Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Making Sense of the Connecticut Shootings

The recent shootings in Connecticut were so heinous, so senseless, and so beyond the grace of God that we shudder with horror just thinking about it.  Imagining how those massacred teachers and children must have felt while that devil made his way through the school shooting away is not easy.

This type of tragedy brings to mind the reality of pain, suffering and death.  It forces you to reconsider the basic notions of good and evil.  One question that comes to mind for me is, "How could a good God allow this to happen?"  Why isn't there an upper limit on the amount of evil that God might permit?  These were young children.  They did nothing to the shooter.  They had barely begun their young lives and now their stories are over.  It is absolutely sickening.  These same sorts of questions come to mind when I consider the Holocaust.  

Hearing about the shooter's mental illness, or his troubled upbringing with a mother paranoid to the point of stockpiling supplies for the "end times" does little to make the basic problem of evil remain.  The standard reaction is "This happened because human beings have free choice."  If this is so, then that freedom seems to be more important than human suffering, which to me seems incompatible with the basic notions of a good and just God.  

Mr. Rodgers once said that in the face of suffering and tragedy, we must "Remember the helpers."  We must look to those who despite the overwhelming force of evil and wrongdoing, there are those who come together to help those in need.  It is through this that we see God's grace to work through the loving actions of others to bring healing to a broken world.  

Perhaps our basic notions of God as divine chessmaster are all wrong.  Perhaps God is impotent to directly influence human action.  It may be that God is a divine lover, but one who simply lacks the power to prevent some actions from happening.  At least this position makes sense.  I don't believe it diminishes God to reduce his metaphysical power.  It may be that we are ready for a real reconsideration of God's divine powers.  It certainly would be more consistent with the notion of a loving God who works through the loving example of Christ on the cross and influences the world through love, not divine power.  If God knew this tragedy was going to happen and could have prevented it and He chose to not do so, then he is directly implicated.  At the very least, he could have prevented the shooter from having been born, considering the circumstances.

The argument that this world is broken and we can expect better in heaven is unconvincing.  Even if this is true, it still remains fundamentally unjust that children should be dealt such a terrible hand in life while others live long and prosperous lives.  There are escaped Nazi war criminals still living.  How is it right that they are given a long and relatively prosperous life while little children are senselessly slain?  

This tragedy is so horrible.  We want to feel in control.  We want to feel that if we do the right things, our children will be safe.  The unfortunate reality is that we cannot prevent these shootings.  There will be more.  Nothing is going to stop them.  There are simply too many guns in America right now, and God help the sheriff assigned to round up the guns owned by those who won't give them up unless they are pried from their cold, dead fingers.  Both those on the Left and those on the Right all want the same thing--they want our children and teachers to be safe.  They want to live in a safe America.  Liberals believe that if you take away people's guns or have more restrictive gun laws, gun violence will decrease.  Conservatives believe that if you allow people to have guns to defend themselves, gun violence will decrease because of the deterrent effect.  

Norway, a country with restrictive gun laws, suffered a massacre by an extremist that killed 77 people.  Apparently gun control laws in Norway did little to stop the violence there.  When asked by forensic psychologists about the most effective way to end gun violence, the answer was interesting--they said not to publicize the details of the killings because these facts encourage other people with mental problems to act in a copycat like fashion.  Inevitably there will be an increase in school shootings now.  

From a mathematical point of view, the likelihood of your child being killed in a school shooting is insanely low.  70 million children are currently in school and this year less than 50 were killed by school shootings.  The problem with this is that human beings are not statisticians.  We react emotionally to senseless violence because it defies our sense of justice and goodness.  Hurricane Sandy created much more destruction and death than the recent shootings, but because this was an act of nature, we look at it differently.  

I believe in mental illness as a potential contribution toward violence.  I believe in evil as a cause of violence as well.  In this case, I think there was both.  There are plenty of people with mental illnesses who don't hurt people.  Most autistic people, Asperger's Syndrome patients, paranoid schizophrenics, and depressed people don't hurt anyone.  In this case, the shooter was trained by his mother to mistrust the world.  He was taught the end times were near and that he needed to be ready.  It is telling that the shooter had the rationality to wear protective armor before he went on his rampage.  He had the malice of forethought to do as much damage as possible before the police arrived.  He attacked a school because he wanted to hurt and destroy what his mother loved most--little children that she taught.  This was more than just mental illness.  It was unspeakable hate and evil combined with insanity.

I don't know whether there is a heaven or hell.  But I hope he's in hell.  I don't believe that we can only heal by forgiving this madman.  I believe we should hate evil and wish that it be banished from our midst.  Telling the families of the victims that they must forgive this man is an insult to how they are feeling.  They must be given the right to heal in their own way without theological or pop psychology platitudes.  Anything else diminishes the pain they are suffering, a pain that only someone who has lost a loved one to senseless violence can understand.

The truth is that this tragedy is beyond our ability to make sense of it.  It is beyond our ability to easily dismiss.  As Shakespeare once said:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 159–167

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