Waiting for the ‘why’ shoe to drop

hands in prayerYou’re waiting.

You’ve been out there clicking from site to site, because you know that the 24/7 cable-news channels are trapped in old-video-loop hell. You’re looking for new information, but you are also waiting.

You’re waiting for the shoe to drop. You know which shoe I am talking about — the religion shoe.

If you’re a journalist or an expert news consumer, you know that many on the left are going to preach about guns, while looking for television lights. You know that many on the right are going to defend current gun laws and call for stricter enforcement, while urgently trying to avoid television lights.

You know that, here inside the Beltway, there are people who are so into politics that they are sitting, remote controls in their hands, waiting to grade the candidates. Will Hillary Clinton look chilly? Will Barack Obama get the tone just right, with the right mixture of Scripture and concern? Will some Republican manage to look both pastoral and presidential? Will speechwriter Michael Gerson to come out of retirement?

You’ve seen the photos of mourners in church pews, believers offering comfort and seeking solace. You know that people will pray and pray and that journalists will aim cameras at them, because, you that’s what people in the Bible Belt do. They pray. People down in the southwest Virginia put Scriptures on big signs next to their highways and build huge crosses next to the Interstate. It’s a good photo, but it’s just prayer. Right?

You know the pope will say something and that — no matter what he says about the mysteries of life and death — it will show up in the news as a rather naive cry for world peace and for an end to violence. What was the name of that rabbi who wrote that old book, you know, When Bad Things Happen to Good People? Is he still alive? Can we get him on the air?

No, you’re waiting for the real religion angle to surface, the sexy one linked to violence and craziness. Religion seems to show up in every other major story these days.

Isn’t Jerry Falwell somewhere up the valley off Interstate 81? Maybe he’ll come to the campus and talk about jealousy, broken hearts and the sexual revolution. But probably not. He knows too much about campus life.

Or maybe Pat Robertson will say — something. Who knows what he’ll say.

Perhaps the atheist version of Robertson will call a press conference somewhere and say that this tragedy is more evidence that life is random and without purpose. Reporters need an atheist version of Robertson.

You’re waiting to find out what video game the shooter played, all hours of the day and night. Did he go to see 300 one too many times? Was he driven crazy by Satan or too many “Left Behind” novels? People on both sides of the Culture Wars want to know.

You’re waiting to see if he killed more women than men. You want to know if the big massacre started in the classroom of an evangelical professor who once witnessed to the shooter and made him mad.

You heard reporters say the shooter was Asian and you immediately thought: Asia? What part of Asia?

04a prayer candles 01You’re waiting for something that points toward the source of this evil. You want to know a source, don’t you? And if you covered the Columbine High School massacre, you may be thinking of that column that Peggy Noonan bashed out in the hours just after that hellish day, while the cable television channels were in old-video-loop hell. She wrote:

Think of it this way. Your child is an intelligent little fish. He swims in deep water. Waves of sound and sight, of thought and fact, come invisibly through that water, like radar; they go through him again and again, from this direction and that. The sound from the television is a wave, and the sound from the radio; the headlines on the newsstand, on the magazines, on the ad on the bus as it whizzes by–all are waves. The fish — your child — is bombarded and barely knows it. But the waves contain words like this, which I’ll limit to only one source, the news:

. . . was found strangled and is believed to have been sexually molested . . . had her breast implants removed . . . took the stand to say the killer was smiling the day the show aired . . . said the procedure is, in fact, legal infanticide . . . is thought to be connected to earlier sexual activity among teens . . . court battle over who owns the frozen sperm . . . contains songs that call for dominating and even imprisoning women . . . died of lethal injection . . . had threatened to kill her children . . . said that he turned and said, “You better put some ice on that” . . . had asked Kevorkian for help in killing himself . . . protested the game, which they said has gone beyond violence to sadism . . . showed no remorse . . . which is about a wager over whether he could sleep with another student . . . which is about her attempts to balance three lovers and a watchful fiance . . .

