I'm going to probably catch some serious flack for what I'm about to say, but bear with me.
I'm not offended by the whole #PrayforParis bit. I have several reasons for this, all of which I think are fair enough. The first being that many folks cannot comprehend what they can do to render aid to such a large scale tragedy, let alone console those who have suffered. This is not a condemnation of their humanity. This is not a failure to act. This is the variations of the biological responses we are all hardwired with in our very nature.
Secondly, the statement "pray for Paris" is necessary. While many, including myself, see that religious conviction fuels the recruitment and propaganda of ISIL to commit such atrocity, it's necessary that the religious communities step forward and embrace the injured and hurt. A show of religious support is not an insult. This isn't merely a lazy man's way of shirking guilt or responsibilities to help their hurting compatriots.
It's a humongous "Fuck You" to ISIL.
ISIL condemns sympathy and empathy for their victims. Praying for Paris is a political statement of defiance against the warped ideologies of jihadis like ISIL. And this prayer is not only coming from Christians, but Muslims. Yes, many feel the Muslim community needs to curtail ISIL, but Islam is not the direct sponsor of ISIL or other similar extremist groups. Islam, much like Christianity, and even Hinduism, has outdated principles that opportunists will use to scapegoat their violent agendas. I cannot lay the fault of all extremists on the step of Islam, Judaism, or even my own atheism. These ideologies, much like guns, bombs, and money, are simply vehicles being used to perpetrate hatred.
Many have pointed out that Christian communities condemn Westboro, and other hateful religious organizations. When the Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord carried out their terror, did everyday Christians gather in mobs and hunt them down? No, they did not. Christians gathered and counter protested their hatefully inspired exhibitions or gave helpful leads to the police. They allowed the governments to intervene on their behalf.
They also prayed.
When the Olympics were bombed in Georgia, did we scream at the Christian majority in this country to get their followers in order? No, we relied on the authorities to figure it out and deal justice to the criminal. Why? Because we knew the Christian community held very few extremists that would bomb, maim, or kill fellow Americans.
And again, they prayed.
Prayer isn't just a feel good tactic, it's also a religious rally cry for communities to join together and recognize a problem. It's a way to gather everyone together and get them on the same page about social issues. An encouragement to put aside spiritual differences and focus on their fellow man. As a straight-laced atheist, I can appreciate the social aspects of prayer when it comes to major events. Now, if you want to get into science, I completely agree to just toss the practice out of the window.
Put aside the spiritual meaning and implications of practice of praying for a moment, and consider the social purpose of such a ritual. It encourages unity and acceptance in grief and tragedy. I would rather all of France held a large prayer rally than hold separate demonstrations against jihadism, Islam, and refugees. When rallies are held highlighting tragedy in a light that looks to lay blame, deeper schisms are formed among the community's varied cultures. That isn't healthy, and it gives the results that ISIL wants from the people it terrorizes: fear and alienation.
Alienation is the biggest tool ISIL uses when recruiting its fighters. This group relies on disaffection, bitterness, and orchestrated persecution to round up more supporters. Gathering together, joining in prayer is the opposite effect ISIL seeks from its killing and hate. As small of a purpose that it seems to serve to the average atheist like myself, I can also see it's at least some type of unified response everyone can participate in.
For the sake of Paris, Lebanon, and the rest of our world neighborhoods, let them pray together. Not in hopes of a miracle, or cure for disease, or peace, but for awareness.