The massacre in Newtown, Connecticut is too awful for anyone to fully comprehend, especially from a distance. You watch the coverage of people you don’t know and will never meet, and yet you still find yourself nearly overwhelmed as the stories of terror, of immense sorrow and loss, and of heroism are told.
Particularly as a parent, you cannot help but wonder: What if it had been my child gunned down in elementary school? And then you begin to realize there’s a reason the death of a child is said to be the hardest thing for a human being to endure, the “grief surpassing all.”
Just last week I wrote an acquaintance–a good and decent and gentle man–who lost his son. Like everyone else in a similar situation, I hoped there might be something I might say to assuage, even just a bit and even for just a moment, the pain. (There’s not.) But there’s something else you’re aware of in situations like that, which is to try to avoid saying something stupid or shallow or insensitive that will only add to the grief.
I thought about that after hearing the comments of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Appearing on Fox News’s “Your World,” host Neil Cavuto asked Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, how God could let something like this happen.
And here (courtesy of Mediaite.com) is what Huckabee said:
It’s an interesting thing. We ask why there’s violence in our schools but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? Because we’ve made it a place where we do not want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability. That we’re not just going to have to be accountable to the police, if they catch us, but we stand one day before a holy God in judgment… Maybe we ought to let [God] in on the front end and we would not have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end.
When I watched this I had quite a strong, negative response, and in trying to understand why, I settled on several reasons.
One is that Huckabee’s argument is painfully ignorant. The odds are extremely high that the killer was either afflicted with an antisocial personality disorder–meaning a person without conscience or empathy–or suffering from some other personality disorder.
According to media reports, Adam Lanza killed his mother and then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he proceeded to kill 20 children and six adults before killing himself. For Huckabee to assume Lanza went on his rampage because “God has been removed from our schools” is witless. A diseased and twisted mind would not be dissuaded from carrying out a massacre by a generic prayer said at the beginning of the school day.
If on the other hand Huckabee believes that removing God from our schools lifted His protection from 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, which resulted in their deaths, then he’s very confused theologically. For one thing, Huckabee is part of a faith that teaches that sometimes suffering and death are evidence of one’s devotion to God (see the fate of Jesus and almost every one of His disciples). For another, why would the victims be people who had nothing to do with the offenses that so upset Huckabee? And why would anyone link the attacks to “removing God from our schools” rather than indifference to the plight of the poor–a concern spoken about much more often in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament?
Governor Huckabee is using a heartbreaking and inexplicable mass killing to push his conservative social agenda. Now as it happens, I’m somewhat (though not entirely) sympathetic to the conservative social agenda. But to use this incident, even before the bodies were removed from the school, to argue that if only we had let God in “on the front end” we wouldn’t now need him “on the back end” borders on being grotesque. And it’s not the first time Huckabee has done this. He made similar comments in the aftermath of the mass killing in Aurora, Colorado. The psychologist Abraham Maslow once said that if you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. For Mike Huckabee, his hammer is removing God from school–and he tends to see every massacre as a nail.
Theodicy–how to square the existence of a loving God with the existence of evil–is a profound and complicated issue. It doesn’t lend itself to easy answers. Yet Huckabee has now, on several occasions, reduced things to a cartoonishly simple level.
Mr. Huckabee may have thought he was defending God in what he said. In fact, in a moment of overwhelming grief and sorrow–one that called for some measure of grace, humility, and wisdom (which President Obama showed in his beautiful and moving tribute)–Huckabee offered an explanation I found flippant and offensive. And my guess is I’m not the only one.