The Slaughter of the Innocents

It’s hard to get the slaughter at Newtown, Connecticut, out of our minds. When we think about it, our conversation naturally goes to prevention, and so to guns and mental illness. Both very important subjects that cut close to the heart of our American vision: is it communitarian or individualistic? Strong communities will keep close tabs on guns and mentally ill people, controlling as necessary. Individualism suggests that personal freedom trumps other values, so control is anathema. Both community and individualism go deep in American values. And they clash.

A deeper question gets forgotten, though, because it is even harder to answer. Neither communitarians nor individualists have any good answer to: Why?

To put it in the terms of humanism: what kind of creatures are we, that slaughter children?

To put it in the terms of theism: how could God let this happen?

If you want to contemplate that I’d recommend Ross Douthat’s column in the New York Times. He references Dostoevsky and King Herod, neither glib nor smug nor despairing in the way he grapples with the issue.


2 Responses to “The Slaughter of the Innocents”

  1. Bill Reichert Says:

    Wonderful, as are most of Ross’ columns. (Do you remember his father, Charley, who was in Cedro House with us at Stanford?)

  2. David Graham Says:

    I enjoyed Ross’ column. On the other hand, the vast majority of reader responses to this article showed that people thought Ross’ column wide of the mark, an ineffectual religious sop thrown to those gullible enough to believe such nonsense. (In my mind’s ear I could almost hear Mr. Potter saying, “Sentimental Hogwash!”) When I read so many non-religious responses like this, I often wonder: is atheism really this common in the U.S. nowadays? Or rather typical of the population that reads the New York Times? Hmm…

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