This is the ocean in which our children swim. This is the sound of our culture. It comes from all parts of our culture and reaches all parts of our culture, and all the people in it, which is everybody…

You’re waiting. You want to know the “why” in “who, what, when, where, why and how.”

I know that I do.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

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  • dpulliam

    The Web sites for John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama posted statements. On the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani has a statement but that’s it from the “big three.”

  • Mai

    A while ago a good friend died in a car crash. He was drunk and got into the car of another drunken guy and didn´t put his seatbelt on. Such a small thing, such a minor detail and it cost him his life. Why, we asked ourselves? What was he thinking, why did he do it, how did he die, did it hurt? It seems so important, and sometimes it is not. In his case he was just irresponsible. No death wish, no reson. But this shooter is another matter altogheter.

    Why did he do it? Was he lonely, angry, felt he didn´t fit in? Did he get bad grades? Had his parents molested him? Did he watch too much S&M porn? What is it that makes one of the many people that plays one particular videogame turn into a murderer and leaves the rest to move on with their lives?

    Perhaps the problem is not the video game then.

    What I really ask myself is why are we seeing this over and over again. Why do we have so many angry people? So many people that would inflict such a pain in others just to… what? I wonder if we are missing the point here, if we could have done something to help before he took this decition. If anything we could have said before would have made a difference.

    People keep grabing a gun and getting into the place they live and work in and shooting as many persons as they can before killing themselves. Is there a patern, a real one tht goes beyond eating to much junk food and not exercising enough?

  • Eric W

    Richard Dawkins would attribute it all to “the selfish gene.”

    The “why”? Hmmmm….

    The devil? (Read the intro chapter of HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL, I believe, about the massacre.)
    Mental shutdown/rage/determination by the jilted/jealous shootist?
    Depression?
    Medication gone bad?
    Twinkies? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twinkie_defense)

    Truly horrific, probably unexplainable, but nevertheless real and tragic.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Interesting irony related to the “why” question: Yesterday was also Holocaust Remembrance Day.
    As a matter of journalism, I’ve swung at the theodicy pitch several times over the years. The stories are pretty much interchangable, but for the details at the top about the tragedy of the moment.
    Is there a better answer to “why” in Western religions than the one found in Job? (And I don’t mean “better” as in emotionally satisfying, but “better” as in more logically consistent with the rest of the religion.)

  • Michael Gowin

    In a WSJ blog posting (http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2007/04/16/more-to-come/), the first comment posted asks about the shooter’s religion. The following three comments take issue with the question, the last saying the shooter’s religion is “irrelevant.” The next comment, as tmatt predicted, takes aim at gun control.

  • Eric W

    Is there a better answer to “why” in Western religions than the one found in Job? (And I don’t mean “better” as in emotionally satisfying, but “better” as in more logically consistent with the rest of the religion.)

    I.e., that God and Satan like to have betting matches on us?

  • kyle

    Is there a better answer to “why” in Western religions than the one found in Job? (And I don’t mean “better” as in emotionally satisfying, but “better” as in more logically consistent with the rest of the religion.)

    Yes, a crucifix. But to be less glib, Pope John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter addressing this question, which might be of interest to you, at least for the Catholic perspective.

  • Jerry

    Sure many people react in typical fashion either attacking or defending something – guns, immigration policies, lack of mental health facilities or whatever.

    But for many events like this do cause us to step back and ask “why”. But not the everyday “why” but the fundamental “why”. Some will find their faith strengthened as a result and some will find what they believed in unsatisfying and look for another explanation that satisfies them better.

    I went over the the Newsweek/Washington post blog to see how various people were reacting to the events. This one struck me:

    God Weeps

    We don’t talk all that much about God’s grief at a spasm of human violence that destroys all that it touches. I cannot help but believe, however, that God weeps at all such loss and grieves that any one of God’s precious children is harmed in such a hideous way.

    Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite
    http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/susan_brooks_thistlethwaite/2007/04/god_weeps.html

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Eric W — heh. You are a biblical literalist, I take it?
    Kyle — The crucifix — and JPII’s letter — offer a purpose to suffering. But even JPII goes back to Job for the ultimate “why.” By my reading, the answer God gives to Job is, essentially, “It makes sense to Me.” And you aren’t capable of understanding. So you have to trust Me.
    Which leaves as a mystery to believers the question of why God would create a world where suffering is a part. Surely He could have left that part out?
    Karma and reincarnation get you completely out of the question of innocents suffering (which is why you’ll find something very much like that in some Orthodox Jewish theology, btw…). As does any non-deistic religion — no God, no problem. Or any religion that does not posit a single omnipotent and good God.
    Doing journalism about this stuff ain’t easy.

  • Eric Phillips

    Is there a better answer to “why” in Western religions than the one found in Job?

    Guess that depends what answer you think is found in Job.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Folks, you’re arguing religion again.

    Anyone seeing any coverage that is spiritually deeper than a photo op?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Jeffrey:

    You writing off any belief in a personal Satan as literalism? Just asking. That makes the Vatican a fundie camp?

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Terry, I got no problem with literalism. Everybody gets to take their texts as they like. But yes, a belief in a literal “personal Satan” requires a literal interpretation of certain texts (And let’s not even *go* into a discussion about an accurate translation of the word found in Job…).
    And “fundie?” For shame! As I believe I’ve noted elsewhere on your blog, *I* don’t use the term “fundamentalist” outside of a quote…1:-{)>
    Back to journalism — my initial musing was about the difficulty of writing about theodicy for the MSM. And about the difficulty in finding a new or newly useful way to describe or frame the issue.

  • kyle

    Kyle — The crucifix — and JPII’s letter — offer a purpose to suffering. But even JPII goes back to Job for the ultimate “why.” By my reading, the answer God gives to Job is, essentially, “It makes sense to Me.” And you aren’t capable of understanding. So you have to trust Me. Which leaves as a mystery to believers the question of why God would create a world where suffering is a part. Surely He could have left that part out?

    With due respect, I don’t think you’re reading the pope in a very nuanced way. For one thing, Catholics use the word “mystery” not in the sense of “God says so, now pipe down” but in the sense of something we can only partially understand given our limitations and God’s infinity. For instance, we know quite a lot about the Incarnation in the sense that there are very clearly defined dogmas about the nature of the God-man Christ. But it would be false to claim we “understand” it in anything close to its fullness. It’s a mystery.

    Same with this. We have markers on the road map, but we can’t fully understand it, this side of heaven. Yes, the pope goes back to Job – it’s part of our data, part of God’s revelation, and eternally valid. What the book of Job and the pope are saying – along with nearly all of Christianity for the past 2,000 years, including Christ Himself in the Gospels, who corrected his disciples when they asked “who sinned?” in regard to the man born blind – is that you can’t connect suffering and sin in a superficial way. That is, it’s not typically “you robbed a bank, now God is going to make your hands fall off.” The innocent suffer, too.

    But this does not diminish the sense in which sin in the analogical sense of what Catholics and most Protestants call Original Sin is related to the origin of suffering. This, in turn, is connected with free will. I’m pretty sure this is the mystery he’s talking about, what “we cannot fully understand” in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (404). The Orthodox Churches have a different take which would be worthwhile getting.

    I also think you may be missing the nuance that Christ’s giving meaning to suffering might have constituted a reason for God to permit it, which may be why at the Easter Vigil Catholics thank God for this Original Sin, this “happy fault,” which brought Christ.

    I agree it’s not easy to do journalism about this. It’s complicated and deep, and even most theologians will tell that the answers, while “logically consistent with the rest of the religion,” are not, as you noted, emotionally satisfying. I have no intention of debating with you about whether our theology makes sense.

    But to amplify a point: This is an ancient question, not a new one. It’s one Christians, including some of the most brilliant minds in history like Augustine and Aquinas, have asked and attempted rather robustly to answer from the very beginning. They – and more contemporary writers like C.S. Lewis and Peter Kreeft – believed their answers to be logically consistent with their religion.

