Reckoning With Tragedy Does Not ‘Require Faith’

Last night, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy saw fit to ruminate on the “power of faith” at a memorial service in Newtown. During times of strife, he declared, we are “required to be invested in our faith,” which is a “gift from God.”

Presumably, Malloy’s intent was to console the anguished families. But that such generic spiritualism could legitimately aid in anyone’s grieving process seems doubtful; the notion of “faith” he invoked is so nebulous as to be completely devoid of substance, alienating both devout believers and secularists. His assertion of a “faith requirement” was particularly bizarre, vacuous, and wrong. Perhaps the governor is unaware that many among us are capable of absorbing tragedy without appeals to supernatural authority.

When a community congregates to grieve after collective trauma, there is room for accommodation of various religious traditions. And indeed, one need not affirm the doctrinal truth of Christianity in order to glean wisdom from priests or appreciate a Bible verse. But Malloy’s lazy invocation of religious primacy was misguided, much like his proclamation on Friday that “Evil” had “visited” Newtown. In all likelihood, what really “visited” Newtown was a young man with a deranged mind. Pretending otherwise — and falling back on empty superstition — does no one any good.

About michaeltracey

Journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Follow me on Twitter at @mtracey.

  • LesterBallard

    “In all likelihood, what really “visited” Newtown was a young man with a deranged mind”

    Who had easy access to high magazine capacity firearms.

  • C Peterson

    While I would never tell a grieving person to abandon their faith (to their face), I have little doubt that faith is actually an impediment to healing, an immature response to a sorrowful event. A complete absence of faith allows for a healthy ability to deal with misfortune.

  • Ed L

    I definitely agree with you. The one thing that religious faith brings out when something like this happens is cognitive dissonance. When people of faith ask the question, “How can a loving and merciful god let (or make) this happen?”; it never seems to occur to them that god may not be loving and merciful. Or may not exist at all.

  • WoodyTanaka

    “In all likelihood, what really ‘visited’ Newtown was a young man with a deranged mind.”

    Bullshit.  What happened was that Newton was visited by a young man with a deranged mind and a shit load of guns.  It was the latter which was the difference between a sad situation and 20 dead six and seven year olds. 

    Malloy might be ham-handed in his attempt to console, but that misstatement pales in comparison to those people who are trying to pretend that the gun people in this country aren’t partly responsible for establishing an environment where these murders can occur.  No one dies by the governor saying stupid stuff about religion.  The same can’t be said about gun people’s fight to protect their “right” to be negligent with weapons — a result of which is that many innocent people, including children, will die.

    Talking about silly religous statements kind of misses the point of what’s really important here.

  • Sergio Castro

    There is a time and a place for gun control rhetoric and I’m not sure the immediate aftermath is the time. Making this tragedy about gun rights, or religion, or about any political or personal agenda is crass and selfish.

    Can we at least wait until the bodies are in the ground before we campaign?

  • Octoberfurst

     When tragedies occur many people turn to faith to comfort them. They go to their places of worship to pray for the dead and to seek solace from their God.  I don’t know if such actions are just meaningless gestures or not, because even though there is no God,  people find  that this helps them cope with the horrors inflicted upon them.
      I would never tell a grieving believer that there is no God.  That would just be cruel. But at the same time I find it irritating  to hear people spew nonsense like, “So-and-so is in a better place now” or “We may not understand it but this was all part of God’s holy plan” or, even worse, “God is punishing us for foresaking him!” It drives me crazy. It never seems to  occur to them that their God is either, (A) inept, (B) cruel or (C) non-existent.  So even though their God allowed this to happen he/she is still considered all-powerful, all-loving  and deeply concerned with people’s welfare. It’s just so delusional.  

  • Bellj

    If someone wants to deal with tragedy using faith, their god, whatever, I don’t have a problem with it.
    This is my problem. There is a story making the rounds on my fb page that starts with “twenty children burst through Heaven’s doors today” and goes on to tell this bee-YOO-te-ful story of children meeting Jesus. It was so offensive, I could barely contain my anger. 
    Here’s the thing. People have different coping strategies, I understand that. I get it. But this level of denial and escapism is downright disturbing. This is not a beautiful story, no matter how you spin it. It is horrible, tragic, and devastating. 
    A courageous person faces the problem and doesn’t shy away from the truth. They don’t want to deal with it either, but they do. Hopefully it is a call to action.

