Thoughts and prayers
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The phrase "thoughts and prayers" is often used by public officials offering condolences after any publicly notable event such as a deadly natural disaster. The phrase has received criticism for its repeated usage in the context of gun violence or terrorism, with critics claiming "thoughts and prayers" are offered as substitutes for actions they believe would be corrective, like gun control or counterterrorism.
The phrase thoughts and prayers is frequently used as an expression of condolences for victims of natural disasters (eg. the 2010 Canterbury earthquake and 2011 Christchurch earthquake).
The phrase has been deployed in the wake of numerous mass shootings, including the Columbine High School massacre (1999), the November 2015 Paris attacks, the Orlando nightclub shooting, and the 2017 Las Vegas shooting. In addition, "thoughts and prayers" are also offered to victims of natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina (2005), the 2017 Central Mexico earthquake, and Hurricane Maria (2017).
President Donald Trump has been known to use the phrase. In 2016, he used it following the St. Joseph courthouse shooting, the Great Smoky Mountains wildfires, and the shooting of Nykea Aldridge. In 2017 he used it following the Congressional baseball shooting in June and the Southern California wildfires in December. In 2018, Trump used the phrase following the Marshall County High School shooting in January, the Carcassonne and Trèbes attack in March, the YouTube headquarters shooting in April, and the Capital Gazette shooting in June. Following the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February, Slate noted that several Republican politicians who had previously used the idiom (including Trump and senators Marco Rubio and Pat Toomey) avoided using the specific phrase "thoughts and prayers" in response to the shooting. Trump, for example, instead offered "prayers and condolences" via Twitter.
After a natural or human-caused disaster, people may be urged to "go beyond thoughts and prayers," by donating blood or sending aid or money to help the victims. After the Las Vegas shooting, authorities said that although thoughts and prayers are appreciated, the most effective way to help was to give blood.
After the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, called on politicians to "move beyond thoughts and prayers". In her post, vanden Heuvel referred to a press release by Paul Helmke, then-president of the Brady Campaign, who offered his thoughts and prayers but also stated "it is long overdue for us to take some common-sense actions to prevent tragedies like this from continuing to occur."
In October 2015, following the Umpqua Community College shooting, President Barack Obama said that "thoughts and prayers [do] not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel, and it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted some place else in America next week or a couple months from now."[a] The White House subsequently announced that Obama would continue to take more executive action on the subject of gun control.
On December 2, 2015, in the wake of the San Bernardino mass shooting, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweeted his frustration with the phrase "thoughts and prayers", a sentiment echoed by the cover of the New York Daily News, which included tweets from senators and representatives the newspaper characterized as "meaningless platitudes".
Following the Orlando nightclub shooting, Phil Plait wrote that while it was "natural and very human" to "send their thoughts and express their grief ... it's cynically hypocritical when politicians do it and nothing else", later noting it was "particularly galling" to see "all the NRA-funded lawmakers tweeting their 'thoughts and prayers'". An accompanying Slate post provided a selected list of members of Congress who had tweeted "thoughts and prayers" along with the amount of campaign contributions they had received from gun rights groups, based on research provided by Igor Volsky of the Center for American Progress.
Some critics of the phrase "thoughts and prayers" point to the Epistle of James in the Christian New Testament to argue that action is needed in addition to expressions of faith. Verses commonly cited to back up this argument include:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
Laura Coward, a writer for The Huffington Post, defended the use of the phrase "thoughts and prayers", acknowledging the inadequacy of not taking actions, but arguing that prayer "jolts us and disrupts us, removing us from our comfort zones [... it] takes us to uncomfortable places – spiritually, physically and emotionally – and asks us to do the hard work of accepting more than one perspective." Kimberly Ross, a writer for RedState, asks that victims should "not [be] used as pawns in another political debate about guns" since "[w]e shouldn't blame anyone but the perpetrator for crimes committed, [...] that means we can do nothing on our own – in that moment – apart from submitting thoughts and prayers."
In his third stand up special "Thoughts and Prayers", comedian Anthony Jeselnik skewers people who tweet out "thoughts and prayers" on the day of a tragedy, calling it a way for those people to garner attention in the face of a tragedy and saying that tweeting thoughts and prayers is so useless that it achieves "less than nothing".
The fifth episode of the fourth season of animated series BoJack Horseman, titled "Thoughts and Prayers", presents a real-life shooting that delays the opening of a new movie featuring gun violence.
In June 2017, the air date for an episode of The Carmichael Show entitled "Shoot-up-able", which showed the main character surviving a mass shooting, was postponed by two weeks so that it did not air 14 June, the same night as the shooting at which Representative Scalise and three others were shot, or the UPS shooting in San Francisco, where three were killed by a shooter who later committed suicide.
- List of attacks related to secondary schools
- List of rampage killers (school massacres)
- School shootings in the United States
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- James 2:14–2:16
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- Burton, Tara Isabella (3 October 2017). "10 faith leaders on 'thoughts and prayers' – and action – after tragedy". Vox. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
- "Thoughts and Prayers". Google Trends.