Musing about Some Prolife Christian Responses to Sandy Hook

Musing about Some Prolife Christian Responses to Sandy Hook December 19, 2012

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?

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  • MattyD

    Brilliant. When I see that sort of childish, petty behavior from Christians it reminds me of a Jewish friend who once said of televangelists, “If that’s who’s in Heaven, I think I’ll pass, thanks.” In a similar vein, I think tribal, legalistic Catholics vastly underestimate how repellant they render our faith to the uninitiated. Sure, we’re called to follow Jesus, not to follow the followers. But the uninitiated don’t know this. They haven’t had a chance to hear that piece of Good News because so many of us are too busy talking about a murdered teacher’s scandalous cleavage. The only consolation to me is that these tribal loons are circling their wagons into an ever-smaller circle.

  • Andy S

    Mark – this is the best summary I’ve seen yet describing where we should be as a culture with this horrifying crime/tragedy and helped me organize my thoughts on this. Anyone, at this point, coming from any angle other than grief and sadness and prayers for the children, teachers, administrators, and parents needs to take a deep and reflective step back. We have to stop being icy political creatures first and always…enough is enough…the human reaction to this simply has to be something better and more worthwhile, to and for the victims, than political sniping.
    The time for national conversations is not now. We don’t know now when the right time will be for those conversations to commence, but our natural instincts should be informing us all that it hasn’t yet arrived.

    • Mark Shea

      Actually, I disagree. I think the time is now that the national mourning period is over and the flags are back up to full mast. The strategy of the gun lobby is, consistently, to say “It’s too soon to politicize (read: do anything about) this tragedy–and if only we had a political fix where *everybody* carried guns and we established a garrison state, America would be a paradise.”

      This, combined with the “The problem lies in men’s souls and gun control advocates seek a technological solution to a spiritual problem–whereas *our* technological solution of Guns for All is the real solution!” are two of the standard lies of the gun lobby that need to be confronted sooner rather than later.

      • Raul De La Garza III

        I am not a member of the gun lobby, just a lowly citizen of Texas. Prudence is required and a healthy respect for the second amendment should be present in our discussions to find solutions, that is ‘ the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’ (by the Federal government). The focus of these matters as in many others in this Union, i.e. ‘gay marriage’, abortion, etc. should be within the respective states and not at the federal level. This is fitting for a Union based on a system of a constitutional republicanism and not a purely democratic form of despotism where the ‘one size fits all’ approach to policy-making seems to have great influence. Recall what has been written about a democracy and Barabbas…

        • The Deuce

          Also, above all, we need to be thinking in practical terms of how we actually stop stuff like this from happening. The most immediate common thread of these massacres is that they take place in “gun free zones,” and they usually end right when someone with a gun arrives. I don’t think that anybody who honestly claims to have preventing further mass shootings as their top priority can fail to seriously consider doing away with these zones and making sure they are guarded.

          • Bingo, The Deuce! That, along with beginning the long work of turning a culture of death into a culture of life and love, will be the best thing we can do.

            As my (atheist) friend mentioned yesterday, “Schools and other misguided entities flash giant ‘open for business’ signs to psychopaths when they post ridiculous statements like “guns banned on these premises”.

  • jen

    I am in complete agreement with everything you have said. Thank you.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you! Also, we should be friends on Facebook. I guarantee to not post any inane memes.

  • I don’t know. It still hurts. But for me, unless this causes something different than previous mass shootings, most Americans will not – repeat, not – come out and say ‘that was my fault. What I love, enjoy, believe, advocate – that was part of the overall problem that contributed to the modern culture or whatever.’ It will be everyone else’s fault. Others will have reacted wrong. I will have struck the right balance. It’s them. Not me. If anything, I will say this: I’ve seen several gun rights advocates come out and say they’re willing to talk about changing current laws. That’s huge as far as I can tell. Most of the time when these things happen, folks pretty much come out of it just as they went into it. I’m right. They’re wrong. Our country is cultural rot, but not because of me. Because of them. The things I enjoy any hip, cool person would enjoy. It’s what those people enjoy or do that’s the mischief. Politicizing it? Who am I to say? Will I be any different because I picked this day and not that day to say something? We’re a nation of pundits, not principles, and it’s not surprising that I’ll probably try to guard my little world to make sure nothing I’ve done or supported is the problem. I will spend time making sure it’s their fault. Maybe not. I’m trying real hard to take a long look at what I do, what I indulge in, how I behave, and what my reactions were to see if something I’ve been doing could be even the smallest part of our country’s problem. It isn’t easy. But trying to be honest about it all when my initial reaction – past the horror and pain – was to imagine it must be their fault (‘their’ constituting a growing segment of the population), has got me to thinking about what the real problems might be.

