A reader writes:
I am so tired of seeing people politicize this tragedy. But I’m not talking about the media and the gun control issue. I’m talking about all my pro-life friends who keep comparing this tragedy to abortion. Am I missing something? It seems so insensitive to bring the issue of abortion up in regards to this tragedy – they all keep saying things like “why can’t we mourn the thousands of kids killed everyday?” as if somehow the kids killed in Newtown were less of a tragedy. Any words of wisdom?
Words of wisdom can only come from the wise, which I ain’t. I do, however, have my gassy Irish willingness to sound off, whether it is wise or not. So here goes.
I was pretty broken up by this on Friday, as were most normal people. Over on Facebook, after the umpteenth “Obama faked crying because I hate Obama and need to believe he is a devil in human form incapable of all human feeling and decency because that speech may give him a bump in the polls” poster, followed by the “Let’s immediately exploit this crime to yell in favor of gun control at people who are bawling their eyes out!” meme, followed by the tidal wave of “The real lesson we can take away from this is how much we need to exalt our gun culture” sociopathy, coupled with a bazillion “Well that’s what you godless people get for kicking God out of public schools” filth, I wrote:
Patrick Archbold speaks for me when he says that if your first response to today’s horrors is political, you are part of the problem. Children are dead, dammit. I don’t want to hear your views on the second amendment, pro or con. I don’t want to listen to your bitching because Obama did the duty of a President and tried to console the nation and you are afraid this could give him a bump in the polls. Just pray, or be silent. A whole nation is bleeding and doesn’t need to hear from sociopathic shrikes whose every thought is of their cramped political agendas. Give it a freaking rest.
It was a crie de coeur, not a program for the ages. My point was not “Henceforth and for all time, political (and religious) responses to this are evil” but “There’s a freaking time and place and it’s not while 315 million people are crying their eyes out.” I had to clarify that shortly afterward when somebody took me to mean that I was joining the “There is nothing to be done and there are no answers” gun lobby who want to simply maintain the status quo and adopt a mystical laissez faire attitude to the proposition “Is it actually true that we should maintain an attitude of perfect passivity to giving maniacs their current easy access to massive firepower?”
But once I clarified I was endorsing no such gun culture passivity, I then returned to observing the national mourning period because, you know, there’s a freaking time and place. That mourning period now being over, I’ve been ruminating on the responses of some people in the prolife and Christian community last weekend. They were right, of course, to notice the connection between the slaughter of innocents in schools and the slaughter of innocents in the womb. As Mother Teresa observed, “If a mother can kill her unborn child, then I can kill you and you can kill me.” Yet I think that, in many cases, they were spectacularly wrong in how they dealt with those facts.
So, for instance, as Calah Alexander pointed out, memes like this that propagated on Facebook only inspired loathing of Christ and his Church:
Really dude? You are going to look at the parent doubled over in agony at the death of his child and smugly say, “Serves you right for sending her to a godless public school”? You’re going to tell the boy whose kid brother lies dead in a Connecticut classroom, “As a matter of fact, God *did* abandon your brother in the hour of his death because He is a petulant ninny who was upset about the Supreme Court decision of 1962.” And now we come to find out that the shooter was, at least nominally, a Catholic who attended a Catholic school. Enjoy the blowback as the Usual Suspects pull the same dishonest point-scoring crap as you pulled and blame all this on his Catholic education.
Similar head-shake-inducing moments abounded. One guy wrote Facebook with a sort of prolife extortion note to the President, saying that he would consider looking at ways to prevent future outrages like Sandy Hook when the Prez signed a Human Personhood Amendment to the Constitution and not before.
Really dude? Do you seriously think you help the prolife movement by saying, in effect, let more six year olds be slaughtered till the President capitulates to my demand for this amendment? Really? Do you even *think* about how this sounds to normal people, especially those sitting on the fence?
One heart-wrenching moment for me personally was when this circulated:
This is Victoria. She died a hero yesterday. She hid her first graders in the cabinets and closets after hearing the gunfire. When the shooter came to her classroom, she told him that her students were in the gym. He then gunned her down and moved on. She saved the lives of all of her students. Please pass this on if you see it. She deserves to be remembered for her bravery.♥
My response, after bawling for while, was “Eternal memory. May she take her throne with with all the saints and martyrs through Christ our Lord.” But at least one reader (and I am told others after I blocked him using my special “Jackass Be Gone” technology) saw in that beautiful face only an opportunity to settle old scores about my disagreement with Live Action’s tactics and viciously charged that I believe Vicki Soto is “burning in hell” because she lied to the shooter to save the children. You have to wonder what is wrong with such people. Other readers, not hostile, but still–to my mind–startlingly confused, wrote to ask me “what should she have done instead of lie?” as though opening a debate on whether a terrified, brave heroine acted with absolute perfection was the sensible thing to do at such a moment. I just don’t get that. It’s not a question of the truth or falsehood of some passage in the catechism. It’s that it is simply unendurable to have an abstract discussion at all when we are standing at the foot of the cross and looking at yet another soul who has, willy nilly, been freighted suddenly to Golgotha and forced to do the best she could in the fearful company of all the martyrs. If I did 1/10 as well as her in such an awful moment of decision I would count myself blessed.
Still another person wrote, with breathtaking cluelessness, “Doesn’t this woman have a modesty problem?” and then various others chimed in to adjudicate the question of her cleavage. I am not making that up. No wonder somebody once described the modern Church as “an island of irrelevance in an ocean of despair.”
My response: Who. Cares. About. Her. Cleavage? I can cope with a lot. But the spectacle of Christians looking at the face of this beautiful brave young woman and thinking, “Tut, tut! Immodest” is, for me, a stronger temptation to despair than her death. Don’t worry. I’m not actually despairing. But the people who think that adjudicating the fine points of her dress and cleavage looks like anything but religious dementia to Normals should really go home and rethink their lives. You are, in your own way, a scandal to people who might otherwise consider the gospel.