  • WoodyTanaka

    Nonsense.  When the damage which will inevitably follow by the organized opposition to sensible gun control meansures is fresh in everyone’s mind is EXACTLY the time to talk about the failure of this country to free ourselves from the shackles of the gun nuts. 

    Rather than standing up and taking responsibility for this attack — which is the fruit of its work — the NRA is silent.  They’re not being “selfless,” they’re being cowards.  They should never be permitted to dodge the questions that the children’s murder — which was directly abetted by the NRA’s work — raised.

    We should do it now, while the pain is fresh in our minds, because waiting only helps those who would offer up child after child and innocent life after innocent life on the alter of their so-called “rights” under the Second Amendment. 

  • Anna

    It also seems like a very self-centered and narcissistic way of looking at things. They didn’t mind believing in a loving and merciful god when it struck down other people’s children, but when it’s their child, they suddenly have a problem with it?

    If they’re bent on believing their god is omniscient, omnipresent, omnibenevolent, and omnipotent, then they’ve got a problem reconciling tragedy. This is why some people seem to lose or doubt their faith for emotional reasons.

  • Pegk

    Nothing like devaluing the lives of those children by saying they are angels now.

  • Blacksheep

    or (D), hands-off. It’s an important option, since it puts the onus on us to make the world a better place, even if we have faith. 

  • Thackerie

     NO! We’ve been waiting far too long already. Every time a massacre like this occurs, which seems to be a monthly event here lately, we’re told this is “not the time and place” to consider more effective gun control. So, we keep pushing it back, and pushing it back, and nothing ever gets accomplish.

    If the tragedy in Connecticut isn’t enough to spur effective action now, what’s it going to take?

  • Baal

     “But this level of denial and escapism is downright disturbing.”
    That’s by design.  The solace of the arms of the lord hardly seem to be more than a socially acceptable way of burring your head in the sand.

  • Jeff P

    I agree that the Deist God is an option.  Although one can marvel at the creative power of a Deist God, I question the need for faith about believing in a Deist God.  What would one have faith about?  That the God exists? 

    Or are you beliving in a judging (sending people to heaven and hell) God but one that is hands off in the world – just observing, making lists, and checking it twice.  And you have faith that God will give you presents at death time?

  • Birdie1986

    So, when should we talk about it?  Right before the next tragedy?  One can grieve and work for change at the same time.

  • Blacksheep

    hey Jeff,

    No – not as simple as that. Really what I mean is that maybe we indeed have free will to make this the kind of world we want.

    Faith would still take the form of believing in a creator, in right and wrong, in Christ as savior – (in my case) but does not require a God that intervenes in daily life. 

    I can look at it from the perspective that going against God’s will has consequences, but the consequences are not from God directly. For example if the shooter was living a life without love, felt alienated, de-humanized, possibly fed a steady diet of violent films and video games – maybe he would have been OK if her were surrounded by a loving community even with his (reported) mental illness.

    The Bible paints an unclear picture of the specifics of “death time” – sometimes using words for heaven and hell that don’t match up to what we have come to understand them as. (as you know). But my net understanding is that heaven is being in God’s presence.

    “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him”

  • Blacksheep

    …However if God were real, it would make perfect sense to seek solace in Him.

  • Anna

    There is a story making the rounds on my fb page that starts with “twenty children burst through Heaven’s doors today” and goes on to tell this bee-YOO-te-ful story of children meeting Jesus.

    Does it ever occur to these people that some of the victims might not have been Christian? One of the little boys buried today came from a Jewish family. How insensitive to his parents to proclaim that he’s now partying with Jesus.