  • Andrew

    I agree with most of what you have shared. I also believe that these hate filled people who point out “modesty issues” in a deceased teachers photo do not represent the church. Likewise, the Westboro baptist wolves (Matthew 7:14) do not represent the church.

    I believe this is a time of national morning and that whole Sandy Hook Community needs to know that Gods people stand in solidarity with her.

    However, there is a time when there is so much hateful speech and so much “Godlessness” in the comment section on many of these online articles that a follower of Christ should say “I’ve heard enough”. Our faith calls us to action, it calls us to be a light in a dark world.

    I agree with Mr. Huckabee’s comments in their broader context. He was speaking as a pastor and not a politician, and it is every Christians responsibility to do so in a loving and caring fashion.

    But that’s just it. Guns aren’t to blame. This political group or that political group isn’t to blame. Our undeniable lack of human responsibility is to blame. Mr. Huckabee didn’t say that these events were punishment from God. I am saying that we as human beings are destroying ourselves and are in desperate need of God. We are to blame. Every individual who passes up an opportunity to be an influencer in someone’s life, to be a big brother or big sister, a mentor, or a friend to the friendless. That’s the issue, we are an irresponsible self-indulgent race.

    God is needed. He is the only solution.

    • joycelen

      And there is no crime in looking for solutions. There is no crime in asking why. I think at such a time as this, with so much trauma to the whole nation, it is to be expected that many upset people are going to make varied statements, some of which will not sound very rational, and may sound as if they are blaming others. Mr. Shea, you are complaining about people doing exactly what you are doing. Don’t judge anyone right now. Andrew, you make perfect sense. And there is no crime in saying, in the face of such bizarre tragedy, we do need God. And we do need solutions. We do not need more critical remarks. Even if it is critical remarks about being critical….

      • Mark Shea

        I didn’t judge anybody. I did evaluate very bad, foolish, and stupid responses. We’re supposed to do that.

  • Andy

    Thank you – I noted some of the same comments on my wife’s Facebook page and was appalled – my wife was in tears. I noted that even when you asked for prayers for the dead of Sandy Hook it deteriorated into a discussion of guns, abortion and who had the right to mourn.
    In my attempt to understand, if it can be understood, what happened in Sandy Hook, in Colorado, in Oregon – the list is endless it seems, I realized that we suffer in a culture of rage – violent, uncontrollable anger. It is fueled by our desire to be not like “them”, whoever them is. To be not like them we must vilify, we must deny their humanity, we must feel superior.
    Rage is also fueled by fear. Fear of contamination, fear of guilt by association. We fear that our “good name will be tarnished or that our pure motives will be questioned. A way to avoid this is rage – we put people in their place so we don’t have to deal with them.
    The sad truth is that I realized I am guilty of this. Like Dave G. above I am wrestling with how I am part of the root of this problem. I am trying right now to pray and see how I contribute to the rage and how I can stop fueling the rage.
    Again thank you for your lucid statement.

  • Julie

    I used to be pro abortion. But I have come to understand that Satan wants children and unborn children to be killed. Both are unimaginable evil assaults on humans who have not had the chance to “deserve” that type of retribution or execution. And Jesus loved the little children. Satan hates the Eucharist and innocent humans.

    • kenneth

      That’s all well and good, but Satan did not shoot up that school, and neither did Planned Parenthood. So far as we know, Adam Lanza’s bizarre rage and nihilistic justification to himself did not incorporate political views of any kind. Blaming Roe as a primary or even proximate cause of these shootings is assinine, and will remain so until someone can produce some good science showing a significant link between abortion policy and mass shootings. If they do, and the science holds up, well that’s another discussion we need to have going forward. If legal abortion and/or lack of religiosity were truly significant factors in mass shootings, we would expect to see most of Europe littered with dead school children. Most of these countries have abortion on demand and many have church attendance rates in the low single digits. They should have at least as many incidents as us, if not more, if abortion law and culture were to blame. They don’t. They have their own tragedies, but they’re still able to speak of them in terms of “the worst in a generation” or century unlike here, where we have to think of them in terms of “the worst one of this quarter.”

      • Kenneth, I don’t completely disagree with your general statement about cause and affect, but I have actually begun to wonder how our children can have a healthy respect for life when abortion and euthanasia – that is, conditional use of life – are spoken of as “basic” human rights. In other words, how can young people dissect the prominence of such discussions and not come to believe that the genuine value of human life is relative to the individual? I’m not taking issue with what you said because, like you, I would like to see some direct correlation. I cannot help but to wonder, however, how young people with no real moral compass can process the disconnect.

