On December 14, 2012, 20-year old Adam Lanza forced entry into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, and opened fire at approximately 9:35a.m. Before arriving at the school, Lanza shot and killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, age 52, and drove her car to the school. During the attack, Lanza murdered five school staff members and 20 young students before taking his own life. In terms of U.S. school shootings, this is exceeded in casualties only by the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.
In this kind of tragedy, where young children are the victims, it is all but impossible to imagine the despondent grief and loss the parents and loved ones are experiencing. It is comparably difficult to comprehend the degraded psychological state of a person who is able to rationalize harming children, let alone rationalize executing them with a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle firing .223 rounds that travel 3,750 feet per second. There are no comforting words or measures sufficient to make sense of this needless heartbreak. This is ruthless pain. This is irrevocable loss.
However, there is a reckless and detestable sentiment emanating from the religious right, involving both shepherds and their flocks. It is a faith-based exploitation serving an agenda that cheapens the memory of the deceased by portraying them as justified victims who signify punishment for the growing influence of a secular society. Sycophants to mythology are inferring that these children deserved to die because god wasn’t invited. The thoughtless and inane comments of conservative Christian leaders such as Mike Huckabee, Eric Hovind and Bryan Fischer, along with a slew of equally inane comments from the collective congregation, serve only to exacerbate the horror, devalue the loss of life and soil the memory of those whose lives were taken. A few of the comments include:
“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?” –Mike Huckabee (Southern Baptist minister, U.S. politician, Christian conservative)
“Are you happy now that the shooter grew up in a school with no god?” –Eric Hovind (President of Creation Today, young earth creationist, Christian conservative)
“God is not going to go where he’s not wanted… We’ve kicked God out of our public school system and I think God would say to us, ‘Hey, I’d be glad to protect your children, but you have to invite me back into your world first. I’m not going to go where I’m not wanted. I am a gentleman.’” –Bryan Fischer (Director of Issues Analysis for the hate group American Family Association, radio host of AFA’s Focal Point, Christian conservative)
Aside from the utter stupidity and irrational malice these comments disclose, they have the quality of an aggressively shady marketing campaign that would appear on a late-night infomercial in an Orwellian dystopia. This is the vulgar manipulation of misery to promote a scheme that offers no answers, fulfills no hopes, demands subservience, and maintains power through a fear-based authoritarianism. These are the scare tactics of desperation in which religion preys upon those in their most dark and fragile moments.
When religious fundamentalists claim that violent attacks where children are injured are caused by the removal of one god or another from government institutions, their shoddy assertion fails miserably. When they claim that human suffering is the consequence for denying a celestial figment of the imagination, their premise fails all tests of logic and reality.
Even granting that these people’s superstitious beliefs are true and have any basis in reality, the insinuations are similarly disturbing. The Epicurean Paradox comes to mind. If this ostensibly omnipotent god is too impotent to stop these violent deaths… if this ultimate being is too apathetic to stop these violent deaths… if this allegedly omniscient entity viciously willed this before the beginning of time… if this prime mover is so narcissistic and insecure that it inflicts wrath for noncompliance… well, it hardly merits the time wasted groveling to worship it.
Many of those voices are the same ones clinging to the digressive tactic that more guns are necessary to prevent further attacks like this. It is an argument that intentionally deflects focus from the topic and postpones an open dialogue.
The last thing the country needs is the tired old anti-regulatory conservative propaganda that advocates more firearms and more armed people, instead of being intellectually honest and facing the fact that paramilitary assault weapons are a uniquely deadly means to facilitating mass killings. The last thing the friends and family of the fallen need is a message that their children deserved to die at the whim of an imaginary deity. The last thing that anyone needs to hear are influential people stirring their minions into a frenzy that exploits human tragedy as a scheme to push the fallacy of their superstitious agenda.
There are well-intentioned pleas for people to relinquish feelings of anger. On the other hand, maybe what is needed is a sentiment of bold ire to take action and develop comprehensive policy that will truly address the risk of children being harmed by an assailant with a powerful assault rifle that was manufactured with a single purpose: taking human life.
The United States of America is a gun culture and these are the intolerable results of living within such an environment. We don’t just need decisive gun regulations; we need stricter enforcement of those regulations. It is time to dispense with artifice. It’s not too soon to have this discussion by addressing the issue directly and honestly. It is long overdue.