Aurora and the fundamentalist response to tragedy

When I heard about what happened in Aurora, Colorado, last night, I couldn’t help but think about how I would have responded to a tragedy like this in the past.

First, I would have seen it as evidence of sin and evil in the world. I would have imagined the presence of pure evil that must have pervaded that movie theater as demons and perhaps even the devil himself goaded the perpetrator on. The presence of evil so dare you could feel it.

Second, like many fundamentalist leaders have done today, I would have blamed the secularism and “godlessness” of our society today, including the lack of prayer in schools and the teaching of evolution. I would have argued that without the presence of God, it’s only natural that man should give in to despair and commit atrocities like this one.

Third, I might have seen this as part of God “removing his protective hand” from America. See, I believed that this nation had been subject to God’s blessing, and that God had placed his hand over it, placing a damper on Satan’s ability to wreak havoc. I believed that America’s public turn toward secularism represented a rejection of God and his blessing, and that the (seemingly) increase in evil and tragedy in the nation were a natural result. And I believed it would only get worse

I would also have seen this occurrence as a call to dependence, both individually and as a nation, a reminder that we must turn back to God.

Today? I no longer see people’s tears as a lesson. I no longer see people’s pain as a warning.

I no longer believe that people are inherently evil. Rather, people are just…people. People have a great propensity to do good, and, yes, evil. But it’s just us. There are no demons whispering in our ears. We just…are.

I no longer believe that the restraining hand of God is necessary to keep people from going on murderous rampages. I have seen people do great good regardless of whether they believe in a God, and I personally believe I am a more moral person today than I was when I believed.I am not a psychologist, but I generally chalk this kind of atrocity up to a disturbed mind. What part is genetic or environmental, I don’t know. I’m not trying to make excuses for the shooter – he did make a conscious choice to do what he did. All I’m saying is that normal people don’t do this sort of thing. This isn’t something that, as fundamentalists would have you believe, is something any of us could do “but for the grace of God.” If mankind were intrinsically evil, you would think you would see this sort of thing more often.

Rather than simply blaming this sort of thing on “evil,” we should be working to identify and prevent it. Fundamentalists always simply point to God as the solution, but I want real world solutions. I’m a humanist, after all. The more work that is done on identifying and preventing this sort of thing the better. And I’m NOT talking about metal detectors.

My heart goes out to the victims, but I’m not going to say that this is “all part of God’s plan” as I might have in the past. And I’m not going to blame secular society or the teaching of evolution for what happened either. The truth is, we humans have the ability to do great good or commit great evil. And sometimes, shit happens. But mankind also has great potential for good, and it’s at times like this that we need to tap into this as we pull together.

I grew up hearing that God can bring good out of tragedy. Today I believe that WE can bring good out of tragedy. You know those parents who lose children and then set up foundations to make sure other parents won’t have to go through the same thing? That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about. And it’s a whole lot more effective that telling survivors and victims alike how much God loves them and that God has a plan for them.

As I sit here looking at my sleeping infant son, I am reminded that the Aurora shooter was once someone’s infant son as well. In the past I would have responded by praying that God would protect my son and help me raise him to be a godly man. Instead, as I sit here, I am simply resolving to do my best to raise him to be an ethical and compassionate individual. As I hold him close I feel the great potential of humanity. And on a day like today, I need that.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://noadi.etsy.com Noadi

    Having been raised in a liberal christian tradition (and in a family that’s pretty apathetic when it comes to faith) this is a belief that’s pretty foreign to me. How does God’s “protective hand” restraining people from violence square with the concept of free will?

    • A Reader

      I never really got that either. I think it’s supposed to have something to do with how god is all good and lovey and protects people who love/serve/fear him. I’ve heard the same line several times, but if you think about it, it makes no sense.

    • Rosie

      Many of the conservative Christians lean toward Calvinism (or embrace it entirely), and don’t really believe in free will. Though they usually don’t admit that, even to themselves.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    Well said!