  • Andrew O’Brien

    I largely agree, Mark, but is there a proper way to bring up abortion after this? I think there is. While they are always sad – this one in particular – mass shootings like this shouldn’t shock us anymore. We now have a trend. While the individuals who commit these crimes need healing, it is undeniable that our entire culture needs healing, and the laws of our country form the conscience of our culture – a culture of death.

    I just don’t see how we can tolerate the destruction of some life for arbitrary reasons – like whether or not the person is born or not, or whether they have committed crimes, or whether their “quality of life” is up to our personal standard – and not expect that people who lack the full use of reason might come up with their own arbitrary reasons why some life is unworthy of life.

    • Andrew, I think yours is a good question. I would hope that I walked the right line. Not sure Mark would agree tat I did, but my response was not “political” — and I did not direct it to the public at large, but to my fellow pro-lifers. It included this hopeful observation: “Hearts that have the capacity for genuine anguish over these wanton and senseless killings of children they do not know and have never seen, members of families they do not know and have never seen, are hearts that have the capacity to embrace and protect the unborn. We cannot lose sight of that just because the cause of life seemed so set back politically in the last national election. ” You can read the entire thing here: I would question with one thing you said — “the laws of our country form the conscience of our culture”. Properly speaking, should the laws reflect the conscience? Although I get the pedagogical function of the law. Maybe it is a chicken/egg problem.

  • I think those who are commenting on the slain teacher’s manner of dress are looking waaaaaay too closely at the picture. Furthermore, didn’t some guy say once that there was no greater love then to lay down one’s life for one’s friends? And didn’t some little old lady once say that we aren’t called to great things, but to do even little things with great love?

    I’m going to speculate that the reason that the photo in question was released was it was most likely a “good” angle of her face and people want everyone to remember their loved ones at their best. It seems to me that people who complain about the accidental inclusion of extra flesh in the picture are like those who coomplain that there are no pews in St. Peter’s Basilica.

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    Reading the part about the heroic young teacher, and the whole “you don’t have the authority to canonise, Mark!” part reminded me of a nightmare I once had.

    I had just died and was standing in line at the gate of pearl. Peter was calling names and letting people thru, and right in front of me was Mother Theresa. She was kind and gentle and we had a brief conversation about our lives as we filed forward. The line was moving very quickly, and that efficiency should have been my first clue it was a dream, but I digress. Anyway, we started getting closer, and then it was her turn.

    Peter looked at her, down at his ledger, back at her, and, fixing his stare on her he said, “You know, really, you could have done more!”

    I awoke in a cold sweat.

    • Andrew Patton

      That is why Purgatory exists. Even the faithful have cause for regret, for what they have done and what they have failed to do. Oskar Schindler was brought to tears over all the people he couldn’t save.

  • ivan_the_mad

    “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.” God bless her, may she indeed hear those words.

    “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.” So very true.

    • kmk

      Amen! Thanks, Mark.

  • Beadgirl

    Wonderful, Mark.

    What is it about horrific events that bring out both the best and the worst in us?

  • Bob

    Very eloquently stated, thank you.
    Concerning the comparisons between Sandy Hook and abortion, it’s important to note, I think, that these comparisons only make sense within the prolife community, and only within a portion of the prolife community at that.
    Calling someone a hypocrite for mourning the death of kindergarteners, on the one hand, while being pro-choice on the other, makes sense only if you begin with the proposition that there is no moral distinction between a kindergartner and an embryo. If you accept that proposition, you can’t possibly be pro-choice. For whatever it is worth, many (perhaps most) people who call themselves pro-life do not accept this proposition. They do, in fact, see a moral distinction, even as they consider themselves pro-life, vote pro-life, attend pro-life rallies, etc. That’s how they come around to notions like abortion bans should include a rape exception, for example.
    The abortion debate is fundamentally about when a fertilized egg becomes a distinct person with all the human rights of any other. Some say it is at the moment of fertilization. Some say not until the moment of birth. Most say it is sometime in between, but they’re not sure when. Regardless, the events of Sandy Hook don’t remotely change the terms of this discussion, and all the charges of hypocrisy in this case make sense only to the people leveling the charge. Thus, people who level it should know that they are having a completely insular conversation.

    • “The abortion debate is fundamentally about when a fertilized egg becomes a distinct person with all the human rights of any other.”

