God and Newtown -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

The days pass, but the wounds from Friday's mass shooting continue to exist.  The debates rage about the meaning and the causes and the possibilities of prevention.  I've posted several pieces and likely will share a few more.  Today I will join other religious leaders at Governor's Rick Snider's office to offer prayers and petitions that the governor would veto legislation that opens up a can of worms when it comes to who and where guns can be carried.  Many are sharing their thoughts, and Martin Marty, senior statesman of the American religious scene has offered his very cogent and helpful thoughts for the moment.  I invite you to read, ponder, and respond.


Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion
The University of Chicago Divinity School

Sightings  12/17/2012  

God and Newtown
-- Martin E. Marty 
Four daily newspapers greet the Martys at breakfast. The morning after the school killings at Newtown, Connecticut, twenty-four pages of these informed us, while zillions of twitters and tweets and television and radio programs also addressed the tragedy. Readers don’t need Sightings to spot traces of religion-in-public life this time, since coverage of it comes in blinding flashes when certain issues come up. So, just three reflections:           
First, God showed up most vividly in language of the competitor to televangelist Pat Robertson’s assessment that God smote a wayward people in the Sikh-temple murders so recently. This week’s competition was broadcast by Governor (and GOP presidential candidate and ongoing television host) Mike Huckabee. He wins, hands down, the prize for his absurdist judgment that “Newtown” should have been no surprise; Why? Because our nation had “systematically removed God” from public schools. Hence the schools have become a “place of carnage.” So a capricious but vengeful God took revenge on twenty Newtown pupils, representative sufferers for all.               
Second, and much happier, is something picked up by those who watched the reporting on Newtown and other places where sympathetic citizens crowded Catholic and Protestant churches and synagogues, and took counsel from priests and pastors and rabbis and abundant lay counselors. They had no embarrassment convoking God or the gods in quiet attempts to console the heart-sick. From the first report and through the weekend worship in tens and tens of thousands of communities, no one had to apologize for employing the language of faith. But a question: if the sanctuaries are needed and the pews are full at times of crisis and horror, who will keep sustaining them, thus making them available while more of the spiritual-but-not-religious believers abandon them? 
Third: instantly there was talk of gun control and the appropriateness of theological critiques or affirmations of God and religion in the inevitable debate which is to follow. Students of rhetoric, liturgy, piety, and passion know the odds against anything new happening in a nation of 300-plus million citizens with their almost 300-mllion known-of guns. Using an expansive but not inappropriate definition of “religion,” those critical of the gun-cultures will note that on this front there are plenty of sightings of religion-in-public-life. In the Torah, pointed to the Golden Calf  and its kine kind, the people heard: “These be your gods, O Israel.” Who or what “be” America’s gods?           
Listen to anti-gun-culture voices and you will hear questions: Whom do politicians fear more: the pope or the National Rifle Association? Why do most political leaders muzzle themselves when invited to critique the N.R.A.? Answer: they know that a peep of criticism can mean the end of a political career. Saying the wrong thing about abortion or homosexuality does involve some risk, but saying the wrong thing about guns is sudden death. If, as these critics note, religion involves “ultimate concern,” myth, symbol, rite, ceremony, sacrifice, metaphysical sanctions, behavioral consequences, and more, they can ask: who has the most secure place in the heart or on the tongue of the defenders of all guns of all types in all circumstances? Is it God?           
Here the various religious clusters, be they Catholic, mainline, evangelical, Jewish, Muslim, etc. etc. are quite impotent. Maybe in some future historical dispensation we will hear and see new perspectives on the role of guns in our culture. But not in this one, as will be evident when post-trauma, the arguments begin.  

 Nick Wing and Paige Lavender, “Mike Huckabee: Newtown Shooting No Surprise, We've 'Systematically Removed God' From Schools,” Huffington Post, December 14, 2012.  
Samreen Hooda, “Pat Robertson Blames Atheists And Those Who Hate God For Wisconsin Temple Shooting,” Huffington Post, August 6, 2012.

 Martin E. Marty's biography, publications, and contact information can be found at www.memarty.com.


This month’s Religion & Culture Web Forum features "My Homosexuality Is Getting Worse Every Day": Norman Vincent Peale, Psychiatry, and the Liberal Protestant Response to Same-Sex Desires in Mid-Twentieth Century America” by Rebecca Davis (University of Delaware). The Rev. Norman Vincent Peale was a champion of "positive thinking," "a theory of channeling God’s infinite energy to attain exalted spiritual power--and personal success."  But when Peale responded (in Dec. 1956) in his bi-weekly Look magazine column to a young man seeking help because of his same-sex desires, Peale did not recommend positive thinking and prayer, but psychiatric treatment.  Rebecca Davis argues in her essay, "'My Homosexuality is Getting Worse Every Day,'" that  "Peale’s ideal of human happiness ... was a middle-class (or upper-middle-class) consumerist, heterosexual, Christian, marital norm"; for people troubled by their inability to conform to this norm, Peale believed that "no amount of prayer or positive visualization could help until a psychiatrist had reoriented his sexual desires to make marriage possible." Peale reflects, according to Davis, the stance of other liberal Protestant clergy in the 1950s: they did not did not regard homosexuality as a "religiously transgressive"  threat to "traditional" marriage, but as a psychiatric disorder.


Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School.


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