Tish Harrison Warren: some prayers to protect schoolchildren

September 11, 2022 • 12:00 pm

Last Sunday I once again dissected Rev. Tish Harrison Warren’s weekly NYT column, whose presence in the paper I still don’t understand. It conveys bromides to soothe those already marinated in fait,—is that what the New York Times intends? Regardless, she ended her column—which expressed both her joy and anguish about her kids going off to school, and touted a book she’d written with others giving prayers for kids—this way:

How about you? How are you praying for your children or others, teachers, administrators or schools as this new school year begins? Are there particular prayers you use? Or specific rituals or practices that your family embraces this time of year? Share them with me at HarrisonWarren-newsletter@nytimes.com and we will select some responses to highlight in next week’s newsletter. Please be sure to let us know if we have your permission to print your full name and approximate location along with your response.

I knew that this week she’d collect those prayers and publish them, thus getting a free column. And here it is (click to read):

Now I have no beef against prayers so long as people who utter them don’t really think that somebody is listening at the other end and will do something differently if He gets enough prayers. This “democratic” view of prayer is not only nonsensical, and demeans whatever God there mat be, but also fails to answer fundamental questions about life (see below). It also buttresses the idea of faith: belief in something (a theistic God who listens) without any evidence. Finally, I object to prayer because implying that it’s a telephone to God rather than just a form of meditation is a species of lying to children.

So this week the Anglican pastor shows us some prayers she received from readers. The ones I like least are the ones that imply that prayer works. Here are a couple:

Maria Francis from Berkeley, Calif., wrote: “Our children are grown now, but we would ask them when they left, or when we dropped them off, even when moving them in for college: ‘Who are you?’

“‘I am a child of the High King of Heaven and I bear His image to the world’ was what we taught our children to answer. My husband, Mike, a pastor, suffered an anoxic brain injury seven years ago, which robbed him of almost all memory and knowledge, but he can still answer that question!”

Crikey! If that’s not propaganda, I don’t know what it is. In fact, it was embedded so hard in the family neurons that the poor woman’s brain-injured husband remembers this answer as only one of a few things his brain can process.


One reader from the Hudson Valley in New York wrote that during her daily morning walk she passes an elementary, middle and high school. She wrote: “As I pass by the schools I pray for the students, teachers, administrators and the building.”

She described one recent walk over the Labor Day weekend, saying that she prayed that schoolchildren, “from the most vulnerable to the fiercest, feel safe and valued.” She continued: “As I approach the main doors of the building, I lay my hands on them and pray that every soul that crosses them experiences peace, perhaps a peace that cannot be experienced at home. I pray for the teachers, that their hearts be enlarged to receive, love and encourage every child in their classroom. As I head to the playground, I picture the school monitors keeping the peace during recess. I pray for God to grant them and the school administrators wisdom for the choices they will face in the year ahead.”

This of course implies that God is listening, which itself implies that without importuning God, there would be less peace in the classroom. The laying of hands on the school doors freaks me out.

This mother admits that she’s asking for a supernatural intervention (my emphasis): magic blankets and angels!

Jill Donovan from Missouri, who writes that she has been a teacher for 34 years and currently teaches middle school and high school English, said that this year she is praying: “Please put a supernatural blanket of protection over every preschool, elementary school, middle school, high school and college in this nation. Please shield and protect all students, teachers and staff members as they teach and learn together. Please put angels around every would-be shooter and help these individuals find the help they need. In the name of Jesus Christ, your son and my savior, amen.”

What about other nations?

And this one involves lying to kids:

Carmen Goetschius from Portland, Ore., a mother of two young children, composed this prayer: “The end of summer has snuck up on us again, O God, and soon our children will begin a new school year. They are a bundle of nerves and bubbling with excitement (unless they are teenagers and all this is hidden beneath a cool exterior of nonchalance). Draw near to children across the globe.” She continued: “Whisper deep truths to their spirits: that they have been created with purpose and are your beloved children, not to mention the great privilege of their frazzled, hopeful parents’ lives.

But to what purpose have they been created? And if the children are beloved, why does God allow them to be shot down?

Look, I don’t object to parents expressing parental love for their kids. I object to thinking that someone is listening to your importuning and will act or not act on it depending on whether He feels dyspeptic. And I object to teaching kids this kind of nonsense.

But it all raises the huge question that the faithful, including Reverend Warren, never answer: “If God is answering prayers, and loves the little children, why does he allow them to repeatedly be shot down by killers?”

There are only four answers:

  1. There is a beneficent God, and He has a mysterious but wonderful plan, part of which includes killing children and bringing unbearable grief to their parents.
  2. There is a beneficent God, but he doesn’t have the power to stop bad things from happening. That is, he’s not omnipotent.
  3. There is a God, but he’s sometimes just in a bad mood and allows horrors to happen in the puppet show that he created. In other words, sometimes He’s evil.
  4. There is no God.