      It’s not so much a debate as a refusal to advert to the facts. Certainly the “fertilized egg”, “embryo”, etc. has its own distinct set of DNA, and thus is a distinct human being (or in rare cases, more than one human being) I’ve never found that stripping some group of human beings from being called “persons” to have a good outcome in the history of our planet, but we’re still trying….

  • rachel

    What I’m still trying to get my mind around is why there is this particular heinous massacre different from all the others? I don’t think I saw this kind of outrage only less than two weeks ago at that shooting in the mall or the movie theater massacre only a couple of months ago or even others like Virgina Tech, etc. What makes this one so different? I guess its because these were little children and that it is terrible to kill innocents. We have been talking about having a national conversation on guns, mental health, etc every time a shooting occurs and yet nothing is done. The outrage is so much higher this time. Granted, it could be the time of year considering that Christmas is next week. Were the innocent lives taken in all the other mass shootings less important? Why did the call for action after all of those massacres fall on deaf ears? This is why I don’t think anything will be done again :(. We live in a hyper suspicious, hyper paranoid, and hyper violent society. We are scared of each other. This must stop. We must value ALL human life, from the youngest to the oldest. Seeing pro-choicers crying and mourning the deaths of these children is in many ways a relief. It shows that they still have hearts. President Obama gave an amazing speech and it showed that he too, has a heart. Some of the pro-lifers who have tried to use this terrible massacre to score political points show a terrible lack of empathy for the fallen and their families. Of course it doesn’t stop there. I saw a cartoon that was being just a smug and callous about the many innocent men, women, and children killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, etc and how hardly anyone here in the US would either acknowledge their deaths or to mourn them. I agree that we show callousness towards those who live overseas, especially in Muslim countries but the cartoon was tasteless because it was using the Newtown massacre for their own political points too. This must stop. These type of massacres MUST STOP regardless of where they occur: an elementary/middle/high school, a college/university, a movie theater, a mall, a shopping center, a restaurant, etc. Enough is Enough. All of the lives lost in all of these massacres were innocent and yet we implicitly allow them to continue because we refuse to wake up and actually love each other and care for one another. Stop the suspicion. Stop the paranoia. Stop the fear. Stop the hate. LOVE each other. Then maybe this “trend” will stop. May God have Mercy on us all. May God have mercy on all the victims and give comfort to the grieving :(.

    • Sus

      “Seeing pro-choicers crying and mourning the deaths of these children is in many ways a relief. It shows that they still have hearts. ”

      This is exactly what Mark’s post is about. People using a tragedy to further what they think the agenda should be instead of mourning and honoring those beautiful people who died.

      I think that’s a disgusting thing to say in the wake of this tragedy. The pro-life movement loses every time something like this is said because it is so ignorant.

      • Did anyone doubt they had hearts?

        • Some do doubt it and therein lies the problem. By demonizing and dehumanizing those who support abortion we completely lose sight of what it means to be pro-life. and any chance at being effective and seeing hearts changed goes right out the window.

          • You’re right, but I’d go further. The modern tendency to say ‘I’m obviously right on target, and everyone else who disagrees with me is a brain-dead jack-ass, or a murderous genocidal psychopath who hates (fill in the blank).’ Or something like that. Even in the wake of this. I predicted that the basic response would be: my policies are right, their policies are wrong; the way they respond is horrible, the way I respond is just right; this thing that’s always happened in some form is happening now because of how horrible our country has become – but it’s everyone else who is the mischief. I think that’s something that cuts across the board, even beyond issues of gun control or abortion. We’ve become a nation of armchair quarterbacks, quick to condemn and criticize, sometimes with the harshest wording, the players, the coaches, the trainers, the officials, the bands and even all the other fans who aren’t fans the way they should be (read: the way I am). Not that discussing policies or trying to find solutions is bad. But it’s that ‘island of me and hip cool people I’ve decided are worthy’, mixed with increasingly over-the-top rhetoric aimed at that growing circle of not-me types, that is probably at least something worth looking at when we ponder why. That’s just my thinking.

  • Mark, I agree with you as usual. Thanks for your honesty and valuable insights.

    I quit Facebook and will never go back – it is worse than any combox.

    God bless you and your family.

  • IC

    Bravo. Thank you.

  • Kim

    Mark: thank you. Just thank you.

  • frenchcookingmama

    Beautiful. Thank you, Mark.

  • Neil

    I really, really want to link to this on my facebook.

  • Well said, Mark.

  • David Lewis

    The prolife movement is based on protecting those who ought to be protected, those, even though they can not communicate or vote, deserve to exist.

