Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Christian's Response to Newtown, Part 1

The last post on the Newtown massacre had an interesting result. People I know in my community have become aware of this blog, and writing some thoughts the last time brought personal feedback from exactly two people in the local community. That has never happened before.  It is notable, these comments were directly opposite of each other.

One thing I have learned in life: disagreement is natural and it does not indicate either party is necessarily wrong. Perspective and the concurrent subjectivity will always cause differences of opinion. None of us escape this.

One community member wrote me privately and one spoke to me at work. With the writer’s permission, I quote from the letter:
“I feel like this shooter in Ct. was deeply let down. He needed help. He clearly was not normal mentally-he was mentally ill. He had no place to lay his head.”

Later he writes:
“And if we ignore the REAL cause of his problems, by claiming that his actions are a logical result of our fallen nature as a species, are we as a society not sinning against him, casting stones that shouldn't be cast?”

I knew as I wrote my initial thoughts on the Newtown massacre, that the perspective represented by the above quotes would be held by many. My effort now is not to debunk the challenge of these words appearing in opposition to mine but demonstrate how these two opposing views are, in fact, in unison. The power of individual perspective is its weakness, as it states its case it often will not expound the complete truth.

For the sake of analysis, divide the topic of how to respond as a Christian to Newtown, into two modalities of thinking. These are spiritual and rational.

By spiritual, I mean simply accepting there is a spirit realm existent which interacts with our material life in ways that are both inscrutable and logical. Though the spirit dimension is neither measurable nor quantifiable and would appear therefore to defy logic, I accept a point of intersection between the spirit dimension and the material dimension which is logically understood.

By rational, I mean both a perspective and an identified system of thought:
1. the principle or habit of accepting reason as the supreme authority in matters of opinion, belief, or conduct. 2. Philosophy. a. the doctrine that reason alone is a source of knowledge and is independent of experience. b. (in the philosophies of Descartes, Spinoza, etc.) the doctrine that all knowledge is expressible in self-evident propositions or their consequences.[1]

Many issues of today in the US, it appears to this author, are rooted in the dichotomy presented above between spiritual and rational thought. Western Civilization moved consistently toward rationalism from the Renaissance forward. At one point, this movement became so profound it is now named the Age of Reason. One patriot of renown in our country’s history, Thomas Paine, who helped stir revolution with his pamphlet, “Common Sense,” also wrote one entitled “Age of Reason.”

In the second pamphlet, he writes passionately about the problem as he saw it of religion hindering humanity by its lack of rational thought. We continue to struggle today as a society to balance the benefits of values which many find taught by religion with practical thinking in the construct of law and economics.

The author quoted above mixes spiritual allusion into both of the points he made challenging my last post.  “He had no place to lay his head,” are words used to describe Lanza’s deep estrangement from the world around him. The sentence is in my mind an allusion to Matthew 8:20 NAS. Jesus said to him, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."

In the second quote, “…(A)re we as a society not sinning against him, casting stones that shouldn't be cast?”  This is clearly a reference to John 8:2-12. My friend’s point is to call me to my spiritual roots as I examine the Newtown massacre and have compassion on the mentally ill person who has been victimized in a sense by the lack of needed help which made him and those around him vulnerable to his mental illness.

Next up on this path in the Wildwood, the unity I see between what appears as our differing thoughts.