By Dr David Laing Dawson
In Richard Russo’s novel, “Nobody’s Fool”, Rub Squeers, sometime friend of Sully (played by Paul Newman in the movie), often says with a stutter, sometimes to Sully, sometimes to himself, “You know what I w-wish -t?”
His wish is usually for a small improvement in his circumstances, never realized. Yet, he is optimistic and quite endearing.
The moment science reported that those among us with a modicum of optimism live longer, recover faster from illness, and tolerate chronic illness better than pessimists, a poster went up in the hallway of a mental health center I visit, proclaiming HOPE in bold letters. It has since come down.
I thought of these things while watching a bunch of religious (or faith community) leaders praise Donald Trump and the power of prayer in the oval office. One went as far as to announce that we all know prayer works. They each thanked Donald within the same paragraph they thanked God, knowing, I’m sure, who really had the power to dispense favour at this moment.
Of all the players in these three separate stories I think I prefer the simple honesty of Rub Squeers. He wishes, and momentarily it gives him hope and small pleasure, but he has few expectations as he trundles on getting by.
And prayer itself. I have always had a problem with prayer. Okay, it can support hope; it can strengthen community, but this juxtaposition of the stroking of Trump’s ego and the appeals to God certainly drew a clear parallel. For prayer itself implies that before God might notice my suffering, I must praise him. Not just praise him, but prostrate myself before him, beg him to intervene. So that image of God, that particular concept of God, involves an ego even bigger than Donald Trump’s. God the narcissist.
And as long as they have prayer I suppose they can continue to pave over the wetlands, ignore the disrepair of the damns, dykes, levees and drainage systems, cut taxes, remove environmental regulation, promote unfettered growth, and ignore climate change.