    The common denominator in all the recent massacres, and apparently this one too, is that the assailant was mentally ill. They needed to be protected, against their will while they were sick if need be, but instead there is almost nothing that can be done these days. The only way to be commited is to actually do something violent, even if every psychatrist beleives they are a paranoid schizophrenic. This murderer’s mother was apparently trying to gain custody of him as an adult, and then have him committed to a private hospital. That can not be done with without the knowledge of the one being committed, and that was the trigger.

    In 1960 the murder’s mother could have had a local doctor sign commital papers, he would have been picked up and taken to the state hospital in Newton–the same day. He would have been observed and evaluated and if found to be insane by the standards at the time, he would have stayed there until such time that there were no symptoms.

    But starting in the 1960’s there were some trendy ideas in public medicine that, combined, have nearly destroyed the care for the mentally ill in the country. Indigent care was federalized and medicaid would pay to hospitalize someone with a sick kidney, but not one with a sick brain. There were plans to create community health centers, administering thorazine and so on to people who would live in the projects, that could replace the state hospitals. The state hospitals closed, the community centers never really materialized. At the same time ideological lawyers started suing on the behalf of the mentally ill, not for their treatment, but so they would not be treated agaisnt their will, much less confined. How many paranoid schizophrenics wanted to be treated? Some silly sixties radicals claimed there was no such thing as mental illness. State mental health agencies refocused, not on the legally insane, but on “mental health,” i.e., how to ease the suffering due to life events that we all go through. A lot easier and cleaner to counsel a widow whose husband died of old age than to work with a violent schizophrenic who thinks he is Moses.

    The result is that there are ~ 95% fewer mental hospital beds today for the population compared to in 1955. It made cost-cutters happy and it made intellectual lawyers happy. The end result is that ~1/3 of homeless people are mentally ill, whereas they used to would have been in an institution with food, heat, clothing, entertinment, etc. The biggest mental asylum today is the LA county jail. The state hospital in Newton closed in the mid-1990’s. The 4,000 patients who used to be there are now wandering around homeless, in jail after commiting violence on others, dead, who knows.

    This is a crisis of society and needs Christian charity. Chesterton would write volumes about this if he were here today. A mad genius on the loose (intelligence seems to be correlated with mental illness) is going to kill a lot of people if they want to, regardless of what is baned. The biggest school massacre in history was done by a mad man with explosives; North Korea could not legislate its way to perfect safety with people like that in public. At the same, there has to be compassion, real compassion, for the mentally ill. In reading the memoirs of an aide that worked at the state hospital at Newton, he described some patients in the violent ward who could tell when they would suffer an episode and they would tell the aides to hurry and restain them before it started. Now what do they do, it must be Hell on Earth for one to know that they are going mad, and that they will very soon try to hurt others, and to be out on the street and then have another lucid interval after they just killed another homeless person. Maybe that is why so many schizophrenics on the street commit suicide. What hope have they?

    Someone has to speak for the unborn and someone needs to speak for, and stand up for, the mentally ill. That means reopening facilities like the ones at Newton and providing the best, most humane, care available. It should a pro-life issue. Future generations will ask what on Earth we were thinking when the mentally ill were ignored, and left to hurt themselves and others. I think God will too.

  • bill bannon

    Excellent….and this from someone who disagrees with you often. Excellent thinking and writing. I just wish confining the mentally dangerous to secured hospitals prior to their acting out was receiving as much attention as the size of a magazine in a gun. If Congress gets the size of all gun magazines down to 9 bullets, such disturbed people will simply bring 20 magazines with them in a photographer’s vest…takes three seconds to change magazines. But asylums for the seriously mentally ill cost money…government money…whose spending many Catholics and Evangelicals want curtailed.

    • Andrew O’Brien

      There is another *potential* issue here, though, and it is a justice issue. We can’t just lock the mentally ill up and treat the asylum like a prison to keep scary people separated from society. The problem with insane asylums in the past I believe was that people were locked up who could live with their illness peacefully (albeit a little strangely) in the world. Yes, we want the truly violent people locked up, but we simply cannot lock up the mentally ill because they exhibit strange behavior.

