Is Sandy Hook a Sign that We need a Christian Culture? Or a Savior?

When tragedies like Sandy Hook happen, everyone looks at the event to find evidence to support their vision of the Good Life. For some, it was a sign that we need tighter gun control, while for others, a sign that we need looser gun control, or better mental health, or better school security. According to Rachel Held Evans, it’s a sign to Mike Huckabee that God abandons school children when prayer is taken out of school – and she dramatically dismisses Huckabee’s words as “bullshit”. Only, Huckabee never said that, and he didn’t even imply that God abandoned those kids because He wasn’t invited into school.

Instead, as he clarified later, Huckabee wants to argue that:

A specific act of violence is rarely the result of a specific single act of a culture that prompts it. In other words, I would never say that simply taking prayer and Bible reading from our institutions or silencing Christmas carols is the direct cause of a mass murder. That would be ludicrous and simplistic. But the cause and effect we see in the dramatic changes of what our children are capable of is a part of a cultural shift from a God-centered culture to a self-centered culture.

Carson Clark has a good, balanced look at Huckabee’s statement: “Within [a] complex schema Huckabee’s comments have merit. The key is to see them as representing one strand in that multicausal rope instead of the reason. If you interpret his comments that way, he’s not off his rocker.”

Carson has a point here that Evans unfortunately misses. If an essential part of what it means to be a Christian is to love your neighbor, then a Christian culture should produce far less violence. And conversely, a secular pluralist society could be expected to see acts of violence unrestrained by morals.

But I’d like to push back, somewhat, on Huckabee here. I’m not sure it’s helpful to use tragedies like Sandy Hook as examples of what happens when a country abandons God. First, we don’t know the counter-factual. Assume all the same variables on that day are the same except that the shooter was a Christian, or was raised in a Christian culture. Would he have still done it? We have no way of knowing. Second, a Christian culture — a culture in which Christ’s teachings are the assumed, shared moral code — does not mean that everyone is Christian. Third, even among professing Christians, there are plenty of murderers, rapists, child molesters, etc.

In other words, we really can’t say that this tragedy would not have happened if America was still distinctly Christian. (Never mind the fact that our President quoted publicly from the Bible at the Sandy Hook vigil last night.)

Even worse, arguments like Huckabee’s imply that we should be at least nominally Christian for the good of society. Follow Christ in order to have safer schools. Put the Ten Commandments up in public buildings so that our culture is more honest. While it is true that God blesses those who love Him, it’s also true that God does not promise us a prosperous life, but rather a life of suffering and persecution. Suffering like what happened in Sandy Hook Elementary School has happened before, in more “Christian” cultures.

There’s a bit of Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life [Society] Now in Huckabee’s statements. And that troubles me. But again, there is some truth to his point. I just believe it needs to be tempered with stories like the Book of Job, or the story of Cain and Abel.

If we want to see Sandy Hook as evidence of our need for Christ, we would be much better off looking towards Sufjan Stevens’ “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”

In what I would argue is the greatest encapsulation of total depravity, Sufjan Stevens tells Gacy’s horrifying story, emphasizing his humanity. And in the end, he sings, “And in my best behavior, I am really just like him/Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid.”

This tragedy should remind us of our desperate need for saving grace. Not because Adam Lanza is the Other, i.e., a vile product of secularism which we need to be protected from by creating a Christian, moral culture. But rather, because in our best behavior, we are really just like him. Murderous people with murderous hearts. But by the Grace of God.

About Alan Noble

(Co-Founder/Editor/Columnist) is a part-time lecturer at Baylor University. He received his PhD in Contemporary American Literature from Baylor, writing on manifestations of transcendence in 20th Century American Lit. He and his family attend Redeemer Waco, a PCA church. Alan's passion is studying how believers can be a faithful presence in culture to the glory of God and the edification of others. In addition to editing, Alan writes his column, Citizenship Confusion for CaPC.

---Follow Alan on Twitter @TheAlanNoble and on Facebook.

---For questions, comments, or interest in speaking engagements please email me at noble.noneuclidean [at] gmail [dot] com.

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com Derek Rishmawy

    I want to say something just to say something, but you nailed it.

  • Pingback: A useful reminder for how not to respond to tragedy and sin | St. Eutychus

  • http://www.theretuned.com Matthew Linder

    Thanks Alan. Your are spot on in your analysis.

  • http://nailtothedoor.com Dan Martin

    Completely agree, Alan. The one thing I would add is that the Christians advocating for this more “Christian culture” so often are on the side of other kinds of violence, that protests like Huckabee’s always ring a little hollow to me. Huckabee himself is no promoter of peace on earth in other circumstances, for example his own comments on the Iraq War.

  • http://morganguyton.wordpress.com Morgan Guyton

    What do we say about the fact that white evangelicals fetishize guns so much? According to a recent Public Religion Research Institute survey at http://publicreligion.org/research/2012/08/august-2012-prri-rns-survey/, 58% of evangelicals own guns, more than any other religious group in America.

    It also says, “Nearly one-third (32%) of white evangelical Protestants and 3-in-10 (27%) white mainline Protestants believe that people should be allowed to carry concealed guns in a church or place of worship. By contrast, fewer than 1-in-5 religiously unaffiliated Americans (18%) and Catholics (14%) say that people should be permitted to bring concealed guns to church.”

    There’s a theology at play here, perhaps “total depravity of everybody else” mixed with some premillennial nihilism. It really supports my thesis that the “Biblical values” of American evangelicalism are actually an enshrinement of middle-class suburban neuroses. What kind of theology would make you not want to have a gun in your house? Other than an explicitly pacifist one. If you really believe for example that any human being is capable of engaging in heinous evil and not just “those other people,” then you might view gun ownership as an undue temptation for yourself or members of your family. I wrote some more about the moral question of gun collecting here: http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/the-moral-question-of-gun-collecting/

  • http://sayable.net Lore Ferguson

    Excellent. Thanks Alan.

  • http://www.projecttgm.com Brandon Smith

    Great post, man. Once again, RHE shows herself to be quite the provocateur of Conservatives and loosey-goosey with her study of them.

  • Timothy Dalrymple

    Good words, Alan. The only thing I would add is that the test is not really whether “this tragedy” would not have happened if our culture were still distinctly Christian, but whether such tragedies would be less frequent in general. I think you could make a case that they would. BUT I also agree that we don’t come to Christ or encourage others to come to Christ in order to have more peaceable lives.

  • Bob In Texas

    For another perspective on Huckabee’s comments, see here: http://bobintexas.blogspot.com/2012/12/god-and-sandy-hook-elementary_19.html

  • Michelle

    My sympathies are with the people who lost their children, parents, teachers on this day but I don’t think religion is the way forward here. I’d say we need more help for people who sadly suffer mental health issues.

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