While the folks in San Francisco are praying for lower gas prices, the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama just held a “sackcloth and ashes” prayer meeting to try and solve crime and other problems facing the city.
More than 1,000 people gathered at Boutwell Auditorium Friday night, wearing burlap sacks, their foreheads dabbed with ashes, to observe what was proclaimed by Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford as “a day of prayer in sackcloth and ashes.”
The night featured collective prayers for forgiveness and fiery sermons calling for the city to repent in order to stop the violence plaguing the city.
“Let there be so misunderstanding: Satan is at work in this town,” Langford said. “And It is time to pray.”
I doubt Satan is really at work in that town. But I’m pretty damn sure that an utterly irrational mayor is at work in that town, wasting town resources to host a religious service. He ordered 2000 burlap bags, apparently at government expense, to hold the event. If you want to fix the crime problem, then adopt policies that address the causes of crime. Dancing around in burlap bags isn’t going to fix a damn thing.
And here is the part that always baffles me about such prayers: what about free will? If praying is going to help reduce crime, it could only do so if God intervenes to prevent some people from committing crimes. But what about free will? Isn’t that the argument we always hear for why God allows things like violent crime to take place? If people have free will to do bad things, and this excuses God from responsibility for their actions, then God can’t intervene to prevent people from exercising their free will or he no longer has that excuse. There’s just no coherent thinking behind all of this.