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Utah Gov. Cox catches heat for passing the cosmic buck, George Pyle writes

Asking us to pray for rain rings false when we haven’t done everything in our earthly power first.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Basil Newmerzhycky, right, meteorologist for Great Basin Predictive Services puts up maps pinpointing what is expected to be a season of “exceptional drought,” during a presser in City Creek Canyon on Wednesday, May 26. Governor Spencer Cox and interagency fire leadership are asking everyone in Utah this summer to change their behaviors when outside, as they launch “Fire Sense”, a public service campaign designed to educate the public and empower them to make fire sense decisions that will drive down the number of human-caused wildfires.

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

— Darth Vader

A friend I hadn’t seen for a while heard I was going through a rough patch and called to offer support.

“I’ll be praying for you,” he said. “I know that doesn’t mean anything to you, but ...”

“Not really, no,” I replied. “But I know it means a lot to you. So that’s the spirit in which I’ll receive it. Thank you.”

Friends can have conversations like that.

When there is no power dynamic involved, telling someone who isn’t religious that you will pray for them is no more offensive than raving about your new vegetarian diet or insisting that you must start watching “The Crown.” You have offered your best advice and, unless that person chooses to take it, their life changes not at all. Except perhaps for a bit of a warm feeling that someone cares.

Besides, if a person truly believes that intercession with the deity will improve the lives of other people, what kind of an awful jerk would he be if he didn’t offer it from time to time?

It is different for people in public office.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox suggested last week that everyone pray for an end to this crippling drought that shows no sign of easing. It was a request, not an order, with no claim of authority. Still, he got some social media pushback that, he said, surprised him.

“While I rarely look at social media replies,” Cox tweeted Saturday. “I was surprised at some of the vitriol and contempt.”

His thread continued, “At a time when we ask for love and friendship to those of different sexual orientations, I would also ask the same kindness for those who believe in God and his ability to help us. And even if you don’t believe, unifying our hearts for a common cause can help us all.”

Noodling around the internet a bit, I didn’t see any replies to Cox’s request that I would describe as “vitriol and contempt.” I did see comments that suggested it was inappropriate for any elected official to turn to religious practices — separation of church and state and all that.

There were also suggestions that because, in the view of those commenting, neither the governor nor anyone else in positions of power in Utah seems particularly interested in doing anything about climate change, asking people to pray for rain was passing the cosmic buck.

There was also the matter of Cox comparing criticism of his request for prayer to a dearth of “the same kindness for those who believe in God” as he and others had extended to LGBT people on the occasion of Pride Month.

It was notable that Cox was the first Utah governor to issue a proclamation supporting Pride. But comparing hurt to hurt ignores the fact that Western civilization is nowhere near a point where Christians are subject to the same kind of hatred and persecution as lesbians, gay men and others not of the sexual orientations that our culture used to consider “normal.”

Cox, like most Republicans, is loathe to even mention climate change as a thing, much less an existential threat. The 12-page summary of his One Utah Roadmap uses the word “climate” twice, though it throws in some words of support for “sustainability,” electric cars and solar power.

Cox said, “I also believe God expects us to do our part. So whether you believe or not, please join me in finding ways to use less water.”

Fair enough. But, God or no God, finding ways to use less water, though essential, matters very little in the face of global climate change. It doesn’t help that those who run Utah, including the governor, favor more exploitation of Utah’s dirty fossil fuel reserves, as well as such sucking-water-that-isn’t-there projects as the Lake Powell pipeline and dams along the Bear River.

It has been suggested elsewhere that chief executives seeking prayer in a time of crisis has a noble pedigree, such as Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and Franklin Roosevelt on D-Day. That analogy fails, however, on two counts.

One is the fact that America is closer now than it was then to recognizing that its presidents are not priests. The other is that Cox’s call for prayer is not seen as in addition to the ecological equivalent of raising the world’s largest army to do essential battle, but instead of.

A Manhattan Project-scale effort to reverse climate change won’t make it rain next week. But it just might show the universe that we care and are worth helping.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) George Pyle.

George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, does think you should start watching “The Crown.”

gpyle@sltrib.com

Twitter, @debatestate

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