When horrific events like the one in Connecticut today take place, people from all sides of the political spectrum rush in to try to puke their world view all over the situation. Liberals will understandably make the argument that this tragedy should prompt us to tighten up gun control legislation. However, they will have a tough time explaining retorts that gun control did not stop the mass killing in Norway last year. And right now there are a handful of conservatives getting ready to embarrass themselves by correlating this event with the fact that America is godless and too darn nice to them there queers.
The reality is that we atheists don’t have all the answers to the questions raised by this shooting and others like it. We don’t have a magical solution that will allay people’s fears that something like this will one day affect them. We can’t provide the comfort that faith can offer that will at least temporary sooth the pain of those who have lost someone they love.
But what we can offer is humility, reason, and empathy, and we can frame this event in such a way as to elevate the value and beauty of human life, not cheapen it. To this end, I offer up a few things we did NOT learn today:
- God should not be thanked for saving the lives of those who survived. We all know it will be said, and I can think of nothing more hurtful or more likely to embitter the parents of the deceased children. There is no one to be thanked other than the police officers who risk their lives every day to protect us – unfortunately, this time there was nothing they could do.
- God’s will was not done. Nor did God “allow” this to happen. Nor does God “work in mysterious ways”. A troubled person did a horrible thing and none of us can understand why. There is nothing more we can say about this. Invoking deities in times like these is understandable but only adds to the confusion and pain. Let’s leave God out of this.
- These children are (unfortunately) not in heaven right now. Don’t cheapen the horrific nature of what transpired today by trying to make it alright. It’s not alright. These people had their one shot at life stolen from them and they will never have it back. If they were in heaven there would be nothing to grieve over. Let the families grieve, and let’s grieve with them.
- There is no hell below them either. Above them, only sky.
Let’s cherish every moment we have on this earth. And while we’re at it, let’s try to help others do the same. After all, this is all we will ever have. We didn’t learn this today – but in an extraordinarily painful way, we were indeed reminded of it.