Then I heard from people fretting because I “don’t have the authority to canonize anybody.” That banging sound is my head on the desk. Yes. I get that I am not the Pope. I don’t even know if the woman was a Catholic or even a believer. I’m not claiming she should be a formally canonized saint of the Church. My own private opinion is, however, that she will hear on That Day, “Enter into the kingdom which my Father has prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was cowering in a closet when the scary man broke into the room and you took a bullet for me.” If I’m wrong, sue me.
On the bright side, after all that stunning emotional and social cluelessness, one reader wrote to seriously wrestle with, rather than merely dash off a Facebook meme about, the problem of how to address the connection between the slaughter of innocents in a school and in the womb. He was troubled by a friend who was taking the occasion of the tragedy to soapbox about how the people crying for the children in Connecticut also supported abortion. He agreed that there was an obvious connection, but still troubled by the soapboxing while a whole nation was in tears and asked what I thought.
Here’s what I think: the discomfort he and many others felt by the “Oh yeah? Well, what about abortion you sobbing hypocrites!” response is due to the fact that we intuit, often without being able to put it into words, that people are for loving, not for using. Human beings are, according to the Church, the only thing in the universe that God has willed for their own sake. Because of this, all attempts to use, rather than love, human beings are a fundamental violation of their human dignity and it does not matter how good the end is that you seek; when you use rather than love people to attain it you are wrong because you are reducing people to means to some other end and therefore insulting the sort of creature God has made them to be.
This is true even when the good end you seek is the abolition of abortion. Using these dead children as means to argue for that is destructive and wrong not because opposition to abortion is wrong, but because using people is wrong, and using dead children is doubly and triply wrong. (It is also, by the way, why Live Action’s tactics were wrong: because Live Action sought to use Planned Parenthood workers by tempting them to commit a sin worthy of the fires of hell in order get a good photo op. It is like trying to fight alcoholism by handing a drunk a bottle of whiskey and encouraging him to drink it so you can get some good footage of him vomiting and dying that will really humiliate the distilling industry.)
Is there a time when the connection between the different manifestations of the culture of death need to be pointed out? Sure. But the people on FB and throughout the blogosphere who were doing so with this tragedy on the very day of the crime came off primarily as indulging a “strike while the iron is hot” tone of political opportunism whether the good end being sought was sane gun legislation or prolife legislation. It reduced these lives to useful mascots for a political cause. It used rather than loved them. That’s why people responded with distaste and revulsion both to gun control advocates and to prolife advocates who exploited (and that is the precise word) the dead and those who love them.
Finally, one last point for all the prolifers out there whose first response was to react with ridicule when somebody who is pro-abortion reacted with horror to the slayings in Sandy Hook. As I mentioned above, I saw several responses to Obama’s moving Friday speech (the best of his entire presidency, I thought) that consisted of “He was faking those tears! Drone strikes! Abortion! He’s just trying to look good! What if this gives him a bump in the polls?” My response, as I think was the response of all Normals, was “If that’s what being ‘pro-life’ means then I want nothing to do with it.” Such malice for a humane moment was the response of people consumed with unreasoning hatred. It was an embodiment of what C.S. Lewis warns of when he says (during WWII):
Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.
Obama’s speech on Friday was, I thought, a deeply humane one and about the best a President could be expected to provide in his de facto role as America’s Civic Pastor in Times of National Trauma. (And please don’t complain that the President shouldn’t occupy that role. He does and has since the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, and on through Roosevelt praying on D-Day, Reagan’s Challenger Disaster speech, and Bush’s Speech at Ground Zero. Like it or not, Presidents are father figures who exist in the National Psyche in part to tell us It Will Be Alright and Here’s What We’re Gonna Do to Get Through This, Which we Certainly Will So Chin Up). Obama very visibly struggled with tears–as any normal human being and any normal father of children would do in the face of such a monstrous crime. He reflected exactly who we are in this hour–including the thought “This has happened too (I would haved added the precise theological phrase “God damned”) many times.” It said everything that needed said and honored rather than used the victims for some political agenda (though, of course, we know he has one, but he had the good taste to refrain from dragging it in right then). I have lots of issues with the man, but I thought he did good in the speech and respected it.
Meanwhile, the spectacle of seeing Christian ambassadors of the love of Jesus Christ fervently clinging to the hope and promise that this humane response was all a fraud presented one of the ugliest faces Christians have given to the gospel. If I were not already a believer and did not have contact with Christians who showed me what an authentic gospel response is–if, in a word, all I had to go on was the people offering that sick politicized response–I would flee the gospel and never give it a second thought.
The good news, of course, is that the so-called “prolife Christians” who offered this response were, while disturbingly numerous on Facebook, still a small minority. Most were, like normal people, focused on prayer for the victims and even for the shooter, which was beautiful. But for those whose main response was, “People who support abortion have no right whatsoever to mourn Sandy Hook!” I point out something a pastor I once knew learned: the polar opposite of the pattern Lewis describes above.
One Christmas he was walking down the street muttering to himself about all those hypocritical people who celebrated Christmas but were not believers. He was just working himself into a good snit when the thought occurred to him, “If that is all they have of Me, would you deny them even that?”
Our wishy-washily pro-abortion culture just received a shocking blow and is reeling in genuine anguish. Memo to prolifers in the “You pro-aborts have no right to mourn” camp: Which is more important to you? Settling old scores and sneering at genuine tears out of a desire to get a lick in? Or coming alongside and expressing real compassion to a grieving group of people who might, just might, think differently about the death of innocents if we hear their grief and respond humanely to it?