Zealots: tragedy always equals opportunity

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This blog isn’t big on examining life’s more crucial issues. There are plenty of other folks who do that, and do it with far more acumen than yours truly could ever hope to muster.

Once in a harvest moon, however, something sticks in my craw and it becomes necessary to put aside the desire to delve into history, economics and whatnot to address the truly idiotic.

Case in point: within hours of the horrific shootings at a Connecticut elementary school last Friday, myriad half-wits were hard at work on outlets such as Facebook and Twitter doing their best to show the world their inept grasp of theology, common sense and overall human decency.

I write of those who posted such foolishness as the image which showed the following rhetoric: “Dear God, why do you allow so much violence in our schools? Signed, a concerned student.” To which God responds: “Dear Concerned Student, I’m not allowed in schools. God.”

Insulting, insensitive and illogical, all in 25 words.

First off, I write what follows knowing full well that those who forward such ill-conceived Internet memes aren’t going to be swayed by any amount of reasoning. Most aren’t even interested in being swayed; they’re simply seeking to push a point of view and will use whatever means available.

As the old saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Still, one has to be at least somewhat astonished at the concept of a purported Christian who believes that God’s presence in a school could be inhibited because said school no longer, it is presumed, allows public prayer.

GodThis is the same all-seeing, all-knowing God who, as many Christians believe, created the universe, who helped Moses led the Israelites to safety by parting the Red Sea and destroying an Egyptian pharaoh’s army. Yet He can be ushered out of the classroom by the dictates of, say, the Yazoo City Unified School Board?

Is He “God Almighty,” or “God, Pretty Powerful but Unwilling to Take His Chances in Circuit Court?”

Do the philosophical pinheads who subscribe to the concept that God no longer inhabits public schools believe that once public prayer had been prohibited God physically slunk off campus, then stood and peered back longingly?

That sounds like a god who would have trouble operating the universal remote, never mind creating the universe.

I was reared to believe that God is omnipotent and omnipresent, all powerful and everywhere; rather than a deity that can be sent to and fro depending on man’s whims. To think that man has any control over what God does or does not do is nothing more than hubris.

Sadly, one almost gets the impression that some folks get a sick sense of satisfaction with each tragedy, as though it allows them to swell their chests out and say, “See, I told you this would happen once we got rid of school prayer.”

No matter how much passive-aggressive Schadenfreude these types may exhibit with this kind of stupidity, there are some things they tend to forget.

First, the worst mass murder in a US school took place in Bath Township, Mich., in 1927, when a deranged individual detonated a pair of bombs and killed 38 schoolchildren and six adults.

I wasn’t around then, but I’m pretty sure prayer was a mainstay in public schools at that time. Perhaps God was off touring Henry Ford’s factories in Dearborn, Mich., that day.

Second, we can force kids to pray from the first bell in the morning until class gets out in the afternoon and it’s not going to change the fact that evil exists in our world.

Not because prayer doesn’t have impact, but because of something called free will. Various denominations may define free will somewhat differently, but I sum it up as the capacity to choose good or evil in our lives.

Over the millennia, man has employed free will toward many horrible ends: genocide, innumerable wars, wanton cruelty against the society’s most innocent. Man has also used free will for many good things, too, of course.

The bottom line is that without free will man would be little more than an automaton, unable to relate meaningfully to God.

For humans to truly love God, they must be free to choose or reject God’s love. If God were to put an end to all evil in our world, we would also lose our freedom and our capacity to truly love God. As Francis Collins explains in The Language of God, God cannot give us free will while also restraining us from evil acts.

It’s a double-edged sword, but one that a Christian, or at least a Christian able to examine his or her faith honestly, should be willing to ponder rather than resorting to theological claptrap of the weakest sort.

The world would be a better place if the next time a mind-numbing tragedy occurs – and sadly there will be a next time – some of those eager to trot out trite platitudes like that above would instead take time to delve into deeper issues and resist the urge to employ the misfortune of others as a cudgel for pursuing personal vendettas.

