Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Evil in Sandy Hook

Like most Americans, I am shocked and tearful this evening. The deaths of so many innocent children at the hands of Adam Lanza in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, brings unimaginable suffering to this Advent season. The senselessness of the killings, the nearness in time to the killings in Oregon, Colorado, and Arizona, the brutality. These facts alone have become almost routine and even ordinary. Yes, people die at the hands of merciless killers. And it is always senseless.

Predictably, politicos of all sorts behaved badly today. Some on the left tried to organize a protest against the Obama Administration’s request for restraint—to wait for another day to renew the Democrats’ long-sought gun reform. And on the right, the predictable defenses of gun ownership sprang up immediately across the blogs and social media. (The NRA wisely silenced their Twitter account for the day.)  This all seems like business as usual for the handling of the traumas of mass shootings in the contemporary American culture of death.

But, today was different, if only for the innocence and youth of the victims. It "upped the ante"; it made the crime seem so much more horrible than the typical mass shooting. The clinical language that we have adopted for talking about the “ordinary” brutality of the contemporary American culture of death seemed unable to express the moral meaning of it. This point was evident when CNN’s Doctor Drew Pinsky ran out of medical words to describe his outrage and horror. “This wasn’t like Portland,” he said, “this wasn’t just an ordinary instance of mental breakdown. It was true psychopathy…. It was evil.”  He quickly regained his professional demeanor and talked about the need for people to report odd behavior that might suggest a tendency to violence. But, for a moment he was at a loss to find a clinical term that captured his sense of the moral meaning of the event.  Later in the day, Dan Malloy, the Governor of Connecticut, made a similar statement, “Evil touched this community today.”

The theological conception of evil is a rich resource for understanding the horror and inexplicable loss of life. It reminds us of the facts of existence in this Fallen world. That evil rarely touches the innocent children of our most immediate experience--that we can live among sanitized clinical descriptions--is a rare blessing. The loss of innocent children is a daily occurrence for parents around the world, not only through acts of senseless violence, but also through disease, famine, neglect, heartless laws, and cruel governmental policies. To live in this world is to live in a Fallen world. It means living in the midst of profound evil. That it rarely touches most of us in America is a gift of God’s grace borne in the history, culture, and sacrifices of the American people. It is a gift preserved by diligence, sacrifice, maturity, wisdom, and fellowship.

Evil will always be at hand, and we cannot escape it. There is no utopia, no hope for a heaven on earth. It cannot be gained by stronger gun control laws or by maintaining a well-armed citizenry. No governmental policy will bring it about; no retreat from society to isolation will seclude us from it. Evil pervades this Fallen world, and the division does not run between party lines. The line between good and evil runs though the human heart. 

The best we can hope to achieve is to return to our homes and, as President Obama was right to say, “hug our children a little tighter tonight.” And tomorrow, perhaps, we can return to educating them in our faith, our morals, and the best of our traditions. We can reach out to our neighbors, our parishes, and our secular communities--the places where our values are formed in the intimate details of daily life and the quotidian acts of kindness that we show one another. These are the best hope for facing evil. And our children, with their profound sense of awe and wonder, are our greatest guides in this Fallen world because they hold the key to love and hope. Hold them tight. 


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