Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Insensitive Religious Right Reactions to Newtown Tragedy

The U.S. is still reeling from the December 14th mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that claimed the lives of 27 victims. Compassionate people across the country have reacted with donations, vigils, and an outpouring of support for those impacted by the tragedy. Others have ask how the U.S. can prevent such violence by expanding the public conversation on our culture's glorification of violence, the merits of gun control, and the state of our mental health services.

Unfortunately, Religious Right figures such as Mike Huckabee, Bryan Fischer, and Steve Deace have responded to the tragedy with insensitive comments, blaming the tragedy on insufficient national piety. Over the past few days, other Religious Right voices have followed suit, using the tragedy as a cheap opportunity to lash out at abortion, evolution, and insufficient religiosity.

First, First, during the December 17th edition of Family Talk with Dr. Dobson, James Dobson speculated that the shooting was an example of God's judgment. At the 16:07 mark of the radio show, he argued that God has allowed judgment to fall on Americans because of the proliferation of atheism, abortion, and LGBTQ equality. 
"Something has gone wrong in America. We have turned our back on God. I mean, millions of people have decided that either God doesn't exist or he's irrelevant to me, We have killed 54 million babies, and the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete redefinition. Believe me, that is going to have consequences too. A lot of these things are happening around us ... I think we have turned our back on the scripture and on God almighty, and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that's what's going on. We're seeing things happen that didn't happen just a few years ago, and there's a reason for it. Something has gone wrong in this country."
In a December 14th column at Charisma News, Alex McFarland of the Christian Worldview Center grieved for the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting, offering condolences to all those impacted. Unfortunately, he also blamed the all-too-common mass violence in America on rejection of "Biblical principles", which supposedly created fertile ground for evil to take root. McFarland believes that the country must return to "God's morality" to prevent future massacres.
"As our nation mourns the loss of precious, innocent children and the staff members who were responsible for guiding and teaching them, we must consider the true source of the problem, which is not guns--it’s morality. We must return to the source of absolute truth--God and His Word--and recognize that abolishing of these Biblical principles from our society leaves the opportunity for pure evil to take root and the result can be what we saw today: the worst school massacre in our nation’s history.

The sixth commandment is clear: You shall not murder. And yet, there are so many today who don’t know the commandment, don’t know why it is wrong, and don’t know that God’s truth is absolute--there is no justification for breaking it. We must return these laws and principles, as well as discussion of them, to our homes and dinner tables, our schools, and our public squares. By teaching God’s morality, we will raise up a generation in which fear of the Lord will help to prevent tragedies like the one experienced in Connecticut today."
Randy Thomasson right-wing group Save California issued a statement offering condolences to those impacted. Unfortunately, the statement quickly devolved into an attack on abortion and  "godless evolution". (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.
"We should be all the more grieved and all the more resolved to stop murders before they start. The answer is teaching the fear of God and love for God in schools and throughout society. Because mass murder is another example of societal degradation, a deadly consequence of promoting murderous abortions, godless evolution, and gratuitous violence. How opposite of teaching children that all people are worthy because they were created by God, that all innocent human beings deserve protection because they're made in God's image, and that every person is accountable to God when He judges the world."
In a recent press release, Operation Save America lambasted an interfaith memorial service for the Newtown shooting victims, calling it an "abomination" and an "affront to Almighty God". The organization failed to consider that not all of the mourners likely followed the same faith, or that the interfaith service might have given comfort to the victims' loved ones. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch)
"Watching the Memorial service for the twenty-six precious lives taken from us was painful to say the least, but it was far more painful to the God who made America great. Newtown cancelled Christmas so it could properly mourn. How foolish, yet typical of governmental strategy to replace God. The "Interfaith" service was an affront to Almighty God. Those claiming to be His priests barely mentioned His Name --Jesus! After all, He is the only God there is!"
Tastelessly, Operation Save America used the massacre as a another shameless opportunity to mock contraception, anti-bullying policies, and the alleged neglect of divine law.
"What happened? We violently removed the fear of Almighty God from the hearts of our children. We expelled God from school and banished Him from the schoolyard. He was replaced with metal detectors, condoms, policemen, anti-bullying policies, No-gun zones, and violence of unprecedented order. Our strategy has replaced God's Truth. We are losing our kids because we are ignoring God's Law. Our government cannot fix us!"
John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota, used the shooting as an opportunity to preach about hell. In a December 15th commentary at the Desiring God website, Piper wrote that "what we saw yesterday in the Newtown murders was a picture of the seriousness of our own corruption." He used the tragedy to make moral comparisons between murder and anger, arguing that both are sins against God. In essence, he detracts from the horror of the Newtown massacre by citing it as just another example of human sinfulness for which we should all repent. (Hat tip to Friendly Atheist.)
"...[T]he murders of Newtown are a warning to me — and you. Not a warning to see our schools as defenseless, but to see our souls as depraved. To see our need for a Savior. To humble ourselves in repentance for the God-diminishing bitterness of our hearts. To turn to Christ in desperate need, and to treasure his forgiveness, his transforming, and his friendship."
Sadly, this is nothing new. The Religious Right has a disgusting habit of blaming victims or unrelated scapegoats (LGBTQs, pro-choice persons, non-Christians) for catastrophes, with Hurricane Sandy as a recent example.

In a prior post on the Religious Right "blame game" after catastrophes, I speculated on why so many right-wing voices feel the need to blame victims or unrelated scapegoats. One possibility is that Religious Right figures who do so may be trying to psychologically distance themselves from the victims. By believing that the victims or scapegoats provoked catastrophy by stirring God's anger, commentators can then conclude that they can avoid catastrophe themselves by pleasing God.

Another possibility is that those who blame victims or scapegoats may subscribe to toxic theodicy. If God controls all things, and if God is just, why would God allow tragedy to befall innocent people? The idea that violence and death can claim innocent people anyone, anywhere may be too much for them to bear. To preserve the idea that God is just, Religious Right voices may assume that tragedy victims or scapegoats must therefore have done something deserving of divine punishment.

Or am I over-analyzing here? Maybe the root of these attitudes is nothing more than self-righteousness and spite. Whatever the origin of such attitudes, they should be condemned as insensitive and irrelevant to the tragedy at hand. The victims of Friday's rampage deserve better.


  1. I'm sure there's some truth behind your analysis of why the religious right behaves the way they do to tragedies like this. I would add to that the proverb of:

    "When you are a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."

    They have a very limited tool box with which to deal with situations like these. Their world view doesn't allow for the more complex causal relationships. It's just black and white to them. Good verses evil. Their God is a god of mercy and wrath: mercy for those who accept Him, and wrath for everyone else. So they can't help but draw the conclusion that these tragedies are somehow deserved.

    1. Wise Fool -- The limited toolbox idea is a good insight. A narrow worldview definitely limits how one can interpret the outside world, including tragedies like Newtown.

  2. Yes, You are indeed correct I believe on your analysis. But, more precisely they the "Religious Right" truly believe these poor undeserved are being "Smited By God Almighty".

    Now I myself am no "Hard-Core Evangelical Athiest". But, am a Deep Spiritualist who believes in minding his own business. Which are indeed looked at as the Devil's Helpers ourselves.

    The religious right truly believes in a " Fire n' Brimstone" God who has no real tolerance for any human being. But, especially those that they already intencely disagree with and dislike.


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