Instead, it's far easier for me to just accept that humankind itself is greatest force for good and evil in this world. People have prayed to gods for millennia now, and there's no scientific proof that any of that prayer has actually helped. Furthermore, and I'm sorry I'm beating a dead horse here, too many people and cultures have used religion, stringent sociopolitical ideology or a combination of the two as their excuse for the killing, punishment, and/or subjugation of minorities, non-believers and those with whom they just flat-out disagree. Even in this country, such belief systems have also used as an excuse to uphold slavery, bans on mixed marriages and a variety of other acts/social policies that we now recognize today as abhorrent. It seems to me that the primary (though certainly not exclusive) drivers for a more open, tolerant and humanist societies emanate from secular movements.
By extension, our actions and efforts (and not prayer) are the best means to alleviate the pain caused by tragedy and making sure such tragedies never happen again. That means doing more than bringing evildoers to justice; it means understanding why the evildoers did what they did and finding ways, if possible, to address the conditions that inspired their actions. The Golden Rule applies to societies and cultures as well as individuals. When 9/11 happened, the American people should have taken a good, long, honest look in the mirror and properly examined how our government's actions caused many people in the Arab world to look towards Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden as a way to address some legitimate grievances against the US. That is not in any way contradictory with the notion that evildoers need to be brought to justice.
Even so, there will be times when the stray individual, organization or movement goes haywire. That cannot be helped, because humanity is flawed and mental illness will likely never be eradicated. Even more disconcerting, good people are capable of horrible behavior when self-interest becomes paramount, and bad people will profit from their actions and never face consequences for their behavior. Furthermore, our species seems to have an instinctual, irrational mistrust of "the other." However, history also shows that despite what seem to be inevitable setbacks we are capable of change for the better, that we can overcome our lesser instinctual behavior, and that we can create a world that minimizes when evildoers attempt to create chaos, death and destruction. All this exists independently of the need for some kind of cosmic justice or divine retribution.
This is not intended as anti-religious rant, nor am I implying somehow that religion has something to do with yesterday's bombings in Boston. Hopefully, we will find the perpetrator(s) and find out their rationale for their heinous acts. Punishment should be proportional, but we should also be mindful of what we discover about their ideology (if, in fact, there was one). The fact that they committed an act of terrorism does not completely negate what may be some legitimate grievances that should be (at a minimum) acknowledged and openly discussed.
I feel like this post got away from me, and now I'm at a loss to properly summarize and close. I've written far more about my feelings on religion and the nature of humanity than I have about yesterday's events. Instead of praying to a god I don't believe in, writing is the way I handle the feelings stirred by what I've read and seen. However, it's not everything that's gone through my mind. In the process of writing this, I made the mistake of reading some truly vile, disgusting comments that, to me, were just as saddening and heartbreaking as what happened in Boston yesterday. All I can say after looking at them again is that sometimes I really do understand why George Carlin said, "The decay and disintegration of this culture is astonishingly amusing if you are emotionally detached from it." Unfortunately, I cannot bring myself to do so.
* Just to reiterate for those who have not read or recall any of my earlier posts discussing religion, I am not an atheist; I am agnostic. It has always seemed to me that any sort of higher power is somehow above and beyond the means of normal scientific proof.