Faith part of the problem or part of the solution?

In the wake of last week's Colorado chaos, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan noted that “a gun and a Bible have a few things in common. Both are small, black, have an immediate heft and are dangerous—the first to life, the second to the culture of death.”

She noted, “A man called in to Christian radio this morning and said a true thing. He said, `Those kids were sick and sad, and if a teacher had talked to one of them and said, ”Listen, there's a way out, there really is love out there that will never stop loving you, there's a real God and I want to be able to talk to you about him“—if that teacher had intervened that way, he would have been hauled into court.”'

The very next day, the Wall Street Journal printed a letter in response: “I profoundly wish Peggy Noonan were right, (but) have we forgotten Jim Jones of Jonestown, who convinced parents that it was God's will to put cyanide into their children's Kool-Aid? Or the killing in the Balkans, where weapons are being blessed by priests?”

That's the way it always is. Mention something positive done in the name of the God of the Bible, and someone will always mention something negative.

Although politicians give loose allegiance to the concept that faith in God is part of the solution to social ills, many among our social elites consider it part of the problem.

Given that divide, our tendency since the 1960s has been to minimize religion's public role. That has worked, in one sense: Government officials have frequently been able to say, “There was no use of government property or funds by any religious group on MY watch.” But has that truly been playing it safe, except in the most narrow fashion? Is there no connection between the Bible on the back burner and the fires in our schools?

Media commentary on the Colorado carnage has followed an instructive path. First came the spotlighting of usual suspects: Liberals emphasized guns, conservatives emphasized movies and video games. Then came talk that students from particular groups may have been singled out by the killers: Liberals emphasized blacks, conservatives emphasized Christians.

By Monday, the search was on, in this litigious society, for proximate causes. What responsibility did the parents of the murderers have, and should they be sued? What about the school administrators, and should they be sued? What about the police, and should they be sued? Noonan's point about the need for a biblical culture of life was lost in our shuffle to rearrange the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic of death.

These questions go beyond school crises. For example, mandatory secularism within the welfare system has not been helpful to the materially downtrodden who are also spiritually low. Why is it terrible for a caseworker to tell a person who considers himself worthless, “Listen, there' s a way out, there really is love out there that will never stop loving you, there's a real God and I want to be able to talk to you about him”?

Some government officials would say that a God-centered caseworker should be hauled into court for the modern crime of talking religion on the job.

Secularists do have legitimate concern about a person applying for financial help and having no choice but to hear religious doctrine. The way around that, of course, is to promote a diversity of anti-poverty groups, so recipients can choose from a variety of religious or non-religious traditions. That means moving away from the supposed safety of the naked public square.

The same logic holds for schools. Are we worried about tax money going to support one denomination? Give all parents, poor as well as rich, the freedom to send students to any school, religious or secular. Good nutrition has made our children physically taller, but Bible- banning has contributed to reduced spiritual growth.

Jonestown madmen and weapons-blessing Balkans priests do exist. Religious faith always changes people, one way or another; if the faith is in a distorted vision of God, it can lead to more death rather than more life. But will we let fear of flying keep us always on the ground, even though we have thousands of miles to travel before we sleep? Isn't it time to stop playing for a 0-0 tie, and open up our society to a renewed sacralization of life?

Besides, the score is not 0-0. Judging by the number of corpses at Columbine High, last week it was 15-0, and we all lost.

Olasky is a professor at the University of Texas and a senior fellow of the Acton Institute.

Copyright © 1999, The Austin American-Statesman
Marvin Olasky, Faith part of the problemor part of the solution?., 04-28-1999.