and its corollary that fewer guns will mean less gun violence.

    1. Well the second amendment also gives us the right to gun regulation and the constitution hasn’t prevented us from being denied that.

      The resistance to all gun control is not just absurd but monstrous. Gun control as a concept isn’t inherently anti-gun. There are literally policies that would do no harm to our freedoms and would save the lives of gun owners and their family members and we can’t implement those because of the resistance to gun control. You’re holding any kind of political change short of a gun ban hostage, and until what? What are your demands? That we should pry the guns from your cold dead hands?

      If that isn’t the endgame you’re going for, why aren’t you advocating for measures you do agree with, instead of helping the NRA drag the Overton Window in the direction of a gun ban while actively associating gun owners and their freedoms with mass shooters?

      1. This is actually funny because the Overton Window has been dragged to the right because of the DLC/Third Way/New Democrats. If you want to drag the Overton Window to the right, continue voting for the Gore-Kerry-Emanuel wing of the Democratic Party.

      2. I’m not opposed to “all gun control,” only to the knee-jerk proposals that will have no effect on the problem.

        For example, President Obama said shortly following the San Bernardino shooting we might prevent future tragedies by closing the so-called loophole allowing the private sale of weapons without a background check, and banning so-called “assault weapons.” He repeated himself last night, even suggesting such measures are a necessity to counter the ISIS threat. This is, in a word, bullshit. According to multiple news reports, the rifles used by the San Bernardino shooters were purchased legally by Enrique Marquez, then either sold or given to the shooters. First question: How did California’s law requiring a background check and 10-day waiting period for private party gun sales prevent this tragedy? Second question: Given that one of the shooters was an American citizen and government worker with spotless criminal/mental health histories who had already purchased two handguns in California, what would have prevented him from legally purchasing the rifles just as Mr. Marquez had?

        Pushing for gun control measures following a tragic shooting that would not have prevented the tragedy (not to mention raising the bogeyman of ISIS) provides (ahem) ammunition for opponents who will predictably accuse the President of playing political opportunism with a tragedy. It is precisely bullshit like this (and suggesting that the majority of gun owners are bloodthirsty halfwits with anger issues) that makes it difficult to have a meaningful public debate about gun control. If you’re serious about finding ways to further reduce gun violence in America stop demonizing gun owners, and those who point out the lunacy of ineffective gun control proposals.

    2. As I suspected—you’re an ideologue who resists even basic examination of the facts. The “politics of fear”? That’s what we call the politics of reality. The vast majority of shootings are impulsive acts by angry people. Or, with suicides, the impulsive acts of depressed people.

      I don’t deny crime is down. That is because anger generally seems to be down. But it’s not down far enough—the fact that angry people are marketed to and enthusiastic about guns is, in fact, alarming. People who aren’t paranoid, angry or controlling don’t really have much need for guns. They are psychological crutches for people with issues.

      Flinging the Second Amendment around like a security blanket for a gun fetish is just sad. The Constitution also legalized slavery. The Founders were not perfect. On an atheist blog in particular, it’s funny seeing people act like the Constitution is received wisdom that needs to be adhered to with a fundamentalist’s regard to scripture.

      1. It just means that you need a constitutional amendment.

        That said, given that the ERA still hasn’t passed in nearly a century since it was first proposed, despite most people at least in theory supporting the substance of the ERA, feel free to say “How’s that amendment going?” to any politician who has proposed a constitutional amendment.

      2. Flinging the Second Amendment around like a security blanket for a gun fetish is just sad.

        While I freely admit to some fetishes, guns are not among them. Your characterizations of me aside, the SCOTUS has ruled the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms–that’s reality. The fact that Australia’s answer to gun violence will not pass a judicial review cannot be changed by you covering your ears and saying “lalalalalalalala.”

        People who aren’t paranoid, angry or controlling don’t really have much need for guns. They are psychological crutches for people with issues.

        And I’m the ideologue! I wonder how Martin Luther King Jr. would respond to your statement?


        1. Ms Marcotte has gone from sounding the alarm about PUMA being a GOP dirty tricks squad to…supporting their candidate (who was, again, unelectable in 2008, that was the whole point of PUMA) today.

          It’s the 21st century and NOHAMOTYO rules.

  3. Regarding the gun research, IIRC the study that got the ban was specifically in response to one study conflating accidentally shooting relatives with intentionally doing so.

    Obviously it shouldn’t be enough to warrant a gag order, but it should be enough that the people involved be reprimanded.

  4. So, can anyone suggest a solution which allows people to keep their firearms, will reduce gun violence, and is more realistic than simply repealing the second amendment? I’m honestly interested.

    1. A middle term solution would be: grandfather in old guns, but make them non-transferable after the law goes into effect (give people 6 months or so to let people who want to gift an heirloom to someone), making further transfers illegal unless the weapon is rendered useless. Ban sales on a variety of guns which are semi or fully automatic. Require licensing for any gun, with mandatory firearm training.

      I mean, that’s spitballing, but we really need some research on how to improve things, so the first thing is to end the ban on research.

      1. License dealers. Require background checks. (This shouldn’t be difficult. Instant background checks are technically feasible now, unlike in the 80s.) Go after strawman purchases. This isn’t that hard. (In the case of strawman purchases, giving liquor or pornography to minors is as much a crime as selling it to them.)

        The ban was, as I said, a knee-jerk reaction. We don’t ban autism research because Wakefield was a fraud, right? And Wakefield being a fraud doesn’t make John Salamone (whose son got polio from a live vaccine) a bad guy.

        I honestly think this is coming out now because some people really want Hillary to win the primary. They want Hillary to win the primary because there’s no way she can win the general.

        1. Imagine if we had Hillary vs Trump, the most unliked candidates from both sides. I wonder what turnout would be like. I could see it going really high or really low, depending on whether people decided they hated both, or just one.

          1. In those cases, it would probably be the old story of two guys in the woods and they see a bear. One guy says “This is perfect!” and the other one says “What? You can’t outrun the bear.” The first one says “No, but I can outrun you.”

            Or Trump’s just the biggest troll in American history and will withdraw from the race at 11:59 PM EST November 7.

    2. I often find myself in agreement with Penn Jillette: We should always find ways to solve problems with MORE freedom rather than less. Instead of looking at ways to restrict our freedom to own things why not look at root causes? What causes people to become violent toward one another?

      In my opinion, the quickest way to end the majority of street gun violence in America would be to end the so-called “war on drugs.”

      1. I have serious disagreements with Penn on what freedom is, BUT, ending the war on drugs as a way of reducing violence is a very strong idea which has pretty good support.

        1. I have a few more factual disagreements. It’s great to have a show called Bullshit! and then go through with astrology, creationism, psychics, chiropractors, cryptozoology, UFOs, ‘traditional’ marriage, Holocaust deniers, and then…global warming? One of these things is not like the others.

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