    • kenneth

      Any realistic response will have to involve some deep rethinks of both mental health and firearm laws. The NRA mantra on gun regulation is that it can’t offer a perfect solution and therefore it is all just PC window dressing to attempt any regulation. Yes, people could always pack more magazines, or if they were restricted to revolvers could carry speedloaders or a couple extra guns. People, and especially psychos, will always find a workaround. However, none of these alternatives give an untrained or lightly trained person nearly the same out-of the box killing efficiency that high capacity semi-autos do. These scenarios play out in just a few minutes. Seconds save lives. Tens of seconds of delayed firing over the course of the event can save a lot of lives. Every stop to reload gives someone time to run, or time to rush the shooter. Every reload is a chance that the guy will fumble something and possibly discard the main rifle for smaller hardware. As a gun owner who thinks the NRA is an absolute wingnut outfit, I’ve tried to think of what I consider potential middle of the road solutions. One idea I keep kicking around is a two-tiered system of regulation. Aside from better mental health rules, allow single-shot guns and wheelguns as is. Limit semi-autos to 10 rounds with a fixed magazine. I cannot envision any sensible sporting, hunting or self-defense needs that cannot be adequately covered by this gear.

      Anything above that, if not banned for civilian ownership, would at least require enhanced licensing of some sort which would force a person to open their medical records and undergo an exam at regular intervals. There would also be some serious security requirements for storing such weapons and permits, a system not so unlike the requirements for owning an actual machine gun now, but less onerous. As just one of a bazillion second amendment fans, I could live with that. More importantly, I think a lot of potential victims could too.

      • bill bannon

        I have no brief for large magazines. I got rid of a 15 shot gun and I’m under threat of being shot someday by a felon I fought and I just have a six shot 20 gauge and a deal with God that that gun and motion detectors and window alarms should suffice at night…and the 20 gauge is safer for neighbors via reduced wall penetration with low muzzle velocity rounds. I just think gun changes costs the government nothing and mental health changes cost the government alot at a time when both parties are cutting government spending. McVeigh killed 168 people (18 children) with a bomb recipe.

  • anna lisa

    Help me out here Mark.. I have to switch the TV off. I can’t look at news feeds. The faces of those little children or their parents make me cry. I have to turn away because I can’t bear to cry. I pray for them earnestly,with rosaries and mass, but I simply. can’t. watch. their. funerals. Perhaps it is a defense mechanism to analyze what happened with an Adam Lanza, what happens when societies break down,– because it is easier to cope, by trying to answer WHY??? — then to drown in tears for the stricken faces of those parents. I have a six year old, and literally felt sick to my stomach last night when my husband was asking him last night if there are any closets in his class room.
    I agree with what you said about Obama. Yes, he has a human heart, but I do find his myopia disturbing, I just can’t help it. The whole “born alive” act appalls me. I feel pain for the Lanza family, but I want to ask a question to all fathers who leave mothers alone with their broken sons, to marry a new one, “WAS IT WORTH IT??” (My dark side would add: ” You. prick.”, *( which I would say to anyone who mentioned that beautiful, heroic young woman’s cleavage.)
    So yeah, I need to go to confession. Anger is an improper response. Does any of it get a dispensation?

    • Mark Shea

      I think anger is a perfectly proper response. But the point of anger is action. For myself, I’ve tried to turn my anger to thinking about our insane gun culture in light of the Church’s teaching with a view toward trying to figure out what to do to change it. I will posting my noodlings over the next few days.

  • TomS

    Thank you for capturing my thoughts precisely. I’ve read all the comments and am impressed that the discussion for the most part is respectful and constructive. However, only one writer alluded to the fundamental cause: there is evil in this world, and for the moment the devil seems to be winning. I think we as a society, as a nation, as Christians must acknowledge this reality. Without such realization every effort to prevent another Sandy Hook will be for naught. Neither a perfect healthcare system nor the perfect gun control legislation will have any effect. And, as we acknowledge the presence of evil, shouldn’t we also acknowledge the presence of God?

  • Dan

    You’re too emotional man. I dont know if you’ve been told that before but you need to calm down. You are the third category: people who freak out in a faux righteous rage because others make Jesus seem nerdy and uncool. Yes its tragic and shocking but “normals” hear of events equally tragic almost more days than not. Welcome to the 21st century. Calm down or go murmur angrily into a garbage can like a crazy homeless. Please. Stop trying to curry favor with the cool kids by ranting endlessly about the views you have in common with pop culture. They’re never going to let you into the clique.

    • Mark Shea

      Too emotional. About the slaughter of 20 six year olds. Thanks for that diagnosis from the Sociopathic-American community. What clique? What is wrong with you?

  • annie

    I rarely read your work because I generally don’t get your view of things, but I clicked a link from another site hoping to see something good. Instead, I read: “This has happened too (I would haved added the precise theological phrase “God damned”) many times.”
    At the risk of being subject to the ““Jackass Be Gone” technology” I can only say that taking the Lord’s name in vain as you have done is beyond wrong. You are so quick to judge everyone else, and then use a phrase like that? Now I know why I generally don’t read your work. I am surprised no one else has pointed this out, or have they all been subjected to the ““Jackass Be Gone” technology”?

