The Banality of Evil: Nominees for Retired Expressions of Sympathy

I had to take my 2003 Toyota Corolla CE into the local dealer to have a head gasket repair.  Being as it is a dealership, they do a lot to make service customers comfortable.  There was fresh Folger's in both regular and decaffeinated carafes and the waiting room had comfortable chairs and a 50-inch + flat screen TV monitor for those of us with cataracts.  Also, they have an SUV shuttle service that eventually showed up to take me to my office.  About the only thing lacking was reading materials.  A few magazines would have been nice.  Unfortunately, the TV was set to the local ABC affiliate, so I ended up listening to Kelly Rippa commiserating with the people of Boston.  And then I heard the invariably-uttered banalities, the most offensive being "Our hearts and our prayers are with the people of Boston today." 

I looked around me.  Blank stares on expectant faces.  No one saw anything absurd in the Rippese utterance.  Mind you, only the night before I had seen Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained.  Tarantino is an all-American auteur, and one of the threads -- if not the central figure -- in the carpet of his dream works is the theme of the banality of evil.  Think of the cold-blooded hitmen Jules and Vincent delaying the elimination of some deadbeat druggies so they could discuss such things as why a Quarter-Pounder in Paris is called a Royal.  In Django, there is a similar scene.  Saying "Our hearts and prayers are with" this person or group or city is just about the most banal, completely meaningless thing someone could say about the Bostom Bombers' dirty work, just as it was meaningless following the West, Texas ammonium hydrate explosion just a day or two later.  (I am certain that the same hoary, worn-out, long-ago-cliched "Hearts-and-Prayers" commiseration would have "gone out" to the southern senator and President Obama had the security screening in place not caught the deadly ricin in letters from "a Christian Democrat" in Tupelo.)

What exactly did the slogan mean in the first place? Obviously, "heart" is meant metaphorically, as one can hardly do a Sacred-Heart-of-Jesus routine and simply reach in and grab the organ, flinging it across the states so that it winds up in the hands of an untold number of Bostonians.  (You know, on of those cheesy paintings of a blue-eyed, blond caucasian semitic Jesus holding his heart in his hand.)  No, clearly, "heart" refers to one's empathy and compassion.  Other than its banality and meaninglessness, I have no problem with that part. It is the "prayer" part that bugs me.  All day on TV people appeared to be engaged in a contest to see who could say, "I pray for them" with greatest earnest, or make some such illogical and delusional statement. 

One prays to a god.  If the prayer is "answered," a simple post hoc illogicality is transformed into "a miracle"; if not, "the Lord works in mysterious ways."  But the country simple truth of it is this: A good god who is all-powerful would have prevented the Bombers from killing a cute 8-year-old boy whose smile reveals a happiness too few of us know, and I have seen him with a placard with the word "Peace" and the symbol of pacifism.  That boy was God to me.  If that other god gave the Bombers "freedom of choice" and they, not god, chose evil over good, why wouldn't a good, all-powerful god make certain the Bombers would always choose good?  The god who allowed my God to die in Boston is not worth worshiping. 

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Comment by Loren Miller on April 19, 2013 at 8:14am

James, I have probably posted the following elsewhere, but I think on this issue and especially in the light of what happened to that sweet young boy, I think DarkMatter2525's handiwork is entirely on point here:

Comment by Michael Penn on April 19, 2013 at 7:43am

I agree with your blog totally. Why would I think any of these people are praying, and what would prayer do? It is said that the old retired pope was ill, so he stepped down. He would retire and study prayer. Maybe he is studying to see why his prayers were not answered.

Comment by jay H on April 19, 2013 at 5:43am

I read the article in CNN by Greg Epstein, discussing reaction to the tragedy, and some peoples' reference to it as the result of the 'godless', which are important points.

He did, however complain about the fact that atheists were excluded from the (government sponsored, no less) 'interfaith' service, I wonder .. why does he want that? What do we have to do with any interfaith? Just a bunch of touchy feeley affirmations of vague mysticism.

Comment by Anthony Jordan on April 19, 2013 at 2:58am


Very deep, and well said. I agree.

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