  • Sue Blue

    My son was murdered in 2005.  I can say that losing a child is the worst thing anyone can ever go through, and to lose a child by violence like this adds a trauma to the loss that is inconceivable to anyone who hasn’t gone through it.  I can say from my own experience that the last thing a grief-stricken parent wants to hear is that their son or daughter is now a “little angel” or “Jesus wanted him/her in heaven”, or “they’re in a better place”.  What kind of God would take a child from his parents via a bloody, horrific act because he “wanted him/her in heaven”?  What an insult to the parents to say  that their child is “in a better place” – as if the loving arms of Mom and Dad and the home they provided wasn’t good enough.  And why allow a child to be born only to snatch that child away, in such an awful, cruel way?  Was the murderer God’s Little Helper?
    What that parent wants is that child back – and no one and nothing can ever give that to them.   

  • Hemant Mehta

    So sorry for your loss, Sue. Thank you for sharing that.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    For anyone who wants to send an email to Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, telling him that he is inappropriately using his government leadership role to suggest that he can mandate that citizens be “required to be invested in our faith”….

    (“required”…. really? How do you require us to do that? “Our” faith? Whose do you mean? Yours? Christianity? What about those of no faith and no desire for faith? Shouldn’t the Governor and his speech writers plan saying things that will unite us, rather than divide us?)

    Here is the site where you can submit your email to him:


  • allein

    One of my facebook friends (a guy I used to work with) posted something similar, and the way he started shows he is fully aware that his words might hurt people. “I don’t want to upset people, but I need to say it. His Grace unfolds upon all of those lost in that terrible event in Connecticut. They were Souls called Home, not souls taken. They have been shown grace you and I do not know. I am sorry for the pain their families experience, but know this, they see no hurt, only Love. For that is all that can be seen, and they pray you may see likewise.”

    And 9 people “liked” it.

    And also tonight my cousin’s 19-year-old daughter quoted Mike Huckabee. 

    A part of me wants to respond but it feels so futile.

  • Drakk

     Why? He’s the one who sanctioned the murders.

  • Aspieguy

    I, also, would never tell grieving people that there is no god. When I go to a visitation or a funeral, I simply tell the grieving people, “I’m sorry.” I let them talk and say whatever they want to say. I don’t believe religious platitudes are helpful, but I wouldn’t take any comfort away from people. 

  • Japangirl

    What is with the violent video games thing?  I keep seeing it in comments and op-eds and articles and I am sick of it.  I am not going into my long-form rant, because this is neither the time nor place for it, but suffice it to say that violent video games have been studied quite a lot and are NOT correlated with any form of increased violence or violent tendencies.  Can we please lay this canard to rest?

    Adam Lanza was an angry individual with access to a whole lot of high-capacity, low-recoil guns.  That is what we know right now, that is all we know right now, and speculation about whether he was mentally ill, on the autism spectrum, played violent video games, watched violent movies, or ate mac & cheese every day is pointless.

  • Blacksheep

    If he allowed mankind actual free will, he didn’t sanction them. When my kids fight, it’s not because I sanction it. But as they grow they learn more and more how to get along, to be less selfish, etc.

  • Blacksheep

    I agree with everything you said. Except for the video game thing. I’m 99% sure that they have a de-sensitizing effect, perhaps far worse for someone with mental issues. It’s documented that what we expose ourselves to, especially during formative years, can literally shape the way that our brains process things. 

    Quick story:
    When they were young, we only let our kids watch TV that was non violent (PBS mostly). One day my parents brought over a Tom and Jerry video. A half hour into watching it, one of my kids screams, “Daddy! She just hit me for NO REASON.”

    They had NEVER hit one another until that day. It’s a funny story, but also illuminating.

    If you have a chance, try watching one of the violent video games. I believe that you will be beyond disgusted.

  • Sergio Castro

    As someone who’s lost a child, I would say that waiting until the formal services are over is respectful. I wouldn’t have wanted anyone discussing their agenda vis a vis my loss in the days following. Maybe a couple weeks.
    Your insistence to make this about gun control completely disregards the anguish the families of these murder victims are experiencing. Keep in mind, one could just as well make an argument for less stringent gun control laws too…After all, if even one teacher had been armed…blah blah blah
    Quiet your mind and imagine having your child shot and killed. It’s not about laws and regulations. It’s about your humanity.