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home : opinions : opinions August 28, 2014

12/26/2012 8:02:00 AM
If we acknowledge evil, might we also acknowledge good?

Cal Thomas
Tribune Media Services

Trying to explain an evil act like the one that killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., is on a par with explaining how the universe was formed.

The natural human reaction after extending sympathy and prayers for the victims and their families is to ask what actions might have been taken to prevent the massacre. More gun laws? Connecticut already has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. Those laws did not prevent a man with evil intent from carrying out his heinous act.

Some will blame TV and video game violence. Depictions of murder and other violent acts on TV and in the movies have grown in recent years, but people killed people long before TV and movies. Such explanations are too easy.

Would armed guards at Sandy Hook have helped? Possibly, but do we want guards at every elementary school, patrolling not only the halls, but playgrounds where kids ought to be able to play in an atmosphere of fun and freedom? That may be where we are headed.

What about locked doors? Sandy Hook's doors were reportedly secured, but the shooter still managed to somehow gain access.

As much as humans have tried for millennia to prevent evil acts, we have not succeeded. In the modern era, Woodrow Wilson believed his League of Nations would usher in peace on Earth, if not goodwill to men. The United Nations followed that aborted experiment. The U.N. has been equally unsuccessful in preventing the slaughter of innocents and other evil acts.

Political leaders not usually identified with spiritual concepts are making use of the word "evil" in accurately describing what happened in Newtown. We hear calls for prayers from politicians committed to the separation of church and state. Whether it is Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Ft. Hood, Oklahoma City or the 9/11 terrorist attacks, evil seems to have gained a foothold in America.

Not every parent with a child in public school has the option of home-schooling, but that is something they might want to consider if they want to create a completely safe environment. Even private schools can't offer full protection from a deranged mind hell-bent on carnage.

More information about the killer will surface in the days to come, but even if we learn he was psychotic and off his medication, that will not satisfy our communal anger or anguish. It will not explain evil. It will not explain why 26 innocent lives were lost.

The way to deal with evil is to first acknowledge that it exists and that we all possess the potential for it. We don't become evil by what we do, but because of who we are. We are human beings, not God. We are not "basically good," as some claim, we are imperfect and fall far short of any true standard of perfection.

Evil is a "pre-existing condition." In some it is controlled by an inner compass, or by laws and cultural constraints. When it is not, we get Sandy Hook and tragedies like it. We get what we do not understand and cannot begin to fathom.

There may be no greater expression of evil than the murder of children in their classrooms. In calling for prayers, officials have taken an important first step in combating evil, but a larger question should be asked. Perhaps theologians, pastors, priests and rabbis are the ones to ask it, but permit me a suggestion.

If there is a source of evil, is there also a source of good? And if there is, has that source for good been offended by all of the accumulated evil we are piling up, affording it an upper hand?

As a friend of mine says, "Not a sermon, just a thought."

(Readers may e-mail Cal Thomas at tmseditors@tribune.com.)

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2012
Article comment by: Discussion Not Emotion

I'll give Cal credit, this is a reasonable article...

...up until he insinuated that we have somehow offended a god with our behavior, and thus, possibly, this god is allowing this to happen.

Prayer might make some of us feel good, but it will solve absolutely nothing.

Nor do I agree with Cal's comment about evil being a "pre-existing condition" of humans. It isn't. We are born neither good nor evil. We are essentially a blank slate that gets written on by a host of authors, ranging from genetics and biology to parental techniques, family dynamics, and sociocultural influences. In other words, killers are rarely born that way, they are MADE that way.

I find our typical national reaction to this sort of tragedy to be rather perplexing. We live in a society that glorifies violence, far too often ignores domestic abuse (physical, sexual, & emotional) on wives and/or children, we own half of all the guns in the world, we don't want our tax dollars to support preventive medical or behavioral care for the population (especially if it's universal healthcare), we ignore science and research if we don't like their conclusions,....and we are somehow surprised when something like this occurs???

Here's a quote from an Arizona newspaper on October 24, 1881: "The arming of oneself in a peaceful community, as every well organized community is supposed to be, and walking about like a moving arsenal, is highly ridiculous and, as events demonstrate, exceedingly dangerous. Boys and men of all ages and conditions are armed, and at the first flash of anger the pistol is drawn and somebody shot down."

That was the Tombstone Nugget. Two days later, the Earps and Doc Holliday began their march down Fremont Street to the vacant lot next to the OK Corral.

We've known for over a hundred years that the proliferation of guns is inherently dangerous.

Let's look for ways to reduce the chances of this happening, but let's not start arguing that removing the biblical god from schools or the public square is somehow to blame. Mass shootings were occurring back during the prayer-in-school days, when Christianity dominated American society...

Better parenting, preventative physical and mental healthcare, tougher access to weapons of mass destruction, and a cultural shift away from violence are reasonable approaches to the problem. Arming teachers, priests, and nurses (as one gun shop owner suggested), and pushing Christian prayer back into schools are not reasonable approaches.

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