My heart is breaking as I sit in my flat, watching the news coverage of Syria. It’s the current ‘hot topic.’ All cameras from CNN, Fox News, the BBC, MSNBC, are pointed at that tiny chunk of land half a world away. Hundreds of millions of people from around the world are catching a glimpse of the suffering of the Syrian people, of the war that has torn their homes apart. Across the media, the debate rages. War, or no war? Interference or non-interference? I have friends on both sides of the political spectrum, so I sit here in sweatpants and watch my Facebook wall practically debate itself.
It’s during times like these that I understand the urge to pray. I’m thousands of kilometres from Syria, sitting safely in America with a cup of tea. There is nothing, nothing I can do that will make the situation in Syria better. And it stings. Bombs going off, children being shredded, blood running in the gutters, religious extremists tearing a nation apart leaving devastation in their wake. I know what that’s like. I know that all too well. And I feel just as angry and helpless as I did fifteen years ago in the town centre of Omagh. I understand the need to pray, believe me I do. I understand the desperate hope that something out there will swoop down and make things better. I understand the itch underneath the skin that demands you do something, and I understand how prayer alleviates that itch.
The problem is, I know better. I don’t hold stock in the power of wishful thinking anymore. Ireland achieved peace through action, not prayer. The same must happen for Syria. That’s why the atheist’s prayer isn’t a call for help to a deity. It’s a call to action. A vow to make a difference. A trust in the power of my fellow brothers and sisters of all colours and all creeds to lift our hands and voices, not in hymns or prayers, but in words and deeds.
This is the Atheist’s Prayer:
I will not advocate war, because I will not support killing others to bring peace.
I will respect the government I helped elect, even when I do not agree with their decisions. I will always remember that I speak with both my voice and my vote.
I will take the time to educate myself on what is happening in the world around me. I will remember that if I’m going to speak on a subject, it’s my duty to speak intelligently.
I will sincerely thank a veteran for his or her service.
I will do something today that makes me uncomfortable. I will light a candle in a cathedral, hold hands with a Muslim as they pray. I will step into a synagogue and listen. And I will savour the knowledge that I did so because it was my choice and my freedom to, not because it was required.
I will debate my intellectual opponents with respect, without personal attacks, because the freedom to engage in the exchange of ideas deserves the highest respect.
I will buy a book on a subject I know nothing about.
I will treat strangers with kindness. I will take the time to dig out 75 cents so that beggar can buy a train ticket or a sandwich. I will hand twenty dollars to the cashier at the grocery store and tell her to use it for the hassled mother with two crying children standing behind me. I’ll tell the librarian that she looks very pretty today. I’ll bring a cup of coffee out to the policeman sitting in his squad car at five in the morning. I’ll help my coworker with that project. I’ll run errands for my friend who is behind in everything. Every act of kindness will be my prayer.
I will tell someone that I love them, not just assume they know. I will tell them today. No, I will tell them now.
And when Syria is no longer the media hot topic, when the cameras point somewhere else, I will not forget. I will continue to pray the Atheist’s Prayer, the prayer of action and deeds.
And if, by some twist of chance, I encounter the opportunity to help someone from Syria, or Afghanistan, or Libya, or Somali, or any other war-torn nation, I will take it.