It has been one of the saddest news cycles in recent times. Two men— one who thinks he’s the Joker and went on a killing rampage and another who hid behind a different mask and lured young boys into unthinkable acts, left our hearts heavy and our collective soul wounded. In such times, what does one say?
The latter perpetrator was brought back into the public eye after NCAA officials rendered their verdict last week and slapped Penn State’s football program and its culture of complicity with severe sanctions: $60 million in fines, 112 victories erased, and banned from bowl appearances for the next five years. The punishments doled out won’t bring healing to the abuse victims. Nor will toppling legendary college football coach Joe Paterno’s larger than life statue but it does remind us that our heroes are mere mortals with feet of clay.
Failed we were by our super heroes, who rescue us if only for the duration it takes to get lost in a movie. But no escape was afforded to the dozen in Aurora, Colorado who became the target of a real-life villain bent on death last week. It was the worst mass shooting in recent history. Besides the tawdry story replayed about Jerry Sandusky, and the details of maniac James Holmes, who is now wearing a mouth guard because of incessantly spitting at the prison guards, can we learn anything meaningful in what some might see as meaningless? Or more appropriately, evil?
At first blush, Penn State and Aurora are seemingly unrelated, yet a common thread runs through each. Both events shocked the nation to its core and painfully reminded each of us the truth of evil when directly confronted by it. Yes. But at a foundational level where are the discussions about civic virtue, morality and human nature? Silly me, that discussion happened in the GOP primary where candidates who spoke of such things were often ridiculed and marginalized as Puritan scolds. It certainly won’t happen at our major universities, either Penn State or the University of Denver where Holmes was a Ph.D. student, since moral relativism reigns and absolute values are frequently disdained with unusual militancy. A new survey by the Pew Center for the People and the Press, found that 19 percent of Americans do not claim any religious affiliation. So the intelligentsia cheers. And nonbelievers cite the aforementioned evils against the existence of God: “if God were all-powerful and loving, then He wouldn’t allow such evil to take place.” Yet they forget that the story of Christianity, the basis of Western civilization, is the story of God’s son Jesus who bore the brunt of evil when he was crucified at the hands of men. I’ll be accused of playing the Jesus card. That’s alright since the stakes are high.
The issue is that civic virtue and morality is dependent on faith. God, who is the author of morals and values, is part of this conversation (intelligentsia’s objections duly noted). So long as we deny the role of faith and our dependence upon God Almighty, A Dark Night will certainly rise, and in places we least expect it.