It doesn’t surprise me that some atheists would have a problem with the way Christians respond to disaster in the wake of the deadly Oklahoma tornado. The way they responded, however, set off the double standard alarm.
The same day a massive EF-5 tornado ripped through Moore, Oklahoma, Twitter users began using the hashtag #PrayForOklahoma as a reminder to keep the victims of the storm in mind.
CNN’s Belief Blog reported that by Tuesday, the day after the storm, more than 75,000 Twitter users had added the hashtag to their tweets.
But the message wasn’t popular with everyone. Some prominent atheists like Comedian Ricky Gervais, apparently frustrated with how Christians respond to disaster, decided to start a counter-campaign with the hashtag, #ActuallyDoSomethingForOklahoma.
They tried to make themselves appear to be all about the victims. Of course, in doing so, they made it all about themselves and their presumed superiority over Christians. How’s that helping storm victims, exactly?
Whenever a tragedy happens, there are always temptations to ignore the suffering in order to make political or religious points. A weather event often brings out people who want to immediately use the disaster as an excuse to talk about hot-buttons like global warming. When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast years ago, I was disappointed to see Christians ignoring the suffering of those victims and focusing on the sin God was clearly trying to wipe out in New Orleans; of course, had God targeted New Orleans, I’m fairly confident that Katrina would have hit there. The Big Easy wasn’t where Katrina made landfall; it was only the failure of manmade levees that caused the damage to New Orleans. God would hardly have needed to send a hurricane to destroy other areas to make His point to New Orleans. But those Christians refused to resist the temptation to make it all about them and their own self-righteousness.
The daughter of Billy Graham penned a brief essay on how Christians should pray when disaster strikes. CNN included a quote from a pastor who noted that genuine prayer is supposed to lead to action beyond just the words. And for many Christians, it does. It would be ridiculous for anyone to assume that tweeting a request that others pray for victims would be the extent of what a Christian would do.
But if we want to be really honest, we must acknowledge this: Some Christians will tweet the prayer hashtag and do nothing more. And some nonbelievers will tweet the counter-message and then do nothing more.
If these atheists are so convinced that prayer accomplishes nothing and that a convenient little hashtag can’t accomplish anything, either, they’re guilty of a double standard: Why would they waste their time with a counter-tweet? They could have just as easily spent those few seconds texting REDCROSS to 90999, which sends a $10 donation to Red Cross disaster relief efforts.
I suppose that even when there are people walking around in the rubble of what used to be their homes and trying to figure out what they’ll possibly do next, they feel that getting in a dig at Christians is just so much more fun.
With social media, even if people who tweet #PrayForOklahoma don’t donate a dime to relief efforts, they’re still keeping the topic of conversation alive, and that in itself might prompt someone else to give.
If someone else’s reminder gets one other person to donate or help, that in itself is an answered prayer for those victims, whether you choose to pray or not.
I hope you’ll donate. If you can’t afford to donate, then pray. If you don’t pray, then spread the word about ways others can help. The victims should be the focus of our concern, not a pointless religious argument between two sides who’ll never agree, anyway.
I'm not sure I see the problem with either hashtag, to be honest.
If I am a Christian and I use the #PrayForOklahoma hashtag, I'm basically waving a flag that says, "I'm a Christian and I believe in prayer. Therefore, I encourage you all to join me in praying for the victims of this disaster". I would imagine that most people posting that hashtag would then pray for the victims though, perhaps, there are some who promptly forget about the entire thing and don't.
If I'm an atheist and I don't believe in a deity or deities, I think of prayer as effective as sitting around talking to yourself. I, therefore, might choose to create a post with the #ActuallyDoSomethingForOklahoma hashtag. In that case, I'm waving a flag that says, "I don't believe prayer will accomplish anything but there are things we can do that will help". It appears that people who use this hashtag also post links to the Red Cross or other organizations one can donate to who are aiding the victims of the tornado. Yes, some may not actually give any money themselves but, to be fair, not everyone can always afford to give. They are passing on a helpful message for those who might choose to give and I don't think there is anything wrong with that.
@ElizbethLManess Thanks, Elizabeth! I appreciate it!
Thanks for posting this, Patrick. I think social media can do great things to raise awareness and get some help for causes moving! The first time I logged on to social media was into a religous chat room in 98. I've love it since. It really makes the hair on my neck stand up when someone says a thing like a disaster or tragedy is an act of wrath by God. I don't believe any of us are in a posotion to know whether it is or not. I do know that we are commanded to love and have compassion for others as we are loved and comforted! I know what it's like to lose all my possessions to a disaster and a tear still comes to my eye when I think of the things I lost that can never be replaced. Tears also come to my eyes at the out pouring of love and charity that was shown to me and my husband. I think that hard times come our way in life so that we can either give or recieve blessings from each other. ;) Just a thought but I prefer it!
I'm fine with arguing over hashtags. Stuff like John Piper's "deserved" tragedy posts are doing real harm. He is making people’s hearts harder, and less receptive to a message of grace.
@patricksplace my pleasure! I really enjoyed it!
@ElizabethlManess Thanks, Elizabeth. I always cringe at the question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Bad things happen to EVERYONE. We just seem to notice, unfortunately, when a bad thing happens to a good person...or even when a good thing happens to a bad person. When good happens to good or bad happens to bad, it's too easy to just dismiss it as "normal" and move on without much thought.
If people want to argue over hashtags, that's fine with me, too. I just find the need once in a while, to point out that the "war" they choose to wage isn't going to accomplish what they think it will. :)