Struggling With Newtown and Our Culture of Antagonism

Comes the moment when reason gels with emotion and the granite-faced Stoic marches into the backyard woods and shrieks like a wounded bobcat: "Twenty kids! And teachers! And school staff! And the beloved principle! And the assailant and his mother! Twenty-eight victims of a grisly binge even maniacal for lunatics! In Connecticut! My home state, the blank spot between New York and Boston, known only for the Merritt Parkway's traffic jams!"

Children, barely old enough to sense our culture's antagonistic undertow.

Collapsing in the browned oak and maple leaves is only sensible -- especially since one of my parishioners is a teacher who now weeps; another was a classmate with 27-year-old Victoria Soto, who sacrificed her life for her first graders; and two friends now mourn for Ana M. Marquez-Greene, the precious 6-year-old with a blue bow in her hair. A photo showed her dancing with her father, saxophonist Jimmy Greene, who recently moved his family from Canada, a land with an annual firearm murder-rate of 144. The toll stands at 9,369 in the United States...

But don't mention that. Not now. Such numbers beg for gun regulation, which means I'm politicizing and souring the mourning process -- except that America's militants wasted no time in their tweets: "Only one policy has ever been shown to deter mass murder: concealed-carry ons" (Ann Coulter); "I'M ON HANNITY RIGHT NOW! more guns, less mass shootings" (Coulter again); "Let's regulate knives too. You can't have steak knives in your kitchen anymore because a crazy person may stab someone with it" (Matthew Boyle). Never let up on the cultural virulence -- which, perhaps, feeds the beast that spawns the slaughters -- and ignore how the carnage itself dims the libertarian argument: The assailant's mother, Nancy Lanza, was a law-abiding gun collector. Her son killed her and used her automatic weapons. Ignore studies showing how more guns bring more murders and how firmer regulations reduce firearm deaths -- and no state law robs legitimate hunters of their rifles and shotguns.

Say and do nothing in fear of offense. Just shriek in the woods because the sprees come so fast and furious that the mourning will never stop: Remember the Oregon mall shooting three days before and the Sikh Temple earlier this year, and Arizona and Virginia Tech before. The 2006 Amish school massacre is now a yellowed postcard from Hell. Columbine is ancient history.

Perhaps our nerves are so frayed that I'll even risk offense when I worry aloud over our possible signals to unstable young men. Generalizing from these specific instances is precarious, as Liza Long poignantly demonstrates in her essay, "'I Am Adam Lanza's Mother': A Mom's Perspective On the Mental Illness Conversation In America." She lives amid the threats and fits of her brilliant but disturbed son, and it's obvious that he interprets reality through his own frayed grid. But still, is it not possible that the undertow pulls the volatile beyond their former limits ("going postal" is no longer descriptive)? We're soaked in adrenaline. Everything is vehement. The atmosphere now breathes intensity.

A symptom: Our national pastime was once baseball, where Ty Cobb was loathed because he slid with his cleats up. We now roar at a game of mauling, 300-pound behemoths. I hereby confess: I root for the Patriots. But how would lonely young men like Adam Lanza interpret my cheers? And how would he sift through blood-spattering video games and films and television violence and Rambo re-runs?

And what do those on the volatile edge feel when they sense the cultural mood? Another symptom: True debate -- the art of persuasion based on facts -- has been swallowed in an inquisitional cacophony of conspiracy theories and motive-guesses: Climate scientists are socialists; liberals hate America; conservatives are cave-dwellers. It's all about domination and control and power and brawn and manipulation and winning, so slug me on Facebook and back-bite me on Twitter -- and, when all else fails, whimper in passive aggressiveness: "Your opinion hurts my feelings..."

The revved-up tide drags us all. Is it not possible, if not provable, that the troubled are hauled beyond their former limits? Do they not see our idolization of power and crave it as well? Throw in macabre logic along with semi-automatic weapons, and they finally wield horrific control...

Perhaps the ancient writers were not so naïve:

"Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing" (Proverbs 12:18).

"A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise person keeps himself under control" (Proverbs 29:11).

"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others greater than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3).

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Matthew 5:9).

Those Scriptures force us to ponder: Would the angels embrace our ferocious contemporary heroes or would they see them as Hell's envoys? Do we now resemble Hell more than Heaven? If it's the latter, can we muster the courage to change our heroes and calm our antagonism, remembering Martin Luther King's words: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that"?

Friday's horror shows us that love is no mere luxury; it is a necessity.

So we must rise up from the leaves and resolve, once more, to be peacemakers. And, personally, I will respectfully advocate prudent gun regulation while I pray for the reformation of our souls, mine included. Like those who disagree with me, I want our children live to the age when they can cogently debate the second amendment.