Pray On It: The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away

by Tracy Renee Jones

I’m currently going through a family crisis. It’s no more or less complicated than other barriers I’ve had to face as a single mother living in America. I don’t often talk about my problems with people I know. To me there is nothing more frustrating than when I divulge/explain/confide in another person in (the slight) hope that they may be able to offer me a solution or at the very least some insight.

“Well, you should pray on that and God will delivery you from whatever is bothering you”

“Have you prayed to God for a solution?”

“Give it over to the Lord”

“I’m gonna pray for you”

Why are the people of the US so dam religious?

According to social scientist and Journal of Religion and Society the reason is mainly due to the existence of higher levels of stress faced by US citizens. The stress levels suffered by residents of the U.S. is much greater than stress felt by European citizens who live under a social welfare system that alleviates many of the same factors.

“Scientist also found that countries that had higher infant mortality, homicide rates and levels of corruption, had lower life expectancy, had more AIDS and more abortion all tended to have a population that turned to prayer more often. The other interesting finding is that all these factors also went hand in hand with higher income inequality. In other words, income inequality acts like a kind of barometer of societal health.”

These findings are only correlation, not causation. It has been further discovered that countries with high inequality are more religious.

“Research done by Kenneth Scheve, of Yale University, has shown that religious people are also less likely to support social welfare. Since state welfare spending is the most important leveler of incomes, this helps explain why more religious countries have more inequality.”

Additional studies done by Aaron Kay of the University of Waterloo in Ontario shows that the more you erode people’s confidence in the government, the stronger their religious beliefs become.

Does religion cause a vicious circle, in which religious countries cut back on welfare spending, which leads to higher inequality and so even more religion?

If this is the case, I wonder how this correlation further affects Black people, since people of color have a higher likelihood of suffering from inequality than people of other nationalities. Does the manner in which African American’s handle their problems in essence compound those same problems?

Blacks and their passivity has ALWAYS been an issue with me. Whereas I’m almost positive that if we were still doing the open terrain era of the United States of not yet America you would have definitely found me riding bare on bare back atop a Mustang as I gave the white man the middle finger salute and if I did HAPPEN to get caught and put into slavery; I would have been the hobbled chick limping around with one and 1 ¼ of a foot. Yeah, I’m a fighter.

Through life when I was faced with anything I didn’t know I sought to acquire that knowledge. I’ve read the Bible a few times and I found no knowledge in there. However I did spend most of my time as a run away in the local library. I found plenty of knowledge in dam near every book I picked up. Strange how that works.

In my world solutions solve problems. Actions solve problems. Prayer is a form of ignoring a problem that may distract one from doing the work needed to eradicate the problem.

It sounds simple. You mean all I gotta do is ask the God dude to fix whatever it is in front of me and he’ll do it.


Too easy and for some reason it didn’t work out for me at which time I was informed that God does things when he feels like it. Or either I didn’t pray hard enough for the solution. Or God’s solution wasn’t the one I wanted but he doesn’t exactly take requests. So fuck it. I found things to be more satisfying if I assessed my situation and found solutions to my own problems. That way I know what the outcome will be and that there will be an outcome and it will be the one I choose (in most cases). It’s quite empowering.

Now I totally get the point about religion being useful for people that feel they have nothing else but God. I realize that the presence of another, even if that presence is imaginary can relieve anxiety and make a dire situation survivable. I saw the movie Cast Away and I understood Tom Hank’s character’s attachment to Wilson was a substitute for companionship. Wilson was someone to talk to and a way for Tom Hank’s to remain connected to ‘another’ while in exclusion on that tropical island. I got that part, but Tom Hanks’ character didn’t create Wilson and spend the rest of his life talking to Wilson about how they needed to get off that island. Wilson became companionship WHILE Tom Hanks continued to work on a solution to the problems that he faced…getting up off that tiny island and back to civilization.

I never, ever understood why turning to religion and prayer was seen as a viable solution to people whose very existence seemed to hang dangerously off the cliffs of oblivion. A parent thinks their child is hanging out with gangs; they pray on it. Me? I would flip their room like a red neck, cigar smoking career prison warden. They’ll need God if I find an infraction!

A mother thinks her daughter may be spending time too much time with a gentleman caller. Instead of her approaching the daughter for some real talk; she falls on her knees and prays to God for a solution while her daughter is falling to her knees for another reason across town.

And I’ll be dammed if I haven’t seen a set of parents spend morning, noon AND night rolling around an alter (I seen it through the store front church’s window) bemoaning their plight and asking God what THEY did wrong to be punished with a homosexual son. In the meantime, the homosexual son was running with the older gay men; it wasn’t long before he caught AIDS. A mention of the young man to my homosexual male friends caused them to ‘tsk and feel sorry for the kid. I was told unless someone grooms him to life as a gay man he’ll have plenty of trial and error to deal with along that path.

I’ve seen decades of people, both men and woman abandon all participation in their lives and instead sooth their ills with Jesus juice. Strangely enough, these people were always Black or Latina. I’m not saying that other cultures don’t believe in God and I’m not saying they don’t also pray a lot. What I’m saying is that it seems like Blacks are the only ones that pray and feel that’s all the action necessary for them to get a solution.

Surely someone will pipe in with the examples of churches and religion being at the forefront of much of the civil rights movement but we aren’t talking about the Civil Rights Movement. Those were religious PEOPLE throwing their weight behind a social injustice. At the very least, the type of civic involvement displayed by Blacks of that era would be hella useful at this point in time. Granted, we still participate in symbolic activities of public dissent but when was the last time you seen a Black person raging in a manner that forced their issues to be taken seriously (Shout out to my Cali brothren..yall set the state on fire when you’re mad. P.S. Stop tearing down your own shit please and thanks)?

Rather than using prayer and religion as a distraction and coping mechanism for the suffering that Blacks experience I wonder what would happen if Blacks took that same vigor and conviction and directed it towards their children’s education. What would happen if Blacks began to demand answers and expect ‘blessings’ from their elected city officials rather than directing their requests at the ceiling to the folks that live in apartment 3B on the next floor. And what about these mega churches; can you imagine what kind of impact those people would have if they showed up in Chicago’s Juneway Jungle, BMore or even Harlem to stand up to social injustice. In my opinion we could use more Malcolm X and less Martin Luther.

What do you think? Do Blacks depend too much on religion and not enough on their own self determination? Is it possible that religion is one of the causes, not the consequence, of inequality?