I opt for #4, of course, but I’d be curious to hear Rev. Warren’s answer about why stuff like this happens to good and innocent people. What I’m saying is not new, of course, but let’s hear the good Anglican’s response to the old questions posed by Epicurus:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

Epicurus apparently didn’t entertain possibility #4 above.

27 thoughts on “Tish Harrison Warren: some prayers to protect schoolchildren

  1. Another delightful smörgåsbord of thoughts, and prayers. They’re like peas and carrots for our Sunday dinner of the soul of the NYT.

  2. One should add that these are the same kinds of people that can reject their non-cis children. And they will call to fire any teacher who is known to be the same.

  3. Whenever I read things like this—people believing in the power of prayer, religionists encouraging prayer, media outlets giving voice to nonsense—I run counterarguments in the back of my mind. Sometimes I even read the claims out loud to my wife and then proceed to criticize them, also out loud. My wife is tired of hearing me do this, but as a scientist I find it difficult to just let it go as someone else’s fantasy. Their fantasies affect all of us through their impact on public policy and by their influence on cultural norms.

    All in all, I do think that we’re heading in the right direction. Young people are in greater and greater numbers rejecting religion, which is good. I’m not optimistic that today’s believers will listen to us and change their minds. I doubt that happens very often (but would love to see some numbers if reliable numbers are available). My guess is that most progress takes place as believers die off and are not replaced. There will come a time when columns like Tish Harrison Warren’s will fade to irrelevance. It probably won’t happen in our lifetimes, but over time it will happen. Even today her column seems like an anachronism.

    1. Young people may be rejecting religion, but I’ll match some of the beliefs they are swallowing and regurgitating right up there with the most irrational of what religion has to offer. Gender ideology is as impenetrable and preposterous as the Trinity.

    2. Sigh, for this Tish nonsense and other stuff, I’ve YET AGAIN cancelled my NYT subscription. Going back over the years, I can’t quite remember how many times I’ve done that. It has no effect on the NYT, of course, but I’m spared the aggravation for a few months. Can’t quite remember why I re-up…. Getting too old.

      1. You aren’t alone. I resumed the NYT because it signed on John McWhorter. Nevertheless, I find much of the Times’s history despicable, recently and back to when it covered up the communist induced famine in Ukraine and badly misread Hitler. I’ll be surprised if I don’t cancel again.

    1. I suspect that Epicurus did not believe in the gods of his time, but was reluctant to inflame the disapproval of others, so softened his views. Although you could equally say that indifferent gods are not worth worrying about, nor praying to for that matter.

  4. I’m not sure about Epicurus, but his follower Lucretius (who might be seen as Epicurus’s bulldog), seemed to believe maybe there are gods, maybe not, but they are uninterested in the doings of humans. This would be a fifth possibility to Prof. Coyne’s list.

    And another, God is the God of Spinoza, which to me is #4 though others have dissented from this view.

  5. The bromides of Rev. Tish in the NYT are analogous to the astrology column that normally graces every issue of less pretentious periodicals. Or, alternatively, to the Mary Worth comic strip which can still be found, amazingly, in some papers.

  6. When my daughter was growing up we often would hand her off to baby sitters or friends for brief periods. Like us these were flawed humans but we never had to pray to them or beseech them or even ask them to take care of her. We just new that they would. And they always came through – every time.

    And yet this supposed all powerful, all loving God requires our prayers on bended knee. And then ignores them – every time.

    And if our friends had ever failed to care for our daughter we wouldn’t have taken “Well, I work in mysterious ways” as an answer.

    1. “Mysterious ways.” NIce! And to the point.

      When I was 6yo my mother came home to the babysitters to find me riding a full size adult bike in traffic. (I had to stand to reach the pedals.) Sitter said “God will protect the little children.” My mother said, “Yeah, well I’m paying YOU.”

  7. We’ve heard of the Gish Gallop – I’m cooking up a great one for Tish…. mmm,…. the Tish T______…

    Not sure yet…

    1. Ooo apologies, I wrote sloppy – I mean for Tish’s _writings_ – not a personal nasty thing! Not what I meant at all!

  8. Ceiling Cat bless her, Ms. Tish is simply my patronizing kindergarten/Sunday school teacher from yore. There’s so many of them, difficult to staunch the foolish flow.

  9. “why stuff like this happens to good and innocent people.”

    I’ve heard a number of responses from the faithful that pretty much involve, “Um, err.. ah…God works in mysterious ways.” Well, OK, thanks. I can understand that. He’s a amoral magician.

  10. If prayers for other people worked, they would greatly favor those who enjoy a high social status, like rulers, athletes, and some criminals. As a child, I found this troubling, since popularity and virtue are too often unrelated.

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