    If you want to flesh out your Rolodex on sources who can speak very intelligently to this, I’d suggest Kreeft (who teaches philosophy at Boston College); the Orthodox Christian theologian David B. Hart, whose contributions on the subject aroused much discussion around the time of the tsunamis; and EWTN’s Father Benedict Groeschel, who has written and spoken extensively about this topic.

  • YetAnotherRick

    Interestingly, Gov. Tim Kaine just brought the Job Religion Ghost into play during the convocation.

  • http://www.geocities.com/frgregacca/stfel.html Fr. Greg

    16:

    Gov. Kaine is apparently an active Roman Catholic layman, having served a missionary to Honduras. I found his tribute to President Bush moving, and I was especially impressed with the President’s “homily”. Perhaps he, the President, has missed his true calling.

  • Rathje

    “You’re waiting. You want to know the “why” in “who, what, when, where, why and how.” I know that I do.”

    Actually, I’m not really that interested at all. Neither am I particularly interested in this story. We live in a world of horrors. Some we choose to take notice of. Some pass us by unnoticed. If this had happened in Spain, would CNN have cared? How many days of news coverage do you think?

    A whole village is plundered, raped and slaughtered in Darfur and does Fox News blink an eye?

    This story is sensational for sheer audacity, and magnitude. But no more “tragic” or “horrifying” than any number of incidents happening daily in our own communities. Yet it fires the morbid curiosity and imagination of our society.

    This incident will be handled by the American public the way all such incidents are and have been handled.

    We will seek to paint the killer as “a monster,” “a crazed fanatic.” Those who knew him will protest loudly how “they never saw it coming,” “he seemed so mild-mannered.” School officials and law enforcement will talk about how this was a freak accident that could not be prevented. The killer will become an icon in our minds. A ready-made canvas on which we can paint our own needs and insecurities.

    We will seek at every turn to paint the killer as everything we hate. A crazy, unhinged, isolated nutcase who doesn’t even qualify as a real person. No, he’s not a “real person.” A real person could never do such a thing! What we have here is a “monster!”

    But it won’t do.

    Because in the end, we, all of us, are capable of the exact same thing.

    I don’t believe in monsters.

    But if there is such a thing, we are all it. We are all capable. We are all culpable. No matter how much we preach and spout-off about how horrible it all was. This is the human burden – to carry the weight of horrible potential throughout our lives. Each one of us is a potential murderer. The same hatreds, the same despairs, the same injustices that informed the killer’s actions inform us all and every last one of us must concede: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

    But, by all means, take your TV remotes in hand and let the droning voice of the 5 o’clock news reassure you that this could NEVER be you. After all, this man was “crazy.” He’s not like the rest of us. We are light years away from that!

    “and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness.
    And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited”

  • http://altreligion.about.com Jennifer Emick

    Anyone seeing any coverage that is spiritually deeper than a photo op?

    Of course not- do we ever? But then, how could it go deeper? The usual round of go-to religious voices are going to get ten seconds to have their say, and by the time anyone gets any further than that, we’ll have moved on to gun control vs. student visas. No, the deepest spiritual coverage you’re goiung to get is when they air the eulogies for the victims.

  • http://altreligion.about.com Jennifer Emick

    Beautifully put, Rathje.

  • danr

    Rathje, that was quite a lengthy diatribe for someone “not particularly interested” in this story. Obviously you’re at least passionate in one sense or another, as well you (and we) should be.

    Not everyone views this story — OR Darfur, or Iraq, or numerous other atrocities of local and/or global newsworthiness — with such moral detachment. If shock-value stories, even portrayed with and driven by varying degrees of sensationalism, help stir at least some of us up from our moral and spiritual complacency, then that’s one of the few good things I can see coming out of this tragedy.

