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British writer bewildered by backlash after offering ‘atheist prayers’ for attack victims

A medic is seen Wednesday near Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament in London, England. In response to the attack, one British journalist offered her “atheist prayers” to the victims, because — in her view — just saying ”prayers” would have been “inaccurate.” (Carl Court/Getty Images)

British writer Laurie Penny, a contributing editor for the New Statesman, seems flabbergasted by the response she’s received after offering “atheist prayers” in response to the deadly terror attack near Parliament.

Penny, whose byline regularly appears in the U.K.'s Guardian, took to Twitter Wednesday afternoon, following the assault that, according to police, left four dead and at least 20 injured, to say her “thoughts and atheist prayers [are] with everyone in Westminster right now.”

That comment immediately sparked quite a backlash online. When one person asked why she chose to tout her atheism “in the context of such a horrific event,” Penny said she didn’t want to be “inaccurate” by simply saying “prayers.”

At that, the responses poured in.

After receiving myriad criticisms for her tweet, Penny, seemingly confused by the backlash she had received, returned to the social media platform to say she was not intending to “insult people of faith” and accused her detractors of starting a “petty internet flamewar” in the wake of such a horrible event.

While Penny’s “atheist prayers” are certainly unique, messages of faith following attacks are nothing new.

In  the past, conservatives have been mocked by Democrats and the media for offering prayers in the wake of tragedy — specifically, gun-related tragedy.


After the 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, California, Huffington Post Editor Sam Stein wrote: “Every time multiple people have been gunned down in a mass shooting, all these officials can seemingly do is rush to offer their useless thoughts and prayers.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) echoed the Huffington Post editor’s words in a tweet about the “thoughts and prayers” being offered by his Republican counterparts. Instead of praying, Murphy called for increased gun control.


And following the 2015 mass shooting at an Oregon community college, Stein attacked conservative politicians again for “reliably and reflexively reach[ing] for the most casual response possible: condolences of 140 characters or less to nobody in particular.”

Yet, as the Daily Caller pointed out, Murphy and Stein have offered “thoughts and prayers” of their own many times before.

According to The Atlantic, this tactic against conservatives quickly became known as “prayer shaming” and was used to push for gun control laws:

There’s a clear claim being made here, and one with an edge: Democrats care about doing something and taking action while Republicans waste time offering meaningless prayers. These two reactions, policy-making and praying, are portrayed as mutually exclusive, coming from totally contrasting worldviews.

Only time will tell if “atheist prayers” are considered to be just as toxic by the left.

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