Hammers and nails

Don't look for God's will in Sandy Hook tragedy

It's said that people with a hammer see every problem as a nail. Likewise, people with a culture war see every human tragedy as proof God agrees with them.

After 9/11, for example, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell said the real reason it happened was "pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians." Another preacher blamed the 2008 wildfires around San Diego on God's wrath over gay marriage. Right-winger Fred Phelps sees every U.S. death in Iraq as God punishing America for being too gay-friendly.

So it's no surprise the Sandy Hook school shooting is getting the same treatment. Religious conservative James Dobson, for example, blames it on God's wrath over abortion. Republican religious pundit Mike Huckabee says it's because "we've systematically removed God from our schools'should we be so surprised that schools have become such a place of carnage?"

The most cynical assessment is that the religious right exploits tragedy to advance its own agenda. Sandy Hook/9-11/Hurricane Katrina proves they were right about whatever Horrible Secular Evil they've been complaining about because look, God's just as angry about it, so America had better do what they say or God's gonna slap us around some more!

It's equally possible that they're sincere. As Susan B. Anthony put it, people have a tremendous ability to decide God's will coincides with their own desires. It's hardly surprising if conservatives with a religious streak convince themselves that they know exactly what God thinks about American politics and that God happens to agree with them about everything.

Of course, sincerity has nothing to do with truth, in or out of religion. , for example, is completely wrong about God being taken out of public school. Students can read the Bible at school, pray, form Christian groups and prayer clubs, witness to anyone who's willing to listen and say grace at lunch. So what Huckabee is saying is that God smote a bunch of schoolchildren because of something that never happened, which would make God pretty stupid.

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These kind of interpretations generally make God seem inept. If 9/11 was about paganism, abortions, gays and feminism, why blow up the World Trade Center rather than, say, a Wiccan gathering, a gay nightclub or the headquarters of the National Organization for Women? If God allowed the destruction of a building devoted to trade and commerce, wouldn't it make more sense that commerce is what he was mad about? After all, the Bible says you can't serve God and Mammon'maybe he was telling us we're backing the wrong horse.

Or consider the heavy military presence in San Diego: Maybe God was less PO'd about gay marriage than he was at America's failure to beat swords into plowshares.

Sandy Hook? I could come up with a half-dozen reasons just as logical as Dobson's or Huckabee's (okay, more logical) but out of respect for a recent tragedy I don't think I will.

My point is not that I have some higher insight into God's mind than anyone else, it's that it's very easy to look into the Bible and find conclusive proof of what you already believe. What Huckabee and Dobson are doing with Sandy Hook is human'but let's not kid ourselves it's based on any deep understanding of God's mind, as opposed to a deep understanding of Republican talking points.

Personally I don't think we need a divine explanation for tragedy. I believe in God, but I also believe he gave us free will to make choices'and some of us make very bad ones. God "allows" it to happen because stopping them is our job, not his.

But if we're going to look for a divine answer, finding answers that conform to our personal agendas says more about us than about Him.

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Updated May 22, 2018 1:43 AM UTC | More details


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