    I wanted to point you to a pair of typos in your post, one of which I find pretty funny:

    Third paragraph, second line: “See, I believethat this…” -> See, I believed this…
    Seventh paragraph, second line: “…regardless of whether they believe I’m God, and I personally…” -> …regardless of whether they believe in (a) God, and I personally…

    I don’t want to be annoying but I had to point that last typo. Perhaps we should start a religion with Libby Anne as the goddess and we venerating her. what would it be called? LoveJoyFeminism doesn’t seem like that bad of a name for a religion. j/k

    PS: Congratulations on the birth of your boy, I’m glad you seem to be okay (the fact that you’ve been writing posts without stopping seems proof of that) and I hope all your family is enjoying the new member addition and getting enough sleep too.

  • Maleekwa

    Very well said. It all rings very true to my own experiences when I was a fundamentalist. Thank you.

  • http://exconvert.blogspot.com Kacy

    Yes, and thank you for this post! I watched my father suffer from bi-polar disorder, and I heard my fundamentalist friends say that mental illness was a product of demonic influences. This talk led my dad to stop taking his meds, which made everything worse. I now firmly believe that talk of “letting God take control” in the face of evil and blaming demons does more harm than good.

    The shooter had, as you said, a disturbed mind. I hope such tragedy will lead us to work towards mental illness reform. Blaming demons further stigmatizes mental illness, and stigma hinders people and their families from seeking help.

    • http://dream-wind.livejournal.com/ Christine

      The GP I had when I was younger, firmly believed modern medicine was a gift from God, and he considered getting on medication to be part of letting God “take control.” He was a staunch practising Catholic, who promoted birth control and the Pill. I wish there were more like him around.

      I sincerely hope your Dad is now in a good place health-wise.

  • http://www.cleverbadger.net Jay

    I would have blamed the secularism and “godlessness” of our society today, including the lack of prayer in schools and the teaching of evolution. I would have argued that without the presence of God, it’s only natural that man should give in to despair and commit atrocities like this one.

    And this, really, is nothing more than a verbose way of saying “the victims deserved to be shot.”
    I suppose when part of the core belief system is that people are inherently wicked, it’s easy to think this way.

    • Rosie

      Thank you for clarifying what I have always found at least vaguely disturbing about that common fundamentalist trope. As a female I was taught (not in so many words) that my proper role was “victim” (a la Doug Wilson’s complimentarianism), and that victims always deserve what they got.

  • kalipay

    congrats on the baby. :)

    • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

      Yes, did I miss an announcement recently? Last I heard it was just “soon”. But anyways: long lines of dancing rodents to you and yours!*

      * Everyone knows what that means, right?

  • vida

    This is the most uplifting article I’ve read about the tragedy anywhere. Thank you for this, it’s a breath of fresh air, I’ll refer back to it often as I will hear plenty of the fundamentalist explanations from my relatives and it’s good to hear kindness and common sense to cleanse the palate.

  • http://toomanycrayons.blogspot.com/ Amber

    Whenever I hear about a tragedy like this, I always want a brain scan or some such done on the killer just to rule out something like a brain tumor, or to see if if the person is actually a sociopath/psychopath.

  • Cluisanna

    You didn’t mention giving birth to your son, did you? Did you have a posting queue up? Anyway, congrats :)

  • http://jw-thoughts.blogspot JW

    When I reflect on this incident I see the element of the sin disease there. The nature of the film is a dark one and apparently it affected someone to the extent that they couldn’t separate reality from fantasy. Seems to be an example of someone who is so smart yet lacks common sense?

    I am not much into batman at all. I saw one of these movies before he was the dark knight and I was bored to tears. I found it a waste of my time and felt robbed of 2 hours , lol. Yet, I wondered, when this movie came out I wondered if something might happen. Batman seems to bring out the passionate, amongst society, which will literally dress up as their favorite character and yet it is the sin laden characters which seem to get the most glory out of the show. And so, it seems the most well known character overtook and individual , like a possession, and treated him like a stringed puppet translating him from reality to fantasy and he couldn’t tell the difference. Just like a drug. It is an example of how being so smart can have its disadvantages. A person can still be deceived no matter how smart they are.

    Something I find troubling is that this is bringing up the gun debate once again. Yet what I find ironic is that the majority, if not all, the people who are doing this killing sprees are people who we might called ‘city slickers’ and buy these guns with an intent. We never hear about those people who are hunters who have their kids around guns. They teach their kids about guns and about respect. The kid is never alone with a gun and when the gun’s use is over it is locked up tight in a holder within the house. Rarely do you ever hear of a hunter going on a killing spree and yet I believe this group has more respect for the gun then do city people.