    Yes, some will watch out of morbid fascination (“look, a live horror movie!”), some will look away with self-righteous judgment (“that monster could never be me”), some might look inward (“could I somehow have the same heart condition”), and still others will look upward for answers.

    In my book, coverage that causes us to look in any such direction is preferable to zero coverage.

  • Rathje

    I’m interested in how our society views our “monsters” generally. You could pick this story, or any of myriad others.

    This particular story holds no particular interest to me. In a way, you might say I’m opportunistically using it as a venue for airing my own moral views, much as gun control advocates undoubtedly will.

  • Rathje

    Also, you point out that any rousing of American feeling towards others is all to the good.

    Perhaps.

    But keep opportunity cost in mind. Any story you follow, any book you read, any music you listen to, comes at the expense of other stories you could be following, books read, or music experienced.

    These kind of headline stories tend to grab our attention and get our dander up at the expense of stories that would alert us to things we can actually do something about. It is also easier to detach yourself from a story that you only experience through an electronic box.

    Increasingly, we Americans are becoming hypothetical people with more make-believe friends and experiences than real ones.

    Perhaps I’m being too harsh. But I do suspect that we are becoming morally dead beings whose only arguably human engagement in society is via remote people and events accompanied by elaborate vicarious rituals, such as the ones we shall all be privy to for the next few weeks.

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  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Kyle: Thanks for the response and particularly for the sources. And I agree with your use of the word “mystery.” That’s how I was thinking it. I figured in this company, I’d not need to amplify…1:-{)> As for whether *any* theology makes sense. It does if it does. And to the faithful of any faith, theirs does. Which is a truth that us religion journalists always need to be mindful of. Sez I.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Journalism, folks. Anyone finding any journalism out there worth talking about on the “why” question?

    You too, Jeffrey. Your team can do it.

  • Daniel

    Reporters have an atheist version of Pat Robertson.

    His name is Richard Dawkins, although I’m not entirely convinced he exists. He’s never revealed himself to me, after all.

  • Craig

    The Chicago Tribune is reporting on the rush to find the meaning of “Ismail Ax”:

    Those two words, written in red ink on one arm of Cho Seung-Hui, the 23-year-old Virginia Tech student suspected of the campus shooting spree, set off a massive Web hunt Tuesday for clues to what could have motivated the nation’s worst mass killings.

    and

    One popular theory, mentioned at many sites, speculated that the phrase comes from a story in the Quran, the holy book of Islam, about Ibrahim and his son, Ismail. In the Muslim religion, Ibrahim is known as the father of the prophets and, upset that people in his hometown still worshiped idols and not Allah, he smashed all but one statue in a local temple with an ax. Ibrahim’s son is Ismail, who also became a prophet.

    And in the NY Post:

    Sources told the Tribune that the words “ISMAIL AX” were also found written in red ink on the inside of one of Cho’s arms.

    The reference may be to the Islamic account of the Biblical sacrifice of Abraham, where God commands the patriarch to sacrifice his own son. Abraham begins to comply, but God intervenes at the last moment to save the boy.

    In the Jewish and Christian traditions, the son is Isaac, father of the Jewish people; in Islam, it is his brother, Ismail (Ishmael in Hebrew).

    Abraham uses a knife in most versions of the story, but some accounts have him wielding an ax.

    A more obscure reference may be to a passage in the Koran referring to Abraham’s destruction of pagan idols; in some accounts, he uses an ax to do so.

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  • kyle

    Jeffrey,

    Thanks for the reply and the conversation. Just one more quick point. We Catholics are pretty insistent that faith and reason are compatible, indeed necessary to each other. You undoubtedly have read a certain famous speech by the current pope that centered on that issue. Not every other kind of theology accepts this claim. So we’d be about the last people not to welcome serious consideration of whether claims are logically consistent. My point is that doing so requires a bit of humility. As a journalist and as a Catholic I hope I’d be reluctant to charge headlong into some faith I didn’t practice and start passing judgments about whether some point or another I didn’t fully understand made perfect sense or not. And actually, if I were working at a mainstream newspaper, I guess I’m not sure I would consider that my role anyway. But that’s me. Best of luck on your work.

