By JONATHAN GURWITZ
New York Times News Service
Maybe this time would be different. Maybe the snuffing out of 20 children’s lives would give pause to those who would abuse the bottomless grief of others to promote their own shallow convictions.
It was not to be. Sandy Hook Elementary was still a crime scene, small bodies still strewn about its classrooms and hallways when the exploitation of tragedy began.
“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said on Fox News. “Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”
Even if you believe that faith has become too far removed from the public square, does it follow that you should be smug, rather than horrified, when children who play in that square are murdered? And the notion that crimes are absent when prayers are present will provide little comfort to the countless victims of pedophile priests, pastors and rabbis.
Shirley Phelps-Roper of the detestable Westboro Baptist Church, infamous for celebrating the deaths of American military personnel as divine retribution against a sinful nation, took to Twitter to announce her clan’s latest act of triumphalism. “Westboro will picket Sandy Hook Elementary School to sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment,” she tweeted.
Theologians are evidently mistaken in believing that the worship of gods like Moloch and Baal that demanded the sacrifice of children disappeared from history thousands of years ago.
The various imputations of a heavenly motive behind the horror in Newtown may have been the worst examples of sacrilege. They weren’t the only ones.
Michael Moore, who has made a fortune turning tragedy into satire in films such as “Bowling for Columbine,” found a way to excuse the killer while blaming America. “Guns don’t kill people,” Moore said at an event in New York City hours after the massacre. “Americans kill people, because that’s what we do. We invade countries. We send drones in to kill civilians. We’ve got five wars going on right now where our soldiers are killing people — I mean, five that we know of.”
In the rush by professional gas bags and interest groups — short on accurate information — to demonstrate their expertise in blaming the Second Amendment, Republicans, autism, the media and the shooter’s mother for the carnage in Connecticut, it may have been the vilified National Rifle Association that demonstrated the most dignity and grace. The NRA went silent for four days before issuing a statement: “Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting.”
In her book “On Death and Dying,” Elisabeth Kubler-Ross laid out the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Newtown and other pathetic examples suggest that as a society, we need to insert an additional stage between denial and anger: theological and ideological opportunism.
When another spasm of brutality had seized the nation more than 44 years ago, and only months before his own death, Robert F. Kennedy spoke in words that seem even more haunting after Sandy Hook. He noted that when such events occur, some people will look for scapegoats, others for conspiracies. He acknowledged that no single program or resolution can vanquish the mindless menace of violence.
Kennedy prefaced his remarks by saying, “This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics.” If only more people would be so thoughtful the next time tragedy strikes.