Commentary by Jeff Swenson
It was inevitable that someone would make an ass of themselves trying to evaluate the recent mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, but I didn’t expect it to be this bad, per an article by Raw Story. Pastor Sam Morris of Old Paths Baptish Church in Tennessee gave a sermon with a disclaimer beforehand that his sermon would “not be pleasant.” He should have added that it would be a moral failure on his part to shift the blame to humanists, homosexuals, abortion, and those who (gasp!) teach evolution. The man is so absurd he feels like something out of one of my cartoons where I exaggerate a character and his mindset for laughs. Morris is definitely a freakshow so there is no way, even as an atheist, that I can include all Christians in this way of thinking. BUT how many of his congregation stayed in their seats for the entire sermon and how much of what he said is secretly believed by more traditional believers with fundamentalist leanings? After all, Pat Robertson suggested the same villains after 9/11 and he has an audience of millions.
Pastor Morris first complained about the call for gun control, which we’ve been hearing a lot of debate on. I, honestly, don’t know if gun control would have solved anything in this situation or not, but I do know that it feels odd for a man of god and a Christian who teaches “Jesus” to even give a damn about guns. Since when did Jesus or his disciples care about weapons (“We demand a right to a sword!”)? I’m not saying Jesus was a complete pacifist (according to several verses he’s saving up his vengeance), but his life example didn’t suggest taking up arms–even to protect himself. Rather, if a Christian has true faith it is in god to protect him, not a man-made gun.
Then Morris suggested that parents should keep kids away from public schools because this is where Lanza (the shooter) was taught he was God by humanism and therefore could blow away anyone he wanted. Think about that for a moment? This accusation isn’t against humanism at all but the idea of an uncontrollable god. I may actually agree that what we read of the Biblical god and other deities does suggest that if they feel jealous or slighted in any way they lash out–like rampaging kids. However, that’s dealing with mythology and not the reality at hand. I don’t know what Lanza believed or thought he was, but I do know not every kid in public school goes on a shooting rampage. The correlation is not there. While horrible, this event and others like it are quite rare. The violence appears to escalate because they are media events.
Contrary to popular Christian belief, humanism doesn’t teach we are god(s). I agree that when we get into transhumanism (the idea that we transcend our physical body because we can repair it or prevent its decay) then we sometimes hear words like “immortal” or phrases “like a god,” but this area is in heavy debate and doesn’t represent your average humanist. Humanism tends to shy away from god references as many humanists are anti-theists–they don’t agree with the concept of god or an all-powerful being that has no reason to be moral (power corrupts). Atheists, in general, usually run from references such as “god-like” or using “god” in their language, so much so that it becomes humorous (which is my character The Littlest Atheist always says “Thank no-god!”).
Humanism is the realization that there is no divine intervention and that we must value “humans.” It’s up to us to save ourselves–we are it! So how would that kind of philosophy teach a kid to shoot other humans and himself? I doubt very much that anyone ever sat down with Lanza and discussed actual humanism. When kids are told that god loves them, but the world spits on them I think it may create the desire to end it all and go to the afterlife . And when kids are told that god may not exist and then are left with no philosophy or guidance to understand the world I believe that can lead to confusion and desperation as well. The failure is a social interaction with the troubled child and leaving a void that should be filled with hope, as well as lessons in social survival as the world can be a nasty place at times (in particular the jungle that is high school).
What it really comes down to is we don’t know what happened with Adam Lanza and we need to do better. We need to flag the troubled kids for help. The only thing I can agree with Pastor Morris on is that our public schools can fail our kids. But it’s not because of teaching evolution or humanism, it’s because of social factors, mental disorders and creating a sense of hopelessness when we should be pushing kids into a brighter future.
My heart does go out to the families who lost their children and loved ones before the holiday. I don’t believe in prayer, but I do believe in community support and it is the community that will help the healing process for such a tragic incident.
SIDENOTE: I know conservatives, including Christian conservatives, are bemoaning the revitalized debate over gun control. I think it’s fair to debate since Adam Lanza got the guns from his mom. Can you prevent situations like that or not? It doesn’t mean the end of all guns as guns may have a role in home defense (I know of friends who have had to use the threat of a gun on an intruder). So let the debate happen and engage it. Maybe something good will come out of it.
SIDENOTE 2: Speculation on my part (which, let’s be real, is meaningless) is that Adam had mother issues which helped alienate him from his peers and society as a whole. They describe him as quiet and withdrawn and hard to know. I’m guessing that he was extremely lonely and angry; if you combine that with adolescence you have a volatile mix. Pastor Morris blames the public school but in this CNN article it says: “She [Lanza’s Aunt Marsha] said Lanza’s mother “battled” with the school board and had to home-school her son.” Will Pastor Morris be quick to blame home schooling now if that was the catalyst?