An Atheist Response to Sandy Hook

By Eric Jayne

eric.mug.1 origEven though the world didn’t come to an end last year, 2012 concluded with a horrible tragedy in Connecticut that deeply disturbed people all around the world. I was so personally distraught from following the events through news reports that I had to reach for my tissues while trying to concentrate with work.

The appeals to God and calls for prayer immediately spread through social and mainstream media. The shooter and his actions were described as “evil” while the young victims were claimed to now be “angels”. Not only are these descriptions inaccurate, but they severely hinder progress to solutions.

While I completely understand and appreciate why those who have been directly affected by tragedy would latch on to a belief that promises a reunion in the afterlife, it is irresponsible for the media and rest of us to embrace. Folding hands during telepathic communication to an imaginary force might be a great coping mechanism for grieving individuals but it does nothing to reduce further violent acts and that is precisely what the rest of us need to focus on. Atheists, more than any other group, should be able to understand this idea. We know that nothing matters more than events which happen in the material, corporeal world and we also understand—again, more than any other group—that only we the living can reduce violence and other threats to our well-being.

Painful as it may be, we should struggle and accept the fact that twenty young elementary school children (some as young as six years old) were violently killed in a senseless mass shooting. We need to struggle with the reality that they are forever dead. They are not in heaven, they are not with loved ones or Jesus, and they will never be held in the arms of their parents again. It seems to me that if we acknowledge these very sad, but very true, facts as a society then we increase our collective incentive to address the harmful elements that plague our one and only life.

Instead of assuring each other that the slain children are in “a better place” to make ourselves feel better we should think about ways to solve problems and be open to different ideas through respectful and reasonable dialogue. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if our friends and policymakers invited us to think with them about solutions instead of inviting us to pray about them? I truly cannot think of a better way to individually and collectively cope than through thinking and doing.

Since the discussion about gun violence has become politically charged I will not share my own ideas in this non-partisan article, but whatever the solution might be to bring about a reduction to gun violence it will not come from prostrating or reassuring each other of an afterlife. It will not come from attributing blame to non-belief in God or secularized schools. It will not come from candle lit prayer vigils or rationalizing beliefs in a benevolent, omnipotent god. It will not come from invoking any dogma, religious or secular. It will come only from thinking, discussing, understanding, and doing.

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