Updated: Mar 22, 2019
There is continuing grief and mourning for all those who suffered heartrending loss in the Texas church shooting. There's a sadness and sorrow in my own heart, contemplating it. In the aftermath of the shooting, I heard a woman interviewed on CNN who was impassioned in proclaiming that people need to "get back to God."
In times of tragedy many people reflexively respond by evoking God in some form or fashion. This makes sense because in the face of senseless and harrowing events like the Texas shooting, people look for an explanation or consolation with which they can take comfort.
The person interviewed on CNN seemed to think that the shooting was in some way a byproduct of the absence of God in society and people's lives. The gunman is purported to have been an atheist, which has served to galvanize those who believe that people who don’t believe in God are the problem, and more of God is the solution. The implication is that if more people believed in and were devoted to God, tragedies like this would not happen. During a portion of the interview she rattled off a diatribe about how God would ultimately prevail and further insisted that these tragedies will continue happening until people get right with God.
In my view, acts of senseless violence and destruction is a human dilemma, not a God one.
The idea that more of God would prevent acts of violence and destruction in our world is not true. As you know, many acts of violence and destruction in the world are done in the name of God. Acts of senseless violence or destruction are a human dilemma, meaning that the motivations and causes of such actions are rooted in human conditions, circumstances, and psychological malady within the person. Although there is evidence that the gunman was a disturbed person, we do not know the full extent of the human conditions, circumstances and psychological malady that influenced him and his senseless act.
Rather than take the position that the solution to such tragedies is “more of God” (never mind who gets to decide what version of “God” we are deciding upon), I believe we would gain more by understanding the entanglement of factors that played a role in this horrific act. I devoted my second book, Wide Open Spaces, in honor of the lives lost in the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia where I grew up. A senior at Virginia Tech, shot and killed 33 people, one of them I knew personally. Over the years many reports and articles have been written about “lessons learned” from this tragedy and how to address the mental health and other issues that were part of the equation.
Human beings know that actions that cause human suffering are unsound, and actions that aid human flourishing are beneficial. Human beings have the capacity and responsibility to direct their lives in a way that alleviates suffering and promotes well-being. What the Texas gunman did was not a denial of God but a denial of his humanity. In my view, claiming that less of God is the problem and more of God is the solution is basically letting us off the hook, and shifting the blame, cause and the solution to something other than ourselves.
In other words:
1. Human beings have the capacity and responsibility to live ethical and responsible lives, guided by the principle of doing that which alleviates suffering and aids flourishing.
2. When human beings act unethically or cause suffering, they are denying their fundamental humanity and are responsible for their actions.
3. In the aftermath of senseless human acts, the entire human family should play an active part in addressing the issues that played a role.
4. People who believe in God and people who don’t believe in God at times deny their humanity and do unethical and destructive things.
5. God is neither the problem nor the solution to senseless acts of destruction and violence in the world; we are.
Whatever may be learned from the Texas shooting is not going to bring back those whose lives are lost. Nor will it diminish the heartache of those who lost them. People often speak of offering prayers for those who have been impacted by tragedy, especially when the tragedy doesn’t allow a more direct or personal action of comfort and support.
If you live in California, it’s probably not realistic to drive to Texas to offer emotional support or practical assistance to the Sutherland Springs community and those suffering heartrending loss. I think any demonstration of human solidarity with this community and those affected by the tragedy is meaningful. It doesn’t necessarily need to be couched in terms of offering prayers. It can also be expressed by conveying the idea that whenever another human being suffers tragic loss, all of us as one human family suffer and empathize. We share in the sadness and sorrow, express kindness and tenderness, and respectfully honor the grieving process people naturally experience in such tragedies.