First the facts:  Rick Perry, the four term Texas Governor has declared a “day of prayer and fasting” because “some problems are beyond our power to solve”  and also holding a large public prayer event.  The problems he claims are beyond our power include (1) financial debt, (2) terrorism, and (3) natural disasters.  Let’s unpack his statement a bit and if these are really problems are so unsolvable our only hope is divine intervention.

1. Financial Debt

This is the easiest one of all.  Through the choices of human legislators and executives our deficit has increased.  To decrease, we must either cut spending, increase taxes, or (more likely) use some combination of spending and revenue reforms.  Contrary to what the good Governor says, God did not create, nor is he required to solve the problem.  Next…

2. Terrorism

If it is beyond our power to prevent terrorism why does Rick Perry support the Patriot Act, the war in Afghanistan or any other counter-terrorism measures?  If humans can’t prevent terrorism then how can he credit Bush for preventing attacks after 9/11 of criticize Obama for not properly fighting terrorism.  The very act of trying to prevent terrorism and assigning humans credit or blame for preventing terrorism is proof that at least we believe terrorism is preventable.  And we don’t just believe it, there is evidence that  we actually can.  The number of attacks foiled since 9/11 is fairly good evidence that effective intelligence, military and law enforcement efforts can prevent acts of terror.  So, moving on…

3. Natural Disasters

This is a tough one.  On the one hand, humans are unable to prevent certain natural disasters.  If the “big one” were to hit LA or San Francisco tomorrow, few would argue that humans caused it.  Of course, that does NOT mean that God caused the earthquake, just that people didn’t.  On the other hand, many of the natural  disasters Perry is likely referring to ARE caused by humans.  Perhaps Perry is thinking of the drought afflicting Texas or the powerful storms increasing in both power and frequency.  In both cases, though humans cannot control the occurrence of any individual storm or drought, it cannot be denied that on a large scale level global climate change is causing more extreme weather and human activity is causing global climate change.  I have no doubt Perry would deny this, but on that matter the evidence is strongly against him and he is wrong.  W.R.O.N.G.  Let’s not mince words.  On a basic level, Perry is wrong because God almost certainly does not cause natural disasters, but on a more specific level many of the natural disasters Perry is likely thinking of were caused by people and consequently can be solved by people.

The famed humanist Paul Kurtz has written “No deity will save us, we must save ourselves.”  The first step to saving ourselves is recognizing what will not work, and what will not work is approaching the challenges Perry identified (and others) with the belief that humans did not cause and cannot fix them.  To ascribe the problems to God and believe our efforts to solve them is futile is just a wimpy effort to just throw our hands up in futility and absolve ourselves of the moral responsibility to act in the face of known danger, even if it requires sacrifice.  By Perry’s philosophy, you don’t have to sacrifice or even try to fix large scale problems because all efforts would be futile, and that is wrong on even the most basic moral level.

I understand that Perry’s statement shouldn’t be taken literally, but nevertheless his philosophy is a real one and one that must be challenged by those who favor action in the face of suffering and danger.  If we are to face our problems with rationality, courage and determination the first step is to take responsibility for them.  Once we do that we can move forward clear eyed about the challenges, but with renewed optimism and belief in our ability to solve them.

You can also read this post and others at my blog: Rational Persuasion.