I knew when the news of the tragedy at Virginia Tech came out that there would be religious responses that would be obnoxious, and even some that would be downright despicable. It seems that with every tragedy there are uninvolved people available to place blame and to pontificate. I personally have no words that are worth saying to those who have lost a loved one in this tragedy, or for that matter to the Virginia Tech community. They’re going through something I have never experienced.
I have, however, experienced tragedy, and I know how people use it for their own agendas. When our son died of cancer at age 17, and throughout the five year battle that preceded that event there were people who needed to question us. We were either grieving too much, in which case our faith was weak, or we weren’t grieving enough, and were thus in denial. We weren’t using the right treatment plan, out of the many dozens of non-traditional treatments suggested. Some thought that he would be healed if we just took him to the right church and had the right group pray for him. They couldn’t understand why we didn’t jump up and go where they suggested immediately.
Then there were those who just looked at us pityingly. My wife and I have taught–and still teach–weekend seminars on prayer. How could we be teaching about prayer, and yet our own son was not healed. For some reason these folks didn’t check what we actually teach, or they would have found that we do not and have never made the claim that prayer should replace medical care, or that there is some certainty of healing through prayer. In fact, we behaved precisely as we teach. We sought the best medical care available, and we maintained a strong prayer life.
Now the vast majority of our friends and neighbors were wonderful. I’m talking about a tiny minority who were nonetheless quite vocal. I learned how to ignore people. The point here is not what we or anyone else believe. The point is that everyone thinks they have the right to stick their philosophy and opinions into someone else’s decisions and grieving.
With that in mind, I’m going to comment on a couple of “Christian” responses to the Virginia Tech tragedy. Now if the bereaved want to sound off in any way they wish, I’m not going to jump in, but these are responses from people outside. They make me embarrassed to be a Christian. I’m never embarrassed to be a follower of Jesus; just sometimes the name “Christian” gets so horribly besmirched by this type of comment.
The first is a comment by Dinesh D’Souza:
To no one’s surprise, Dawkins has not been invited to speak to the grieving Virginia Tech community. What this tells me is that if it’s difficult to know where God is when bad things happen, it is even more difficult for atheism to deal with the problem of evil. The reason is that in a purely materialist universe, immaterial things like good and evil and souls simply do not exist. For scientific atheists like Dawkins, Cho’s shooting of all those people can be understood in this way–molecules acting upon molecules.
Now that paragraph is wrong in so many ways. I’ve recently responded to Dawkins’ book The God Delusion (see category “The God Delusion” on the sidebar), and while I have many disagreements with Dawkins, something that should surprise no one, I don’t see D’souza’s characterization as at all accurate. On the surface, yes. Dawkins is a materialist. But simply explaining everything as molecules acting on molecules, well, not so much. In addition, however much some Christians might like it to be so, Dawkins is not the sole atheist on the planet. Atheists work and hope, live and learn, love their families, make moral decisions, in short, they do the things that everyone else does. And there’s no evidence to suggest that they make worse neighbors.
But it’s not the wrongness of all this that embarrasses me. It’s the insertion of this religious (or philosophical) goal. I haven’t read any such, but if an atheist writer used the tragedy to announce gleefully that this proved there is no God, I would find that offensive as well. Let the tragedy be what it is. Especially let’s not use it to demonize any group of people. I’d also like to call attention to this very moving response (HT: Dispatches from the Culture Wars).
Then there’s Dr. Grady McMurtry, president of Creation Worldview Ministries, who believes that teaching evolution was the cause:
. . . people should not be surprised when mass shootings occur, such as the one on the Blacksburg university campus on Monday. “And at Virginia Tech, what do we have?” he asks rhetorically. “We have a person who, unfortunately, thought that humans had no more value than cats and dogs — and unfortunately, I think, probably felt the same way about themselves.” (source HT: Pandagon)
Probably felt that way about themselves? Does he think it’s appropriate to be gratuitously insulting at this point? I’ve discussed this issue before and am not going to revisit it now. All I’m interested in at the moment is the way the tragedy is being used to push agendas, and not in a kind way.
The agenda we should be pushing–and yes, I have an agenda as does everyone–is simple love and respect. I’m a long ways away and there’s remarkably little I can do, but I can speak with respect of the people involved, no matter what their religion or lack thereof. I can see them as human beings seeking a way to deal with the tragedy that has struck their lives. I can refrain from pretending I possess a one stop answer to their problems.
I think that’s what Jesus would do in these circumstances.