The “Tragedy” of Sandy Hook

macbethIf philosophical parsing of the meaning of Sandy Hook was inappropriate just a few days ago, it is mandatory now.

The slaughter of these dear little ones and their teachers was a moment of terrible and terrifying insanity. When Adam put on his body armor and turned his mother’s guns on his own mother and Sandy Hook, insanity broke out to bring grief that chilled the bones of everyone in America.

Today there are calls for gun control and mental health services, and those calls make perfect sense as practical responses, but they will not fix the problem.

There is a more profound collective insanity that pervades our culture and our nation. It’s a tragedy in the sense of the old Greek and Shakespearean theater: a fatal flaw that is doing us in.

Sandy Hook was the latest symptom of the American tragedy: our worship of safety – arming ourselves to the nines – turns out to the death of us.  The idolatry of safety is the worship of death itself.

A five year old boy in Minneapolis is playing with his two-year-old brother in their parents’ bedroom. He finds a loaded pistol under their father’s pillow, points it at his brother as one would point a toy gun. His brother is dead. The surviving five-year-old and his parents will never be the same – because a father sought to keep his family safe with the pistol under his pillow.

A mother in Newtown has guns in the home she shares with the disturbed son she loves and seeks to protect from a cruel world. Like so many others in America, the guns were purchased either for safety or for sport, but the results are the antitheses of safety or fun.

Whether in our bedroom at home or in the nation’s Capitol, when the insurance of safety rises to the top of the pyramid of values, death ascends as the power that destroys, the fatal flaw in a natural human instinct toward safety and security.

Freedom and safety are basic human needs. They are American values. Each is important. But neither freedom nor safety is God. Neither one is worthy of enshrinement by itself, and the two of them mixed together make for a Molotov cocktail thrown back into our own bedrooms, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Baghdad, and anywhere else that the concern for safety releases the tragic flaw of the Greek theater, Shakespeare, and the American theatre of the absurd.

Pieta - Michaelangelo

Pieta – Michaelangelo

11 thoughts on “The “Tragedy” of Sandy Hook

  1. Reblogged this on VIEWS from the Edge and commented:

    Ten (10) gun deaths at the community college in Oregon re-play Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and Columbine. What can be said that hasn’t been said? The best Views from the Edge can do is re-blog an earlier post and pray that America will find a way out of this morass.


  2. “The idolatry of safety is the worship of death itself.” The sanctity of the “2nd Amendment” is over. We deserve a mature country in which profit does not rule above all else. Our gun selling is too much like illegal dope selling. The profit is so huge that the industry has overpowered us. We do have the power to license, require full insurance, and to tax every angle of the business. We can require a government interview and documentation of qualifications for every single sale. We can also require a substantial delay of delivery. Let the buyers and sellers pay all costs… plus a serious vice tax. The product we are talking about is designed to kill people. It should require jumping through more hoops than any other product. If people want to get constitutional they can talk about the right to bear antique single loading muskets… with the usual hoops in place.

    Canada outlaws intentional lying on TV news. Fox News is not allowed in Canada. We have a giant problem since we pretend that Fox News and hate radio are normal.

    The biggest NEW problem is the creation of tens of millions of government haters… developed by hate radio and Fox News mass propaganda. Intentionally generated fear and hate is new. Fear and hate generate gun sales amongst other ill effects. I want to see a serious attempt to stop the mass propaganda of hate and fear.

    Arriving on the scene several days later than usual, (here it comes) is the idea that teachers should be armed. No armed teachers if you please.

    I would prefer to see a sufficient number of well trained unarmed teachers and staff reading the temperament of everyone in the building, every day. There should be zero students who do not talk with staff frequently. Teachers should be charged with and paid for detecting bullying and cruelty. The only armed person in a school building, if it is deemed necessary, should be a fully trained authentic police officer, not a commercial security officer or armed teachers, principals and clerks.


    • Robert,

      Perhaps we should take our cues from the Japanese model of gun registration. The permit to buy and own a gun is granted only after multiple steps and involves long delays, written exams, extensive mental health and criminal background checks, and training and exams in gun use and gun safety.

      I couldn’t agree more with your comments about talk radio and television as the spawning grounds of hysteria, fear, and hatred. I was not aware that intentionally lying on TV news is illegal. I’ve often wondered why it isn’t, but quickly concluded that it would be difficult/impossible to enforce. At the same time, I’ve wondered what ever happened to the Federal Communications Commission and its powers to regulate the people’s airwaves. The whole idea of “airwaves” and public communication (i.e. TV and radio, and now the world wide web) as PUBLIC is anathema in the world where the “free market” includes hate speech and every form of idiocy as of equal legitimacy as Wendell Berry, Bill Moyers, and Mary Oliver.

