Why would a seemingly normal retired accountant meticulously plan to slaughter innocent people gathered for a country music festival — the worst mass shooting in modern American history?
In the wake of mass shootings, gun control advocates plead in vain, yet again, for sane gun regulations. The NRA argues that we need more guns and fewer restrictions. And theists of every stripe offer prayers to loved ones and for the souls of the dead.
The rest of us are left to ponder what evil festers in seemingly ordinary people. It seems so unfathomable that anyone would plot to murder as many people as possible by mowing them down a crowd of 22,000 with an automatic rifle. That anyone could.
There was no escaping the rain of bullets from above; nothing but luck separated the wounded and dead from those who survived.
Mass Shootings: Nowhere to Hide
For those not directly connected to the victims of mass shootings, we experience a more removed sort of grief. That’s what most people do, mourning lives lost instead of taking them. We hug our loved ones a little too tightly as we imagine losing them to the random whims of a compassionless killer.
I’m sure the prayers are of some comfort to believers in their time of grief. But atheists seek not a security blanket to smother painful truths. Instead of offering prayers, we redouble efforts to prevent future mass shootings. We say, don’t pray for Las Vegas, call your Congresspeople and demand sensible gun laws.
Atheists most certainly don’t blame a mythological couple eating fruit from the obviously metaphorical Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In fact, humans have known about evil since before we were Homo sapiens.
The first stirrings of supernatural beliefs likely date to when our minds became sophisticated enough to contemplate the world around us and the vagaries of existence. We now have a fairly good understanding of the whys of the natural world. Yet, billions of people still cling to the belief that an all-powerful god (or gods) created Life, the Universe and Everything.
That can partly be explained by continuance of tradition. But not completely. While religion can’t explain theodicy (sequel to The Iliad?), most theists prefer to put the question of why God permits evil out of their minds. It’s just too comforting to think that a Supreme Daddy in the sky is watching over you.
Don’t worry your pretty little mind, Sky Pop will protect you from mass shootings when you’re out for a fun day of music, the festival grounds transformed into a killing field. Or watching a much-anticipated movie. Or in church worshipping him.
Being an atheist means that you have to acknowledge that tragedy could strike any minute. Your spouse may be killed by a distracted driver. Or you could develop terminal cancer. You might even fall into a six-week coma, on the edge of death.
There’s no rhyme or reason, no explanation for why I should live when almost everyone in my situation doesn’t. Life is precarious and random. And it’s not easy for many to accept this.
They would rather pray for God’s grace then go from day to day knowing that at any moment their existence could end. And if it did, that they would be buried in the ground…and stay there. In Letting Go of God, Julia Sweeney said that when she lost her faith it felt as if her brother had died all over again.
But it’s not just the finality of death that keeps theists in the pews. They can’t wrap their minds around the idea that life is completely random. They like to say that everything happens for a reason.
Yet what reason separated the people struck from the ones that got away from the indiscriminate spray of gunfire? There was no way to escape death from above. That was Paddock’s plan.
How much easier it is to think that God is your shield. That there’s a force in the universe making everything come out okay. And when it doesn’t, it’s all in God’s plan.
We know nothing. If you told me an asteroid fell it would mean the same to me. There’s absolutely no sense, no reason he did this. He’s just a guy who played video poker and took cruises and ate burritos at Taco Bell. There’s no political affiliation that we know of. There’s no religious affiliation that we know of.
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