Yesterday Wolf Blitzer of CNN asked a rabbi and a pastor in Newtown, Conn., “How could God let this [shooting of children] happen?” My answer is this: God gave us free will; we use it; he doesn’t interfere.
The shooter’s parents used their free will to get a divorce, leaving the shooter without an adult male role model. How much did the parents do to keep their marriage? Did they face each other with animosity, or did they turn to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and face the world? Did they focus on the good they could do in the world, or did they focus on the harm they could do to each other?
Television news film shows the house the shooter lived in with his mother: it’s really big. The mother—and probably the father—used their free will to buy and maintain a house that only was occupied by two people. A portion of the house could have been rented at a low rate to a low-income family. If you see a house that size on the Southside of Syracuse, it is typically occupied by a dozen people, not two. Why didn’t Mom share?
Mom used her free will to buy guns and teach her son how to shoot. She could have bought blankets and taught her son how to cover the homeless. She could have bought food and had her son help her carry it into food pantries. She could have moved to a house half the size and taught her son how to donate to the world’s impoverished children who need clean drinking water, food, shelter and education. She could have done that; she used her free will not to.
It is reported that the shooter had autism. Autism is a neurological disorder, nevertheless, it is listed in psychiatry’s DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Autism does not cause people to become murderers, nor do mental disorders cause people to become violent. Studies show that people who are violent and become mentally ill continue to act violently; likewise, people who are not violent and become mentally ill continue to be nonviolent. But—and this is a freaking big but—drugs make people violent. Mental illness does not make people violent; the drugs used to treat mental illness make people violent.
CNN has been doing 24-hour coverage of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School despite the fact that there has been very little new in the past 36 hours. Have you been watching it? Why? Why not turn it off? A five-minute digest morning and evening will tell you everything you need to know. Why are you filling your head with the poison of violent death?
Some time ago, Anderson Cooper stopped glorifying the shooters. He now names the shooter only once, then goes on to tell the stories of the lives and loves of those killed and the emergency responders. On the East Coast, Anderson Cooper 360 is on Channel 22 at 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. You can use your free will to choose the less damaging media program.
And that’s what this all comes down to: you choose. God and the U.S. Constitution call it freedom. The only way I know to deal with these horrific events is to make healthy choices yourself. Choose to be humble. Choose to care for others. Choose to tell the truth and to work for justice.
You cannot fix a broken kid two thousand miles away. You can’t slap any sense into his mother or take away the guns—well, maybe you can do that. How about we ban all weapons that are not used to hunt animals? You can have your guns for shooting rabbits, deer and coyotes but that’s all. Handguns and attack weapons are out. They are only used for shooting people and we’ve got to stop that.
You make choices every day and your choices impact both you and those around you. You can choose to be nonviolent—to use language that is not violent, as well as not watching violence on television or in movies. You can choose to be kind and helpful and loving. You can choose church instead of hockey. You can choose mediation instead of litigation. You can choose to hug a kid instead of slapping a kid.
Every time you make a choice for kindness and caring you are using your free will. Every time you choose respect and compassion, you are exercising your free will. The recent shootings are the end result of a series of free will choices. So are decorated Christmas trees, choir concerts and holiday dinners. Every time you act with kindness, you decrease the meanness in the world. I think God “let it happen” because he treats us like grownups and lets us experience the consequences of our choices.
So what are you going to choose today? Are you going to choose isolation and selfishness or are you going to choose to care for other people in your community?