Monday, March 14, 2005

Stan, Prince of Darkness
So I am in the car early yesterday morning getting ready to hit the road for the home leg of my business trip when the NPR anchor says, "Eight people are dead in a church shooting . . . .," and (I swear) the thought flashes through my mind, "Here we go--more red-state values." And then the anchor says, "in Milwaukee." As you've probably heard, a guy walked into a hotel ballroom where a church service was being held on Saturday and started shooting, killing seven, wounding four, and then putting the last bullet into his own head.

But I am not going to apologize for my hasty characterization of "red-state values," because the Milwaukee suburb where the shooting occurred, Brookfield, is in the middle of the reddest part of Wisconsin, Waukesha County, which went for Bush by 67-32 last November while Kerry was capturing the rest of the state. In addition, the church involved was one of those splinter-from-a-splinter congregations, where a single charismatic preacher has somehow found a truth that has eluded every other religious thinker and gets a few dozen kindred souls to follow him: the kind of do-it-yourself denomination that proliferates in vacant storefronts and abandoned chicken coops all across Red America.

Neither am I going to apologize for the second thought that flashed through my mind yesterday morning, when the NPR anchor said that police knew of no motive for the shooting and little about the shooter. "You can bet it wasn't some evil atheist puke." Which, of course, it wasn't.

How come it never is? If it's true that belief in God makes people better, why shouldn't the godless be responsible for more evil--especially this kind? Shouldn't Satan have an easier time wooing atheists into doing his bidding? Shouldn't it be fairly easy for him to coerce some ungodly type who doesn't fear Jesus into shooting up a church supper? After all, if the irreligious have no moral anchor, they should be easy tools to use, right?

You'd think so, but it looks to me like Satan only tempts those who are disposed to resist him in the first place, like churchgoers. I suppose that's good business for Satan--after all, you can only go so far with your existing customer base, and you've got to expand to survive. Nevertheless, if you needed a random heinous act committed, it seems like coercing a believer to do it is the harder way to go--and if Satan (a word I keep typing this morning as "Stan," which strikes me as pretty funny, for some reason) is totally evil, wouldn't laziness be one of his faults? Wouldn't he prefer the path of least resistance?

And they say God moves in mysterious ways.

That, by the way, was how the Waukesha County supervisor who led a prayer vigil for the victims last night characterized the event. "God moves in mysterious ways," he said. A couple of the early stories on the web yesterday noted that a few survivors were questioning their belief in God after the shooting, wondering where God was when the victims needed him, but those comments are hard to find in stories today. Nope, today it's "he moves in mysterious ways," which cuts off all debate. We aren't meant to understand, so let's stop trying.

What a copout. It does more to keep God's hold on people than a thousand priests and preachers could do in a thousand lifetimes apiece. The rational response to something like the Brookfield shooting is to question exactly where God is and what he thought he was doing. The irrational one--the one that denies the human brain is worth using for reasoning--is to give him a pass and go right back to praising him for his power and goodness.

In Brookfield on Saturday God was at best--at best--an inept bystander incapable of doing anything useful. (The next time you screw up at your job, try telling your boss, "Hey, I move in mysterious ways," and see how far it gets you.) At worst, God was an enabler--he created the conditions under which Terry Ratzmann got his gun, and then, despite being the Most Powerful Being in the Universe, did nothing to stop him.

And people should continue to worship such a being why?

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