I have been watching the varied reactions to the Sandy Hook killings with deep sadness for the children, teachers, and their families. Its hard not to cry when you think of the senseless murder of innocent little children. Like most people, I am deeply grieved. At the same time, I have been watching, and at times participating in the online discussions this horror has generated. I am sick of people responding with cliché’ responses. The gun control people have used this tragedy to further their goals of a gun-free society. The second amendment people have countered with statistics to bolster their arguments that guns decrease violence. Others have called for increased security in schools, with armed security guards, or suggested that teachers start “packing heat.” The gun control people characterize anyone with a gun as homicidal maniacs looking for any excuse to shoot someone. The gun rights people characterize the gun control people as naive idiots. Still others have argued that we need to be locking up the mentally ill to protect the common good.
Some religious leaders have claimed this calamity is a judgment from God on America for legalizing gay marriage. As a religious leader, I take a great exception to this, because I believe God has better aim than to knock off innocent children because he doesn’t like gay marriage. Others claim this happened because there is no prayer in schools. I have a problem with this as well because many people of faith were killed by the Germans in the war, and I’m sure they were praying.
All of this drives me to the point of despair. This was a terrible thing that happened, and its deplorable that people are using it to further their political and social agendas. The issue is not guns, not mental illness, and it’s not gay marriage or school prayer. The issue is that humanity is deeply flawed and we kid ourselves into thinking that we have progressed into a kinder, gentler society.
The reality is, that the world is a violent place and human life is not valued as it should be. In the first part of the 20th century, we thought we had evolved into a kinder society than we had been in the past, until the two world wars and the holocaust happened. 1.5 million Jewish children were murdered by the Germans, not to mention the 4.5 million other Jews, and the total of 50 million people killed in the war. It was hard to say we are a kinder, gentler society after that, but we persisted. Those numbers were put into perspective by Josef Stalin, who said, “when one man dies, it’s a tragedy. When a million men die, it’s a statistic.” Its a cold statement, but very true. We react more strongly to a few deaths than we do to the deaths of millions.
The cold reality is that we live in a violent world; a far more violent world than the world I grew up in. We never had to worry about guns in schools, or people flying jet planes into buildings, or suicide bombers. I don’t think any one of these reactions is the answer, but they all have an element of truth to them.
As our society has become more secular, it has lost the moral input given by religion to inform citizens of moral and ethical values. Human life is precious because we were created in God’s image, and that is what makes our lives more valuable than animal life. Disarming the public is not the answer, but in all honesty, we don’t need assault weapons for personal use. We probably do need to lock up mentally ill people who pose a danger to society, even if it costs more to do so. Whatever the solutions are, they won’t help comfort us that twenty young children were murdered by a madman. The things that help have been the acts of kindness done by people who were saddened. The company that sent coffee to Newtown; classes of children around the country making snowflakes and sending them out to Newtown; throngs of people attending the funerals, and people doing random acts of kindness for others in memory of the children. People should attend worship services, and get in touch with their spiritual values, which is a stark contrast to the materialism and general devaluation of human life in our culture. These are the things that affirm our highest values, and will make the world more like the place we want it to be.