      The Pew Center poll and ABC poll following the tragedy in Newtown do not give much comfort. Attitudes toward gun control seem to have moved only slightly. Why? Two reasons, I think. One: the American worship of individual freedom. Two: the belief that owning a gun will keep one “safe”. But, as a therapist once told me, “there is only one safe place, and that’s six-feet under.” I reference that line in the sermon from last Sunday which I’m about to post on Views from the Edge.

      This morning – the day the world was supposed to end – I’ve been invited to meet with some high school students to discuss the origins of the hysteria in the misunderstanding of the Mayan Calendar and the misreading of the NT Book of Revelation. The latter, most often interpreted as a crystal ball look at the end of the world, is actually a tract written by a disciple of Jesus in exile on the Isle of Patmos, that speaks about the end of the Roman Empire that imprisoned him. So there. “The new heaven and new earth” were the new heaven and new earth set free from the up-down world of the Caesar whom the Romans regarded as “the Son of God, born of a Virgin.”


  3. Strange, I recently recorded a commented on my Facebook page that I should (if I could) name it, “Absurdities are us.”. At the time of the writing of the constitution and bill of rights, we did not even have a standing army. And our obsession with safely is wrapping ourselves up in cotton wool. It seems to me, that when you wrap yourself up in such a manner, you are helpless to see what is coming or even do anything about it. This analysis of what we have done over the past few centuries to try and protect ourselves from death and mayhem, be it either from the world around us, or others of our own kind, has backfired in many unexpected ways, from our current overpopulation of our planet at the expense of the other non-human inhabitants, to our development of means on mass destruction to protect us from the enemies our actions have created.


    • Karin, This is very powerful. It stands well on its own without further comment. Thank you.

      This morning I go to MPR to record for All Things Considered. My guess is that it will air on the program this afternoon.


  4. Powerful, and true.

    How do we cope with gun lovers who cannot see that an amendment about muskets — one shot and reload — is hardly to be applied to an assault weapon able to shoot 100 times in 60 seconds and then reload (or just pull out another gun capable of “only” 30 shots before reloading.) (When I consider the sentence I just wrote, I want to replace “gun lovers” with “gun nuts.”) How to convince gun enthusiasts who brag about the number of crimes they have prevented by carrying a gun at all times that statistics show that the number of crimes prevented is dwarfed by the number of accidental shootings and shootings as the final “resolution” of arguments that got out of hand. (There are too many people who don’t understand the nature of “fact.”) Perhaps most of all, how do we deal with gun makers and sellers, a powerful lobby that is behind the NRA, many of whose members support sensible laws regarding large capacity magazines, and closing loopholes. And, of course, is the argument hard to answer: If law-abiding people give up guns then the only people who have them (other than police) would be criminals; criminals will not turn in their guns.

    The hardest thing is where and how to draw the line on safety. When I think of inner city single parents, I wonder if I would have the courage to have no gun. But then what does a person gain? If one has a gun properly locked up away from potential misuse, one probably would not be able to get it in time to protect oneself or one’s children. And many gun victims are only in the wrong place at the wrong time and get caught in crossfire or they are the victims of bad aim.

    Macbeth, indeed. The strangest thing is the number of people who come to each multiple shooting as if it were surprising. They happen all the time. If there can be anything at all positive to be gained from this Sandy Hook tragedy it seems to have been so horrifying that more people than ever before seem to be willing to try to take some sensible steps to prevent another. Of course we probably can’t stop the killing altogether, but at least we may get fewer of them, so that surprise (along with grief and horror) may finally become a realistic reaction.


    • Carolyn, My Grandmother Stewart had a revolutionary war rifle under her bed in Rockport. When I was 13 I flew to MA so she would have someone with her following a heart-attack that kept her bed-ridden for awhile. She wanted me to know that if there was any trouble, she had a rifle under her bed. Wow! Good thing about that rifle was that a child couldn’t pick it up – it weighed too much!

      That’s how absurd this is. My Grandmother’s idea of a weapon was the one she inherited, not the assault rifles, the knock-offs of M-16s or the revolver that killed the two-year-old in Minneapolis. When Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex he could not have imagined that we would become a nation of homes loaded with violent video games and M-16s. But he got it right, didn’t he?

      Your comment “muskets – one shot and reload – is hardly to applied to an assault weapon” belongs on the desk of the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s worth a thousand words. Would that the interpretation of the Second Amendment was: “the right to bear a musket”!


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