    Sorry Tmatt, I’ll stop making digressions now.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    KYLE:

    I know you’re talking to Jeffrey at the moment, but my whole point in the sentence about the pope is that no matter what the pope says about a subject (take Easter), it always shows up in the press as a message about world peace. I was going to do a post on the Easter sermon this year on that point, but ran out of time. More GetReligion Guilt.

  • http://www.southern-orthodoxy.blogspot.com Fr Joseph Huneycutt

    In a story by AP Writer Adam Geller:

    “Cho indicated in his letter that the end was near and that there was a deed to be done, the official said. He also expressed disappointment in his own religion, and made several references to Christianity, the official said.”

    http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D8OJ18401&show_article=1

  • Eric Chaffee

    Journalism is vastly more than the same old stuff happening to different people. NO, I’m not waiting for said other shoe, tmatt. What’s the point?

    The first one of these I can remember was called the Texas tower shooter, probably in the late 50′s. Some kid hauled a rifle into a campus tower and randomly sniped a bunch of classmates. Same ol’ same ol.’ There is no sense trying to make sense of nonsense.

    So, what is my duty as a Christian religion-news junkie? — turn it off, and pray! Pray to comfort those in my community who feel alienated, useless, mis-understood. And after praying, I need to walk my prayers. I reach out to those who feel estranged. I listen to those who feel ignored. I visit those imprisoned every week. I sit for many hours with those who are losing hope. I don’t get paid for this. But watching the news pays nothing, either.

    I invite those here who are confused by this current tragic display of anger to recognize that all anger is theological. Yes, we blame God for the way the universe is being run. We don’t like the management style as presently practiced. We scratch our heads. We shake our fists at heaven.

    Instead, we need to reach out in comfort to those who don’t see the real problem. It is my own view of God that makes me crazy mad. That view needs to be disabused whenever I encounter it in my neighbors. (This heals me!) This can be done without preaching. It has nothing to do with denomination. God will give the words, if I am but willing to speak them. Tell somebody today that they have value. For God’s sake!

    ~eric. (Alden NY)

  • kyle

    I know you’re talking to Jeffrey at the moment, but my whole point in the sentence about the pope is that no matter what the pope says about a subject (take Easter), it always shows up in the press as a message about world peace. I was going to do a post on the Easter sermon this year on that point, but ran out of time. More GetReligion Guilt.

    Ain’t it the truth.

    But maybe my little sidebar with Jeffrey isn’t so tangential after all, because it relates to your point. It goes to many of the things on this blog, about how journalists, even bright and talented ones who have been on the beat a long time, sometimes lack expertise in very complicated and deep theological questions that come up in the course of the day’s events.

    Is it possible to do justice to the topic of Christian theodicy in a news piece? I would hope so, but it’s more like reporting on a complicated scientific dispute than a typical city council levy vote. It requires a rather deep, specialized background knowledge, or hyper articulate sources who have that knowledge.

    And maybe – I really do mean maybe – looking at it with the skepticism that is expected and to some degree necessary for a journalist is fatal to really understanding it. One might not be able to understand the cross and resurrection, whether in the context of theodicy or in the context of the pope’s Easter homily, without first believing in it and entering into it. Sometimes faith precedes understanding. Yet clearly, that would constitute what any non-Christian would have to regard as a bias. The secular assumption is that faith and reason are in conflict, or at least that reason is, in a way that is not reciprocated, the judge of faith. An orthodox Catholic (along with many other Christians) would say faith and reason are both ways of knowing; orthodox secularism says only one is a way of knowing while the other is myth or opinion. Perhaps the cross will always remain foolishness to the Greek.

    Maybe that’s overstating it. I hope it is – I’m kind of thinking out loud here. But if a reporter can only find world peace in the pope’s homily, maybe it’s because that’s really all she can see. Maybe the other 90 percent literally makes no sense to her, even though she’s read the Catechism. If so, then education won’t solve the “getting religion” issue, although newsroom diversity might. In other words, maybe you have to get religious before you can “get” religion. Just a (not especially comforting) thought.

