“We Could Only Resort to Prayer…”

Hands clasped in prayerThere was an interesting story on the radio the other day — in which a Roman Catholic bishop in the Philippines described how they’re now ringing church bells every evening to raise awareness about the brutality of the ongoing drug war in his country.

Give it a listen (go here if the embed doesn’t work):

What caught my ear, and prompted me to bring this story to the attention of my Theory of Religion seminar the other day, was how praying seemed to be not enough.

… that is why we have resorted to ringing of bells, because we could only resort to prayer.

But if one takes seriously the claims of those people we may study — those who see prayer as efficacious — how is communicating directly with a powerful being who governs the universe not already enough? Why resort to anything else, whether or not it’s ringing church bells?

I don’t ask this question flippantly — not at all. Instead, the bishop’s claim strikes me as a fascinating instance of a folk theory of religion, offered by a religious devotee — someone who seems to know that, for whatever reason, there are limits to the effects this discourse can have.

For, at times, people seem to know that they need to do more than merely pray to a god.

When those times are, and in which situations, is unknown to me; in fact, I wonder how devotees know when to take an unchanged situation as the answer to their prayers, whether they like it or not (concluding, perhaps, that the ways of God are unknown to mere mortals…), and when they must decide that they need to resort to something else — to take matters into their own hands, as it were.

Simply put, when is praying to a god not enough and how does one know it?

Given all the critiques you can now find online of merely saying “you’re in our thoughts and payers” when a disaster occurs — and yes, I’m thinking of debates around this topic that we’ve just seen, here in the US, concerning the hurricane and then terrible flooding in Texas (e.g., see below) — this seems to be a pretty timely question to ask.

Joel Osteen Tweets

So the above interview, undoubtedly given in a life and death situation where a social actor probably feels pretty frustrated that a much desired change has not taken place, raises what I see to be some pretty interesting questions for the student of religion concerning the folk expertise of the people we study: for sometimes and somehow they seem to know that their claims need to be augmented.