Like millions of people, I’ve been trying to get my head around the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. This tragic event defies explanation; and the fact that so many of the shooting victims were small children makes this tragedy even harder for many of us to process. The fact is we will never know what caused Adam Lanza to first kill his mother, then 20 school children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and then finally take his own life–never. And that reality is hard for many of us to handle because, well, we’re human beings, and not knowing why things happen makes us feel insecure, powerless and not in control.
And we do love being in control, don’t we?
Of course not knowing why things happen doesn’t prevent us from speculating and offering our opinions, and doing so in healthy ways can be therapeutic. Talking through inexplicable events like the Sandy Hook shootings can help us process our grief, confusion, and anger. Such processing can help us move toward our eventual healing. Healthy speculation can also lead to needed changes in the laws intended to protect and care for the most vulnerable members of our communities.
There has been religious commentary, however, that is nothing short of hateful, callous and ignorant–like some of the comments recently offered by people like Mike Huckabee, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association and James Dobson. Friday–the day of the shootings–Huckabee said, “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?” On the same day, Fischer commented that God could have protected the victims of this massacre, but didn’t because “God is not going to go where he is not wanted” and so if school administrators really want to protect students, they will start every school day with prayer. Dobson added today that God has “allowed judgment to fall upon us” because the nation has turned its back on him by accepting things like abortion and gay marriage.
Then we have the folks from Westboro Baptist Church who, as of this writing, plan to picket the funerals of the murdered children and adults, and–according to Shirley Phelps-Roper–“sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment.”
For people who see God as an external being who is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving, events like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary are especially challenging; and comments and actions from people like Huckabee, Fischer, Dobson and Phelps-Roper do nothing to help anyone process their feelings and begin healing. If anything, these comments and actions have the potential to encourage people to walk away from anything that even remotely smells of faith, religion and God. To me, the god described by Huckabee, Fischer, Dobson and Phelps-Roper is a petty, spoiled child god with a small “g” and is not worthy of my attention–much less my worship and devotion.
To me, assigning blame–or giving credit–to any deity for everything that happens in life which we can’t explain not only downplays our inherent beauty and giftedness, it also absolves us from our responsibility to love mercy, do justice and walk humbly in this life. At the same time, events like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary are challenging for people like me who, while not believing in an external Supreme Being who tweaks events at his/her/it’s/their discretion, also deeply feel there is a mystery about creation and the universe which is a cause for reverence and respect (a stance referred to by William Murry as humanistic religious naturalism). What folks like me are left to ponder is the very real possibility that, in the end, life is mysterious, beautiful and yes, sometimes tragic. We can’t explain it–period. And that possibility really bothers people like me who want to help–people who want to “make it better” for folks who are hurting and who are looking for answers.
Perhaps in the end healing and hope in the face of life’s tragedies eventually comes–not by reinstating prayer in schools or by sacrificing intelligence and reason to appease an angry god–but by relying on the inherent worth, dignity, love and giftedness of one another. These are the gifts of a mysterious awe-inspiring Universe…
A Universe some choose to call “God”–with a capital “G.”