It's been several days since the horrific events which transpired in Newtown, Connecticut. In the interim I have preached, forced myself to read the names and ages of the victims in prayer during worship, and have had to force my heart to keep feeling as I looked up to God and questioned, “Why?”
I have also been subject to the endless proclamations of ideologues, each of whom has a simplistic answer which, if only people would listen, would assure that nothing like this would ever happen again (or have happened in the first place). By Saturday the ideologues took over my Facebook feed – filling it with images which “proved” their ideology was all that stood between the American people and a replay of the events in Sandy Hook elementary school.
I write this post to all the ideologues who are saying, “If only the world were the way I want it to be, this wouldn't have happened.” I ask you, “Please stop.”
Gun control advocates do not have “the blood of children” on their hands. Gun owners are not a faceless mass of cruel idiots looking for trouble. Terrible and violent acts happened in this country long before prayer was taken out of school. Your public comments do nothing to help the country grieve and move forward, and your Facebook posters are example of mob-mentality of the worst kind. Why do you do this? Why, in a time of extreme grief, do you get out in public and find a target upon which to vent your frustration?
I'd like to hazard a guess.
There is a phenomenon I've seen around funerals which I call the, “Back to normal” response. This comes in many different varieties, but it's most potent form occurs a few days after a family has buried a loved one. People who engage a grieving community or family in conversation will ask, “Are things getting back to normal yet?” I give grieving people permission to carry around a whiffle-ball bat and give one smack to anyone who asks that question. They have to immediately apologize, and they can't seek to injure (no swinging at the head), but I give them permission because people need to see how incredibly uncaring such a question actually is. “Normal” is to have the deceased loved one around the table, continuing to be part of the community. Grief is, in a sense, the process of recognizing “normal” no longer exists. People tend not to understand this function of grief, and when they encounter people who are grieving they simply don't know how to respond. They utter statements like the above in order to ease their own discomfort. Related comments include, “She/He is in a better place” and “Well, at least they lived a long life.” They are statements for the benefit of the speaker, not the griever.
I believe something similar is going on with all the ideological responses I'm encountering to the tragedy in Connecticut. It is a scene of such inexplicable horror we recoil from actually processing it. To do so would put us face to face with the abyss of the apparent meaninglessness of life and the with the incredible power people have to do evil. It is, in short, terrifying. In order to escape this sense of terror we tend to move towards easy answers, through which we hope the world can be made to make more sense. This is, I think, what the bulk of our ideological responses are – a desperate grab to have the world make sense again. History shows us one of the easiest ways to create a sense of internal order is to establish an “us vs. them” paradigm. So gun right activists blame this mess on gun control activists (and vice versa). Some Christians set up the paradigm of “us against the entire culture,” and blame the removal of God from our schools for the tragedy (for the most part, our culture doesn't seem to be blaming religion at this point, as most people are just looking at those comments and thinking, “Wow, that's pretty pathetic.” This leaves angry Evangelicals currently without a dance partner, but I think it might be for the best).
Whatever the ideology espoused, the purpose appears to be getting the world back into order without actually having to process the horror of what has happened. As a defense mechanism, I have to admit it may be quite effective in the short-term. Parents had to kiss their children good-bye this morning and send them to school (My wife is subbing today, and it wasn't until afterward I realized my entire family was in school today. I admit, I had a moment of panic at the thought). Being able to blame an opposing ideology for the tragedy may have given people the outlet they needed in order to function “normally” this morning. Ideological responses are ages-old, after all, and there is a reason they've survived so long.
Here's the problem. By not facing the depth of what happened in Sandy Hook, we won't ever actually grieve. Without that, I believe God-given, process we won't every really be able to move forward in hope and in memory. Ideologically-driven responses can keep us from the pain for a while, but the anger these ideologies focus toward our ideological opponents will also continue to grow. Eventually, the very medicine we instinctively use to keep us from trauma will begin to poison us. We become like people who never grieve the loss of a loved one, we stop living and allow bitterness to define who we are.
This is why I'm asking the ideologues to stop their campaigns. Not because you don't have a First Amendment right to speak, and not because I have have a better ideology. I ask you to stop because we need to heal, and masking our grief with both ideological desire and ideological anger is actually preventing us from doing so.