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12 thoughts on “Zealots: tragedy always equals opportunity

  1. Well put! It’s “cheap grace” at its worst. And a convenient way for parents who should be teaching their kids faith and faith practices to abdicate that responsibility to a school where God only knows what zealot preacher might get to brainwash the children in a prayer.
    And anyway, I grew up in a small Texas town where the prayer was piped into the classroom every morning while the 15 percent black kids across town schooled in broken down facilities with extremely old books; racism was institutionalized. Mexicans schooled with us but were dismissed, a lot of them, as spics and greasers and wetbacks. And then there were the “juvenile delinquents” who heard the same prayers I did every morning from first grade up, who dropped out of school, were always in trouble with the law, and a huge number of my own classmates went to prison, eventually, on everything from rape to robbery to drug charges. A cynic would say, “A lot of good school prayer did.” As an ordained United Methodist pastor I want Christians and Jews and people of whatever faith praying and passing on the faith and their faith practices in their homes, practicing faith in their homes and houses of worship and wherever they choose to meet in faithful community and let the public schools teach. I also like the comment about memes, a lot. That’s a keeper.

    • Your experience, I suspect, is not unusual, Paul.

      While I’d like my children’s teachers to extoll virtues, I appreciate that they leave the lessons on religion and prayer to me and the religious figures of my choosing.

      People of all beliefs usually agree that love, compassion and kindness are worthwhile values, though we sometimes have different means of reaching the same end point. However, only a fool would believe that he had the power to divine God’s will. Those tend to be the folks that give organized religion a bad name.

  2. Our tragedy is amplified by two groups who use these tiny murdered children.

    First, a National gun group wrote, on Friday night, that their gun nuts rights are under siege.

    On Sunday the deranged Westboro lunatics praised the murder of children at Newtown and chanted a rabid desire for more murder of children.

    We are stunned. There are no words, no one who could articulate even a sensible comfort. We are greeted by two groups who had plenty to say about our dead children and wished to welcome more of the same.

    One group’s god told them to and another thought the Constitution told them to. Imagine the sort of person who looks at twenty tiny coffins and wishes for more because of a god or a gun.

    These are our children; tiny lovely children who had friends and pets and parents and brothers and sisters and grand parents and teachers.

    Our grief is the gun nuts’ celebration, our loss of our innocent children is their gods’ triumph. Each for different reasons, and each is a molten razor slashing our hearts and our lovely children.

    Haven’t these groups any idea of how much pain we are in? Haven’t they any idea of how much we will suffer from this day forward? And within an hour of the murders both groups shout that we deserve our suffering. One group says so because they don’t like our god and another because there aren’t enough guns to make them happy.

    • It is indeed unfortunate when an individual or group uses someone else’s unimaginable tragedy to push their own petty agenda.

      It’s certainly not my place to judge God’s response to such despicable actions, but I’d imagine these sort of shenanigans don’t make him real happy.

  3. Well said! Shine on harvest moon! Many of us ‘foreigners’ scratch our heads at USA ‘values’ – God appears to be very dear to many hearts, and this is fine. However, it is often used in a most unkind, uncharitable,unchristian and intolerant way.

  4. Blaming a lack of religion in schools for such awful events as this is just another way of parents passing the buck isn’t it?

    I think more and more people are expecting schools to do their job for them, that they just drop their children off at the start of their school life and expect to pick up the finished product at graduation, with all of the morals and values they wanted instilled in their children done for them with minimal effort on their behalf.

    If I want my children taught something I make sure it happens myself. We are not a religious family so prayers are not taught, but empathy, respect, and human kindness are.

    This was an awful event, and trying to blame one thing for it is not going to help anyone, is it?

    • No, there likely is no one single cause for what happened, and to try and boil it down to something as simplistic as lack of prayer in public schools demonstrates either an utter lack of common sense or a Machiavellian ability to use any event, no matter how horrendous, for your own purposes.

      And, for the record, I’ll take the non-religious family that stresses empathy, respect and kindness over the “religious” one that apparently misses the entire point behind their faith, which is empathy, respect and kindness.

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