    Just some of my thoughts
    JW

    • Rosie

      JW, the inability to tell fantasy from reality IS a psychological disorder. Not something that just anybody might “fall into” if they’re not careful or if they don’t follow the proper religion. Neurotypical toddlers all know the difference; that’s why they have so much fun playing “make-believe”.

      • Anonymouse

        It wouldn’t be shocking if the shooter was mentally ill. Help for the mentally ill is woefully deficient in the USA and people pretty much have to have a psychotic break and turn violent before they’re acknowledged.

  • Tracey

    JW, I live in the south, I live in a rural area, and constantly in the news are stories of good ol’ country folk who leave their huntin’ guns out and the kids shoot themselves or each other with them. The most recent was about a month ago. Don’t think you’re so superior just because you’re rural.

  • Anonymouse

    JW, you are a living, breathing bad example of stereotypes. Your right-wing dictated hatred for anyone different than yourself is palpable. There are many examples of the type of people you find acceptable going off on murderous rampages, and it’s not because of movies or television. It might, however, be exacerbated by blowhards like Limbaugh calling for action to be taken against particular movies, and Teanuts screaming for “second-amendment solutions” and politicians squealing “Don’t retreat, reload” and putting gunsights on the competition’s heads.

  • Caravelle

    I disagree with Anonymouse that there’s any palpable hatred coming from you, JW, but your whole post relies on stereotypes and facile connections that clearly make sense to you, but that doesn’t make them true. Questions about the causes and contributing factors of such tragedies can actually be investigated. I don’t want to come down hard on you over this or anything, I make facile connections that seem clear to me all the time, but on such an important subject you’d probably want an opinion informed by something a bit more solid than “I’ve never heard of hunters killing people on the news” or “the batman films feature some disturbing people”.

    (on the whole city-slicker vs hunters thing, you surely know that most developed countries have much, much stricter gun laws than the US does. What you may not know is that those countries allow hunters to have guns (I knew about France, but the first four countries I checked randomly – the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain – are the same). As far as I can tell guns are available for hunting or sport everywhere, they just require a licence. Hunters are not the issue here)

    • Anonymouse

      Perhaps hatred is a strong word, but it’s obvious JW has set up an “us vs. them” bunker and clearly feels superior to the “them”; a made-up “them” that’s been carefully cultivated by certain sources to get gullible people believing the worst. Moreover, this stereotype relies on cognitive dissonance; a quick Google of “hunters shooting hunters” brings up pages and pages of the supposedly bright, shining examples of humanity who indeed are human. Googling “gun accidents” brings up additional pages and pages of children finding and shooting themselves, one another, and the adults around them. Pretending or being rooked into believing it never happens, or that crime happens just in the cities committed by people who have gone to college just to shore up someone’s weak ego is ludicrous.

  • http://jw-thoughts.blogspot JW

    In my comments I am making mere opinions as to what I am exposed to as most everyone does. To accuse me of being divisive is hiliarous for me because I am not at all that type of person. I think I must be more misunderstood.

    My reference to the city slickers and hunters- I said that because although there may be those incidents of a kid getting hurting from a hunter type family society does not see a hunter going into a crowded place and opening fire for some type of revenge or some type of fantasy. This is where I am making my point but it seems some want to twist it?

    Now the right wing comment, why am I labeled right wing? Because I don’t think like a liberal? I actually listen to liberal radio because I don’t care for the conservative talking heads. I don’t agree with what I hear on liberal radio but so what, I listen anyway.

    I wonder though what part of intelligence plays in these incidents of shooting. Meaning, can a person become so intelligent that they get bored and use some kind of fantasy to entertain them and become so caught up in it that fantasy and reality become at one with each other?

    btw, I seem to get the signal that if I don’t word my ideas just right then I am labeled with all the buzz words, as I call them. I could classify that as a type of bullying and hatemongering which is really sad yet this is the feel or vibe I get from these responses after post. I do have to give kudos to Caravelle who comes across as more balanced in the response. I can have a good conversation with Caravelle.