    • Mark Shea

      I did not take the Lord’s name in vain. I spoke with precision. If the murder of children is not damned by God, nothing is. And I have judged nobody. I have judged words and actions, as Jesus commands when he say, “You shall know them by their fruits.”

      • Allan

        If you want to be theologically precise, I would question whether God damns ANY actions, or whether only people are damned. It still seems like gratuitous profanity, perhaps added for shock value, but I’d say there’s enough shock to go around these days.

  • Dawn Eden

    Mark, thank you.

  • tz

    I have not found a “pro-life” commentary who mentions all the dead children from this other angle.

    In isolation, it is a tragedy, but it debases those who would use it for political posturing – either gun control or anti-abortion. Yet if you want to bring comparisons into it, they should not be either of the left or the right. There are a lot of dead children out there for many reasons. Some reasons which are glorified by those who are horrified at what happened at the school.

    “Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world…”. Born and unborn. Catholic and Muslim.

  • The Deuce

    You know, I took it for granted that Obama’s tears were sincere. It’s about the only thing that man has done that I havee respected. But the rapidity with which he then decided to exploit those tears for cash sure makes me wonder:

    And now this:

    He’s so shameless that I really don’t put anything past him at this point.

    • Sus

      Every page on has the two donate buttons. It’s part of the template that is used to create the website.

      If Obama is exploiting the Newtown for cash then he is exploiting every single subject that is posted on

      There’s many reasons to be critical of Obama but I’m tired of the made up stuff.

  • Chris

    Great post.

    I think this highlights the DISCONNECT between the Newtown massacre and abortion. Society has become so desensitized to the unborn child, abortion becomes just a clinical, “private” affair that shields our consciences from considering the gravity of what is really taking place. In other words, when I think of abortion, I remember the words of Jesus, “Forgive them…they know not what they do.” It’s a polished, un-messy kind of madness that allows us to ignore the unborn, but it’s a fact of our social condition now. Society, however, still has the capacity of being horrified by the slaughter of innocent children who are not hidden beneath Mom’s womb. The day may come when even this is below-the-fold news, but I pray not.

    We can’t equate the reactions because the objects are not held as equal in the minds of those we would like to embrace the virtue of defending life from womb-to-tomb. If one person has been jarred into a change of heart about abortion, it’s a sign that hope still flourishes even in the face of unspeakable evil. But we shouldn’t use this to attack others who are not pro-life.

    Forgive them Lord, they know not what they do.

  • kath

    Mark, this post, and your earlier post about not posting the pictures of the children, are just so right. Thank you. I had to stop going on Facebook because so many people were posting pictures of the kids, and while I know they meant well and it was their way of honoring these children and grieving, to me it felt almost voyeuristic, like these children were being used somehow. All I could think was, ” leave them be!” You have put into words all of the mixed up feelings of the past several days, and I thank you for that.

  • Ismael

    Although both abortion and what happened in that school are both horrible tragedies, I think it’s very wrong to use events like the recent one in Newtown for propaganda… any kind of propaganda… it shows lack of compassion and love towards those who suffer (and hurt them more).

    I am sure the intentions of those pro-lifers were good… but foolish.

    I think that if pro-lifers want to send the correct message: the all human life is precious, they should also respect the lives of the people who are born: children, adults and elderly.
    I know that pro-lifer do care about the ‘borned’ as well, but in their fight to end abortion they should be careful to show it as well… not only because it is the right thing to do in the first place, but also because otherwise they will just come out as callous and insensitive people to non-prolifers… and that will just hurt their cause in the end.

  • Very thoughtful post. Thanks for moving the discussion forward rather than simply reacting to this event. I believe we’re all on a journey of understanding. You’ve helped us take some more steps along our way. Thanks!

  • Merengue

    Everything Mark said should be obvious. The most incredulous aspect to me as a Catholic is that it even needs to be said, and how many people find his comments refreshing. Too many people read comments from internet crawlers without faces and begin to think it is representative of citizens as a whole. I know many Catholics, and none would speak of the tragedy as Mark Shea suggests. I even like to think that most people that make such callous comments aren’t truly being honest.

  • Zeke

    From a proud infantryman in the Atheist Human Toothache Brigade, I must say that musings like these are simply profound and excellent food for thought for religious and secular folk alike. Faint praise, I know, but keep up the great work and wishing you and the family a great Christmas.

