Oil has been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for two months now, and there still isn’t an end in sight. And day by day, the news seems to keep getting worse.
Faced with what very well may be the worst environmental disaster in US history, it is understandable that people feel frustrated, angry, and helpless, especially those who live on the Gulf Coast and are watching their livelihoods sink into the black muck that is lapping at their shores. And even as the black blob grows in the satellite photos, most people have nothing to do in response but wait as BP and the Coast Guard work to counteract the oil flowing out of the hole a mile below the surface of the ocean.
So I cannot sit here and tell people how they should or shouldn’t react to the spill and what actions they should take to try and do something about it. But still, there is something about this that rubs me the wrong way:
A resolution encouraging people to pray for an end to the BP oil spill crisis has been approved by the Louisiana Senate.
Sen. Robert Adley, a Republican from Benton, won unanimous approval of the resolution last week. The resolution made this past Sunday a state-designated day of prayer in Louisiana, during which people of all faiths in the state and around the nation will be encouraged to seek divine intervention to end the crisis.
As Senator Adley explained after the measure passed:
As the resolution details, “citizens are urged to pray for a solution to this crisis, each according to his or her own faith, to pray for God’s continued guidance and protection and to join in the observance of a day of prayer, seeking God’s blessings upon both our state and nation.” The resolution also calls upon the people of Louisiana to join together to pray for an end to the crisis which is threatening our environment, our culture and our livelihoods.
And here’s the real kicker:
“Thus far the efforts made by mortals to try to solve the crisis have been to no avail,” Adley explained. “It is clearly time for a miracle for us.”
It is true that all that mortal humans have attempted so far has failed to fully quell the massive leak from the seafloor. I can see how a believer might decide that it’s time to pray for a miracle. And while I object to state legislatures passing prayer resolutions, because I think that they’re an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, that’s not even the point I want to raise here.
Rather, I think that this prayer resolution, and other similar calls for prayer, are removing focus from where it needs to be. In short: God didn’t do this. Humans did. And only humans can fix it.
What’s happening in the gulf is not like an earthquake. It’s not a natural disaster, no matter what anyone says. The evidence for BP’s inadequate safeguards, negligence, and even recklessness, is growing. And beyond the specific instances of negligence that caused this particular disaster, it is reckless to risk such a spill occurring when it is clear that neither BP nor the US government had the tools and means to contain and control it after the well suffered a blowout.
So this call to prayer is really a request for God to save us from ourselves. And as he’s made clear in the past, all too many times, God is unable or unwilling or unavailable to do that.
So people may pray, if it makes them feel better, but at this time, it is vital that we remember what I would call one of the fundamental tenets of humanism: we should never gamble with the health of our planet, and we can’t count on anyone but ourselves to save us if we do. There’s nothing in this universe worth trading the Gulf of Mexico for, and if it is to be restored, humans will have to do the hard work (and BP better pay for it!). Over the decades ahead, we might be able to finally sop up most of the oil from the shores of the Gulf, but let’s never forget the lesson of just how much destructive power we hold in our (unclasped) hands.