  • http://www.geocities.com/frgregacca/stfel.html Fr. Greg

    The Texas Tower Massacre occurred in 1966. The shooter, on autopsy, was discovered to have a previously-unknown brain tumor.

    Second, regarding “why” coverage:

    Lessons Learned from School Shootings

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Kyle:
    One more shot. My point is that a faith *always* makes sense — seems reasonable — to the faithful. And *never* makes sense — seems reasonable — to a nonbeliever. I have my own Law of Religious Relativism:

    Every religion is crazy, by definition, to a nonbeliever.

    Meaning that those aspects of any religion that depend on faith would be considered crazy in any other context by someone who does not share that faith. I remind myself of this as a way to make sure that I am *not* passing judgments about a faith with which I am unfamiliar.

    I suggest that journalists need to stay aware of this concept. It’s too easy to drop into a tone that suggests some other religious tradition is stranger or less “logical” than one we share or understand. The truth is that for the believer, it makes sense. And my job is to explain how that is to my readers. Whether or not I — or my readers — share that perspective.

  • kyle

    Jeffrey, I think I got your point. It’s just the your law of religious relativism is a heresy to Catholics. To other religions, too. For instance, Buddha invited his potential followers to examine the logic of his teaching carefully for themselves. He did not imagine his teaching to be crazy to nonbelievers. Most religions make truth claims.

    When you write “Every religion is crazy, by definition, to a nonbeliever,” it sounds to me like a judgment: that not only my religion but no religion is really true. It also seems, implicitly, to take the stance of a nonbeliever, full stop, as the neutral position. (A Christian and a Muslim can have a religious dialog without thinking each other’s beliefs crazy, even though they think opposing beliefs are wrong.) Implicitly, then, your position seems to me to assume that either atheism or something very much like universalism is true, that there’s really no right or wrong when it comes to religion, and it all comes out the same in the end, one way or another.

    Do you believe that to be a necessary assumption in covering all religions fairly? I can see why a person would, but I don’t think it’s necessary, and I certainly don’t think it’s neutral. One can recognize that religions make truth claims, and even take those truth claims seriously when it comes up, without feeling a need to decide between them, or to decide they’re all crazy.

  • http://flatlandsfriar.blogspot.com Brett

    Tmatt –

    I imagine any in-depth “why” material will be done by someone local, reporting for a small regional or area print outlet. I can’t see any video operation taking the time necessary to dig into those questions; it’d probably have to be something along the lines of a documentary film or a History or Discovery Channel special.

    The need to hook viewers and follow the cliffhanger-before-the-commercial pattern would doom any national network offering’s ability to really pay attention to the sustained argument needed to answer the single-word question.

    And maybe I’ve gotten jaded since my days of making my living off one of those other parts of the First Amendment, but I simply can’t see any of the major outlets, lean they right or left, setting aside their intellectual blinders long enough to find an answer to “Why?” that they didn’t already subscribe to beforehand.

  • Mai

    I think this all goes beyond religion, because we are seeing the same pattern, regardless of the massacre. It´s about the murderers believing they are the chosen ones to carry out this actions. Some go nazi, some go prophetic, some go communist. Tha common pattern is to justify their actions as something done with the grater good in mind.

    Also, they always mention being mistreated and ostracized. Well, we all ignore weirdos and loners, mostly, but perhaps buying them a beer every once in a while and showing some interest would be a good way to stop this loop of what is, essentially, revenge. American public schools are famous for their disregard of students that fit a certain profile, for demeaning those they believe to be unworthy (though what they are unworthy of I never quite understood). If adults and other reasonable people started considering playground and school yard bullying as unnaceptable, I think we would save many people many hours of therapy. Perhaps if we take away what seems to be one of the big reasons, we will save ourselves a lot of grief.

    At least we would have tried.