  • I decided to try to respond in kindness to the tragic events of 12/14/12 in Newtown CT. For each of the 28 people who died, I am performing an act of kindness. With each act, I am giving a card explaining in whose name I’m doing a kindness and why. If you wish to download a copy of the card or learn more about it, please go to or, if you want a tiny url, to

  • Blake Helgoth

    We are to blame. I am more and more with Thomas Merton when he said that if nuclear war broke out it would be his fault for his lake of deep prayer (I am paraphrasing from memory). Sodom and Gomorah would have been saved if 10 righteous men had lived there, just 10! Our lack of holiness leads to these things and if we don’t start taking time for serious mental prayer / meditation, let the holy Spirit have his way with us and then make and act on firm resolutions this world is going to get much worse!

  • Tito

    I have the answer. BAN ALL GUNS; BAN ALL KNIVES; BAN ALL POISONS; BAN ALL CARS; BAN US; BAN EVERYTHING. That should do it… and yes, don’t forget to BAN GOD, and let the divil in.

    • Mark Shea

      Thanks for encapsulating the idiocy of reflexive gun culture FB memery. The check’s in the mail.

  • Mr. Patton

    This is sad liken to dough, heavy through having failed to rise to provide an answer about such a tragedy.

  • Kristen

    Spot on. Thank you.

  • Joe

    “Using these dead children as means to argue for that (outlawing abortion) is destructive and wrong.”
    I respectfully disagree with this. Connecting abortion to the killer’s indiscriminant slaughter of innocents is not Wrong or politicizing (life and death is not politics) but completely justified. Certainly in Connecticut around the families, the focus should be on the immediate situation. But around the nation, remember Mark that 3,700 babies (more helpless than even those first graders) in the US were slaughtered. How can you not recognize the validity of drawing the connection to the greater slaughter. Certainly an hour after the tragedy, is not the time to make the connection, but certainly a day after is appropriate while it is fresh in people’s minds. Pop culture would certainly find such a connection between abortion and the massacre unseemly, but we are not pop Christians. When Christ heard that two men fell from a tower and died, he used the tragedy to illustrate that we shall have the same punishment if we sin. According to your logic, Christ would be invalidly “using” a tragedy he should be only grieving about. While the media and news are valuing the human life that was lost, now is the perfect time to draw attention to many more HUMAN lives being lost by abortion.
    -Pax Christi,

  • Michael

    I was one of the commenters who asked about your thoughts on the teacher misleading the gunman. But there was nothing opportunistic about it. It’s a real question.
    I remembered that you dismissed the “hiding Jews from Nazis” scenario, so I honestly wondered about this situation. I’ve grappled over Live Action, but I haven’t come up with as clean an answer as you have yet. I came to your blog because it was a place where I had seen this topic addressed. And also because you were the first commenter on Dr. Kreeft’s post on this subject stating your disagreement with his views.
    I think it is natuaral to put yourself in that situation, and ask yourself what you would have done. I cannot come up with a better way to try to save those kids, and that is why I commented originally in the “For Newtown” post.
    I don’t read your stuff regularly, in part because of these kinds of overreactions. I think you have something to offer to many people, it may just be that I’m not one of those people. If I violated some kind of mandatory waiting period for asking questions after a tragedy, I apologize. This was an unspeakable crime, and my heart hurts as well. May the Lord comfort all those who are grieving, especially those parents, children, and teachers in Newtown.

    • Mark Shea

      Only one person asked the question in order to accuse me. Everybody else was asking the question because they were puzzling about the morality of the thing. I simply thought it was neither the time nor the place to open such a discussion. It was not an overreaction to say so. The absolutely inevitable result of opening such a discussion at that time (and frankly, for several weeks to come) will simply be to inflame emotions and confuse people. Nothing profitable will come of it till emotions die down. That was my sole point.

      • Michael

        I understand. But to imply that it is not sensible to ask questions about a crisis during a crisis seemed to me an overreaction. That you might not think it the time or place is perfectly reasonable, but I do not think it terrible, callous, or insensible that some of us would dare to ask. Thanks for your response.

  • Doug

    1) It isn’t over: 2 Tim 3:1-5.
    2) A useful response to the Westboro and 700 Club types: ‘When God sent Katrina to sinful New Orleans, how did he manage to miss Bourbon Street?’
    3) On a lighter side, Mr Spock is a non-native English speaker of course, but with his intelligence, how did he manage to misspell “abhors” and “vacuum”?

  • Deanna

    “Thou shall not kill” this includes inside or outside of the womb.

    • GeorgeI46546513

      Unless God tells us to do it.

      shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they
      shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and
      their women with child shall be ripped up.”

      Hosea 13:16