The horror affected most of us profoundly and all of us differently. Many of us, on reflection, encountered eternal questions about the meaning of life and death, and particularly, how such evil can happen.
The religious among us come from many different traditions. But even the most orthodox among us know that whatever revelations God (or gods) may have provided us; and whatever our understanding of ancient texts may be, mysteries remain. Many of us are not part of a religious tradition. But those of us who look to science for answers may find that nothing we know, or think we know, explains everything. Especially about Newtown.
And then there was Huckabee.
The Fox News pundit not only sought to blame the Newtown massacre on how we navigate matters of religion in the public schools, but to head off future school shootings, he suggested that people who think like him be deployed to hector school children about learning to fear "a holy God in judgment."
Bill Berkowitz reported:
"We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools," Huckabee said on Fox News. "Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? Because we've made it a place where we don't want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability -- that we're not just going to have be accountable to the police if they catch us, but one day we stand before, you know, a holy God in judgment. If we don't believe that, then we don't fear that."
Huckabee forgets, or knows and does not care, that we are a nation of individuals and of many faiths. And that was surely reflected in the elementary classrooms of Sandy Hook.
Our country has wisely taken the step that we no longer use government employees as de facto priests and religious instructors in the public schools. Our teachers are there for broader and different educational purposes. The kind of omniscient God in the Christian traditon, the Creator of all things, can't be removed from anywhere, let alone the heads and hearts of believers. And surely such a God does not require that we hire government employees to hector our children about Huckabee's notion of his eternal wrath. Good grief.
Let's be clear about this. We don't need Christians leading non-Christians and non-believers in Christian prayers. And we need not insult the varieties of orthodox Christian with watered down ecumenical or interfaith prayers that mean nothing to them. Nor do we need anyone to teach the Word According to Huckabee as a condition of employment. (But if we did, what would the criteria be and who would get to decide?)
It is not easy navigating a religiously plural society. And there have always been Huckabees around who stand in opposition. But pluralism is what we have and I wish we would do a better job in all parts of our society to develop the knowledge and skill set that goes with it.
OK. For those of you who have been wondering about the title of this post, your patience is about to be rewarded.
I read that the Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah" was intended to be sung as "melancholic, fragile, uplifting [or] joyous" depending on what the performer wanted it to be. It is a remarkable song of spiritual significance for many, and it is often sung with great reverence.
And so it was fitting that on the Monday after the mass murder in Newtown, the cast of the NBC TV singing show The Voice offered a moving tribute before the entertainment began. They sang "Hallelujah", and each held a sign with the name and age of a victim. One of the young singers later said that rehearsal was difficult because they were all breaking down in tears.
It takes time and effort to get things right. The mournful anthem. Respect for religious and non-religious differences. (It has taken us centuries to get to where we are, and we are still working on it.) It will take time and effort for us to reduce the scale and number of events that give horrific new meanings to the names of towns like Aurora, Columbine and Newtown. And there will be more tears along the way.
But we we are not without options as the new national conversation about gun control and school safety shows. And among the things we can do is ask Mike Huckabee to renounce cheap demagoguery; and we can also learn how to better answer claims like his.