April 22, 2007
The senseless mass murder-suicide of last week all but obliterated the news of the way Don Imus was handled for saying offensive words, which may be a blessing -- but it left the nation with something real to worry about.
The 24-hour news broadcasts told us that we are all grieving, which technically is not true. We may have compassion for the friends and families of the victims; we have a heightened sense of danger, for ourselves and our own loved ones; and most of us rushed to provide solutions for what we saw as the problem.
The first challenge was to identify the problem itself. We have not discovered the question, yet many immediately set forth partial solutions as answers. We haven’t even reached the identity stage, but some are saying that if we eliminated the availability of guns this never would have happened, while others maintain that the solution would be reached if all adults are allowed to carry handguns and use them when they deem necessary. All the chatter about what might have been done is certain to lead to fast band-aid fixes, such as those reached after a similar situation at Columbine High School ten years ago: Requiring all students in public school to wear uniforms.
The real questions are so much deeper, so much more morally profound, that we avoid them and leap to our knee-jerk responses, Liberal or Conservative, when in reality a reflection of time and depth is needed.
I posted some of the following last August, but have reworked it to apply to the situation in the country today. If you want to read the original post, my link-brain doesn't seem to be working today, but it can be found under "Searching Our Souls" on August 27.
Our minds are wired to expect linear behavior to achieve linear results, that is, if we are good, and working toward getting better, we should expect that rewards will come to us in the same way. The better people should have more of what they want, whether it be material goods or spiritual enlightenment. Otherwise, why even try to be better?
This kind of thinking leads us to believe that only good things happen to good people, and only good people have good things happen to them. By the same token, if we believe homosexuality to be a sin, the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic makes it clear that there is a God somewhere who wants people to stop having physical same-sex relations. People who believe this must ignore that innocent people die of undeserved causes every day, including wars. Surely an all-knowing Punisher would have better aim than this one does. A lot of innocent, well-meaning churchgoers must die as collateral damage. What kind of god would do this?
The simple answer is that if we believe we are going to be punished by God for our sins on this earth, we are mistaken. It's childish thinking put in our brains when we are children. It's fear of the razor strop, kept alive in many cases by our churches who have their own agenda of keeping their own coffers filled and keeping buns in the pews for generations. The innocents who were slaughtered at Virginia Tech were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a random madman chose not to heed society’s taboos. Did God choose to take those young people’s lives? No. A living, breathing human killing machine made that decision.
When someone dies, we say, "God decided it was his time." That's a poetic way to put it, but it has nothing to do with reality. There are any number of reasons that we die: Old age, disease, accident. Some of them we have a certain amount of control over. But we are not going to beat the odds and not die at all.
With the many man-made methods of dying at everyone's disposal – including the automobile, the hand gun, the airplane, cigarettes, alcohol, and living on the Coast – we can speed the process without thinking about it. A friend of mine was killed when struck by a car a year ago. This man had gone jogging just about every day for 30 years or more. On this particular morning he was hit by a car. He was jogging, presumably, to prolong his life span. Unfortunately, since automobiles have been invented, there is a chance that one might kill you if you venture into traffic at the wrong moment. This was not God's decision, nor my friend's. It was just a possibility that tragically worked against him. As much as we "love" God, and feel connected to Him, we are not in control of the natural laws. Like the Virginia students, my friend was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and, depending on how you feel about death, you may assume he is in a better place now. That's a subject for another post.
It is our fate to ask "why" all our lives, sometimes at the moment when a clear answer will come, sometimes not. Daddy didn't know all the answers. Neither did the minister, the professor, the philosopher in the books one might read. We shall ask why about all kinds of things, as we must. To demand that there is someone who can give us all the answers is to be unsatisfied for a lifetime.
It is not our job to judge, but to work with the reality we have. The first phase – identifying the problem – is just beginning. We are still in a state of shock that this killing happened. We are just learning the facts about the psycho who committed the crimes.
Is there some way that earlier intervention might have helped? Was there any tool to help this individual, or was he brain-damaged in an incurable way from the start? Should not his family have seen this, either through outside help or on their own?
Looking at it through hindsight, we say that if someone early on had had a gun in hand, the perp could have been executed on the spot and prevented a number of deaths. On the other hand, we could say that it guns were not available to all, the young man would have had considerably more difficulty in arming himself so efficiently, and would hardly have done as much damage with a couple of switchblades and an ice pick.
But among the deeper questions is why a god or higher power would allow this situation to happen in the first place. It is not in the realm of religion to deal with this, because religion exists to give us accessible answers. This one will take time and thought.
The question "why" may come up in prayer in meditation, and if we are in the right place to receive it, the answer may come too. But a life without questions is not even something to wish for.