Monday, December 17, 2012

Huckabee and the America that Never Existed


Mike Huckabee has been trying to explain his explanation for the Sandy Hook tragedy both in this video and in this very similar post on his website.

Huckabee claims it would be "ludicrous and simplistic" to claim a direct causal relation between removing prayer from school and mass murder. I am glad we agree at least on this point. But his explanation of a more indirect cultural influence seems riddled with holes and gaps. He claims:

"But the cause and effect we see in the dramatic changes of what our children are capable of is a part of a cultural shift from a God-centered culture to a self-centered culture...We dismiss the notion of natural law and the notion that there are moral absolutes and seemed amazed when some kids make it their own morality to kill innocent children." 

This is the point at which it seems to me that the whole discussion of the purported secularization of our society is totally disconnected from the tragedy at Sandy Hook. It seems to me that Huckabee imagines that this horrific event was caused by a young man who was simply too heavily influenced by a self-centered culture that dismisses moral absolutes. 

This person was sick, deeply sick, and it seems much more accurate to think that internal psychological forces played a much bigger role in this event than did the external influence of American culture in general. And, again, who in American society is really questioning the morality of slaughtering school children? There is a reason, after all, why we have all been crying. 

I don't think this young man thought it was ok to kill children because his culture failed to offer strong enough moral parameters. Huckabee seems to imagine this person was a moral relativist who would argue that while killing kids may be wrong for you, it is not wrong for me. As if any rational deliberations went into this horrific event in the first place. 

A bigger problem with his clarification about what he said is that the whole argument rests on the assumption that until up to about 50 years ago we were a pretty Godly nation. If Huckabee were an African-American, I doubt he would be making this argument. He writes nostalgically of the good ole days when kids just had good, clean fun:

"...we got in trouble at school for talking in class, chewing gum, pulling a girl’s pigtails, or slouching in our school desks. We took guns to school, to be sure, but they were in the gun racks of our trucks and we used them to hunt before and after school. It never occurred to us to use them to murder our teachers and fellow students. ...when we as a nation feared God, we didn’t fear that a 20 year old with a high powered rifle would gun down our children in their schoolrooms."

Ok, first off, for virtually every student in the American public school system, it still never occurs to them to murder their teachers and fellow students. It isn't as though "kids these days" think murder is the cool thing to do. We are talking about a very small number of tragically sick people, not a new social trend. 

But notice how distorted and narrow Huckabee's views of our society from his days in school are. When he was a student, African-Americans in his part of the country routinely had to worry about violence being perpetrated against them. 

Those were only the good ole days for some people. For many people, about 50 years ago was when we started even remotely becoming a society that could claim to believe in a God who created human beings equal. 

Huckabee claims that "when we as a nation feared God" we didn't have to worry about stuff like this happening. I honestly have no idea what historical period he could be referring to. Is it the time when we systematically killed Native Americans and ran them off their land? Or is it when we systematically enslaved African-Americans and believed they were less than human and backed that up with the Bible? Or was it more recently when we systematically denied women full and equal participation in church, education, the economy, and politics? 

Banning religious symbols from public spaces seems small potatoes to the ways in which we have systematically pushed God and God's values out of our lives in the past. 

I really don't think that God is in heaven on his cosmic throne worrying about being marginalized. I think God is much more concerned with the people we marginalize in his name.

As a fellow white male, I agree with Huckabee that "we" didn't have much to worry about back then. But "they" certainly did. 

There is no golden age to look back to. Let's stop talking as if there was. 

There is only a kingdom to look forward to. Let's keep working to make it come on earth as it is in heaven.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

An Open Letter to Mike Huckabee

Dear Mr. Huckabee,

If kicking God out of our public school system is what lead to this atrocity, as you claim, then why did a similar atrocity happen in an Amish school in 2006? The Amish can't exactly be accused of pushing God out of their lives, yet God still let this tragedy happen in their community. How do you explain this?

I really do wish the world was the way that you believe it is. I wish the world was predictable and systematic, and that we could be assured that if we just did the right things that horrible and tragic things wouldn't happen to us. I would love to have that kind of control. I would love to live in a world where my children's safety could be guaranteed if I just acknowledged God enough.

But the world is not this way, and to keep insisting that it is does a great deal of harm. Think about it. You are telling the world that there is a God who is apparently so insecure and irritable that if his name isn't mentioned in public schools he decides to teach us a lesson by allowing children to be slaughtered. 

Mr. Huckabee, from what I have seen of you, you strike me as a good-hearted and very likable person. But you seem much more benevolent than the God you claim to believe in. 

I understand that you are now claiming that you were misunderstood, and that what you really meant by your comments was that:

"... we have as a culture decided that we don't want to have values, that we don't want to say that some things are always right, some things are always wrong. When we divorce ourselves from a basic sense of what we would call, I would say, collective morality where we agree on certain principles to be true always, then we create a culture -- not that it specifically creates this crime. It doesn't. But it creates an atmosphere in which evil and violence are removed from our sense of responsibility."

This makes no sense either. We may not all agree on how to define marriage in our society, for example, but we all agree that murdering children is absolutely wrong. People do not commit atrocities like this because they have been influenced by a pluralistic culture that doesn't take strong enough moral positions. People do things like this because of some combination of  evil, sickness, and perversity that is simply not rationally explainable. 

Your explanations sound very similar to that of Job's friends, who simply couldn't understand a world where the righteous tragically suffer. As a Baptist preacher, I am sure you have read this book, and you'll recall that when God shows up, Job's friends are silenced and told that they are wrong. I really wish God would speak to you from a whirlwind so you would stop saying this stupid stuff and giving Christians a bad name. You're trying to help, I know, but it isn't working. 

Sometimes really horrible things happen- things that should never happen- even to the very best of people. To pretend otherwise is not only to ignore empirical reality, it is to deny the heart of the Christian faith you claim to represent. Jesus didn't systematically push God out of his life. Jesus fully and completely welcomed the presence of God in his life, more so than any other human being ever, and he was tortured and murdered. 

Evil doesn't just happen in God's apparent absence, as you seem to believe. The Jesus story shows us that horrible evil even happens to God's presence. 

According to our faith, God raised Jesus from the dead. When children are murdered, our message that we have to offer the world (when it comes time to speak) is that God will refuse to let tragedy have the last word in their lives. We believe in a God of Easter who can ultimately wipe away all tears. The Jesus who welcomed children into his arms in this world will do so in a world without end. 

Our faith doesn't allow us to explain tragedy; it allows us, through groans and tears, to hope in the midst of it. 

So, Mr. Huckabee, please stop using tragedies like this as a platform for espousing your particular political vision of church-state relations. The problem isn't that our public culture isn't Christian enough; the problem is that your theology isn't Christian enough.