    JW

    • Rosie

      Some psychological disorders can occur in intelligent people, but the intelligence doesn’t *cause* them, it merely coexists with them. Similarly, a penchant for comics and costumes doesn’t *cause* one to become lost in a fantasy world. Being lost in a fantasy world and unable to distinguish it from reality is a psychosis that can occur with or without a liking for “fantasy” media. I don’t think there’s even a correlation.

  • Caravelle

    Yay, I’m the Good One :p (just kidding) (I do like you JW so I like to be nice to you, but I agree with Anonymouse there was a certain us-vs-them tenor to your post that I can’t blame others for reacting negatively to)

    Anyway JW, would you say students at Columbine High School were city slickers ?
    (if the requirement to be a non-city-slicker is to live ten miles away from the nearest inhabited area, well, that might go some way towards explaining why they’re rarely involved in large-scale massacres…)

  • Anonymouse

    How about the Christian school kid from rural Pearl, Mississippi who gunned down his classmates at Christian school? Does JW think *he* was a “city slicker”?

    JW comes across as a conservative because he parrots conservative wingnut talking points word-for-word. He certainly leapt on the Rush-Limbaugh-generated idea that Batman is eeeeeeevuuulll…because people like it and dress up? So, by JW’s logic, The Passion of the Christ and the Veggie Tales movies are also bad because people like them and dress up?

    As for bullying and hate-mongering, JW was really quick to jump on the fact that the Aurora (gee, a fairly rural place in a gun-lovin’ conservative state rural state!) shooter had an education, and in JW’s world anyone with education is automatically an atheist and a mass-shooter, amirite? Then he went on to stereotype anyone not from a rural area as a mass-shooter and an undesirable and claim “We never hear about those people who are hunters who have their kids around guns”, even though a quick Google shows pages and pages of current news stories about hunters and the children of hunters using the guns to kill each other, accidentally and on purpose. Sounds like JW has drunk the kool-aid and is parroting the conservative talking points like a good little right-wing soldier.

    • http://jw-thoughts.blogspot JW

      Anonymouse
      You appear to have a chip on your shoulder. You also appear as a person, according to your words, who cannot carry on a conversation without attacking someone, making fun of someone, without stereotyping- the very thing you accuse of me doing. Ironic isn’t it? This means as much as you are trying to show yourself better than I it shows that you are no better than who I am.

      I am amused at your 2nd paragraph since none of that is true. Would it SHOCK you to know that I Gravitate to gothic music? Would it Shock you know know I listen to liberal radio via my ipod as well as a local community radio station. I think it would shock you.

      Why am I even having to respond to you? Just to set a small part of the record you are putting forth about who I am according to you straight.

      Do your words reflect your character in person? I am curious.
      I am not PC with my words. They may not all come out smooth as silk and cause everyone to agree with me but I say what I think and if you don’t agree with me just agree to disagree. Do you really have to be a word bully?

      JW

      • Paula G V aka Yukimi

        Don’t tone troll everybody. The one who appears to have a chip in the shoulder is you. You were the one starting making this wild accusations against city slickers and blaming that ethereal “sin” for the tragedy (which apart from sounding plenty absurd to any non-believer, doesn’t help with preventing these kind of incidents, neither does it explain anything) and acting like an attack against your ideas and pretty ridiculous arguments is the same as an attack against your person. If you write a comment, you need to accept criticism against your arguments.

      • Caravelle

        Aw, what’s the use of me being the Good One if people are still talking to the Bad One instead of me ? :(

  • katiesays

    I really don’t think these massacres have much to do with rural/urban, if one sets aside certain factors as availability – rural areas don’t usually have huge movie premieres with hundreds if not thousands of people attending at once. For my two cents, I would say that Batman and fantasy are not the problem. Nor is having a higher education…because let’s face it, regardless of these factors, some people will go crazy and do horrible horrible things. Millions of people dress up in costumes, engage in RPGs, and other realms of fantasy with no harm done.

    I think it is people like Limbaugh and other media-mongers who are quick to label the shooter with an easy to remember tag. It riles up their supporters: “Batman is evil, with dark and twisted characters…” or “because we’re a godless nation” blah blah blah. Statistically, the US is not “godless” – Christians and other monotheistic religions are in the greatest majority. It’s a terrible thing when a politician will use this tragedy to incite his or her’s supporters instead of focusing on real reasons for the shooter doing what he did, and how to best help the victims and their families.

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