SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Many political figures tweeted thoughts and prayers just after last week's church murders in Texas. Just as immediately, there were many sharp responses. Wil Wheaton, the actor and writer who has more than 3 million Twitter followers, wrote Speaker Paul Ryan, the murdered victims were in a church. If prayers did anything, they'd still be alive - and added an expletive. Mr. Wheaton later tweeted an apology for insulting what he called real people of faith.
David French joins us now, a senior writer for National Review, a Harvard law graduate. He received the Bronze Star for his Army service in Iraq. And Mr. French, on this Veterans Day, thank you very much for being with us.
DAVID FRENCH: Well, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
SIMON: You wrote this week that for people of faith, including those who were in that church, prayer is, in fact, a powerful response. How so?
FRENCH: Right. Well, you know, I think a lot of people, when they critique thoughts and prayers, don't really realize what people are praying for. You know, what people are praying for is comfort for those who are grieving, courage for people who are responding. You know, they're even praying for inspiration in ideas and how to confront this crisis.
So you know, it's - the prayer life of a Christian is something that's very, very rich. And prayer saturates their lives. And it's going to be - not just a - it's going to be an automatic response to a crisis. And it's going to be something that is - provides great comfort to a great deal - you know, a great many people. So when you're targeting prayers, a Christian, for example, would look at that and be, frankly, kind of puzzled by it.
SIMON: Well, there's - I don't have to tell you, there seems to be a particular enmity directed at politicians who offer thoughts and prayers rather than any kind of action. People see it as a dodge. How do you respond?
FRENCH: Well, I think the problem is what they don't - it's not that these politicians are offering thoughts and prayers and no action. It's that the politicians are - tend to be offering thoughts and prayers and not the action the activist wants. And so - for example, I don't think there's a politician in Washington of good faith who would say - for example, in response to this Texas church shooting - that the Air Force shouldn't be reporting all of its misdemeanor domestic violence convictions to the FBI database. So - or that there shouldn't be other measures taken in response to this, you know - what seems to be a recent epidemic of mass killings.
But it's often a highly politicized tweet that essentially says, I would rather you tweet about the program or plan of action that I want rather than thoughts and prayers. And I think it presumes that the politician is insincere. It presumes that the politician isn't praying for the people. And I think that's a false presumption.
SIMON: I think - at the same time, Mr. French, I think a lot of people have the idea that a lot of the voices who asked for thoughts and prayers after a mass shooting are among the first to call for extreme vetting of immigrants or travel boycotts after acts of even domestic terrorism. Is there an inconsistency there?
FRENCH: No, I don't think so. I think that you also see those same people offering thoughts and prayers for victims depending on - you know, victims of all forms of mass killings. But different mass killings demand different kinds of responses. They're not all the same.
So for example, you - there is a - one kind of solution perhaps that could work to stop jihadist mass killings, another kind of solution that could work to stop mass killings involving mental illness. And then with some like the Los Vegas shooting, where we still mysteriously don't have a motive, you know, you're more in the dark as to what could have been done in that particular case.
SIMON: Jeannie Gaffigan, the comedy writer and producer who has been publicly battling a brain tumor and happens to be a person of faith, this week tweeted, I'm living proof that prayer works. She's feeling better now. But it also takes enormous effort along with prayer, sometimes a lifetime of struggle and dedication. Do you agree with that?
FRENCH: Oh, absolutely. I believe - you know, there's a scriptural principle that faith without works is dead. In other words, you should pray and you should act. But I think the main criticism that many of these Twitter activists are offering is that they're saying, don't say thoughts and prayers. Say what I want you to say. And in a political environment where there's sharp polarization and very different ideas about how to respond to a crisis, that's just never going to happen. And besides, what use is an activist tweet anyway?
SIMON: David French of National Review, thanks so much for being with us.
FRENCH: Thanks so much for having me.
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