On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and killed 20 children and 6 adults. Everybody has one question: Why did he do it?
We already know the answer: periodically, unbalanced people do deranged things. We live in a chaotic world full of random violence (along with random beauty and random good fortune).
Some people find that concept impossible to handle. So they imagine that everything in the world has meaning, and that violence—physical, emotional, spiritual, financial— is never random. How comforting to imagine that everything we see, feel, and experience is part of a plan, that everything has meaning (let’s not forget Senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock who said “pregnancies from rape are something that God intended to happen”), that everything is working out for the best.
For tens of millions of Americans, organized religion provides that haven of meaning.
Pundit and sometime politician Mike Huckabee knows exactly how to explain the random violence of an unhinged Adam Lanza murdering strangers. As Huckabee recently intoned on Fox News,
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?” Further, Huckabee warned that today’s schools don’t teach that “one day, we will stand in judgment before God…we don’t fear that.
Right. A guy who’s so unbalanced that he’ll kill his mother and 20 children would be held back by fear of God’s judgment. Society already suffers from the actions of people who think they hear voices, whether Napoleon’s, Jesus’s, or God’s. You’ll recall that’s how the disastrous Iraq and Afghanistan wars started—people in power in Washington believed they had heard God’s voice endorsing their decisions.
Of course, not everyone of faith uses religion in this psychologically regressive way, but tens of millions of our neighbors do. They live in a world of certainty. And while I sometimes envy their inner peace, it comes at a terribly high price. They don’t have to grow to cope with the unexpected realities of adult life. And so they can’t truly experience the complexities, or absurdities, of life.
While tens of millions of Americans think the frighteningly extreme weather of 2012 is a sign of the “end times,” or a divine critique of the “gay agenda”—that is, that it has supernatural, rather than scientific meaning—it’s no surprise that they would turn to the same source to comfort themselves about random violence.
And so just as they don’t have to grapple with the mind-boggling probability that human civilization is actually affecting the earth’s climate—and the moral dilemma of what to do about it—they don’t have to wonder why Americans continue to die from gun violence dramatically more than in any other developed country in the world—and the moral dilemma of what to do about that.
Huckabee and his co-religionists yearn to live in a psychologically simple world, which they are trying to create internally by using the most primitive defense mechanism of all. Perhaps they should start by abandoning their enthusiasm for the availability of the guns so often used in the random violence the rest of us have to deal with.