Toward the latter half of my junior year in high school, at home, probably on a Thursday, I remember I was doing homework and procrastinating in between assignments at our PC. My father was watching some special on television, and I wasn’t paying too much attention to it.
I could tell from half listening that it was some kind of documentary, and the part he was watching involved interviews with those who hadn’t been shot. It was about a campus shooting somewhere. It doesn’t matter too much where. It matters more what was said in the aftermath.
I stopped what I was doing to turn and watch for a few minutes. I caught a few phrases beginning with, “I just thank god” among the rest of the ‘deified’ reasons these people were offering as explanations for their survival.
It was ‘god’ this and ‘god’ that. These adults, completely serious, were bringing all the attention to themselves and their ‘god’ who, apparently, cared more about them than the helpless victims who actually died in the shooting.
Perhaps it’s important to note that I was raised in a fairly religious household, put in a private school for nine years and, during the summer, VBS (vacation bible study). I was tired. I was mentally exhausted with all of it. I thought on the pointlessness of the interviewees comments, and said aloud then, “That’s their fifteen minutes of fame. That’s fucked up.”
In second grade, at Deer Creek Christian School, we had these workbooks. I guess you could call them ‘Bible’ workbooks, but they weren’t really scriptural or full of dogma in any way. They were readings adapted for our age group, and they varied depending on the topic for the week. All written by people I don’t remember.
There was one about a school shooting. It was a high school shooting, though. The setting was fluffed up a bit to emphasize how studious a girl in the cafeteria was. Some girl reading the Bible. Then there was another paragraph belaboring how righteous this girl was, this girl whose name I don’t know. Anyway, so the story goes that this girl (of course, a symbol of purity) was at lunch when suddenly, the shooter approached her. The shooter, a male, said, “Do you believe in God?”
The girl was written to have replied, “Yes.” And the shooter was then said to have retorted, “Then go be with Him.” And then he killed her. So it goes.
It sounds very much like a line from an action movie. But it wasn’t, and isn’t. As far as I know.
We had a discussion about it in class. I mean, how could we not talk about it? Here I was, with my peers, not even eight years old yet, and we were talking about a girl getting gunned down for her beliefs.
Guess what I was told?
I was told that it would be better to die proclaiming the name of ‘Christ’ on my lips than to lie about believing in ‘god’ and live. Their mentality was that if the shooter didn’t really care what answer was given, it would be better to say “Yes” rather than “No” to avoid sinning (in telling a lie) right before judgment. Uh, what?
They were essentially glorifying martyrdom. As a kid, my thought was, “Well, if I were to lie and live, then I could just ask for forgiveness later, couldn’t I?” They were always talking about ‘god’s forgiveness’ back then, so I figured, maybe? Maybe that was a possibility? But what if I don’t believe in god? Would saying “No” then be subsequently the truth? How would that work? No one likes those kinds of questions though. My community certainly didn't.
The connection for me, outside of it being a school shooting in both scenarios, was how beliefs can be used to justify certain behaviors. It almost seems scripted, even acceptable in society to say certain things on television or in certain situations, and to tell children how to act so long as there’s some kind of religious reason for it.
That’s not okay.
As an atheist, I found the testimonies of those in the documentary I overheard to be insulting. In what they were proclaiming, it was implied that ‘god’ had chosen them to go on living, and not the victims. It took the focus away from those who should be remembered and thought of and put it on a few people more concerned with pimping their theology. As if their ‘god’ really had planned everything out. As if their ‘god’ knew a psychopath with a weapon was coming that day and hummed to itself, “This one dies, this one lives. This one dies, this one lives.”
The victims be damned! It was ‘god’s will.’ The survivors revel in iconicity! They’re the special ones.
It was all about bringing attention to their personal beliefs, their ‘god.’ They could have easily said, "We're so grateful to be alive." And perhaps I'd be less angry if they had.
To clarify: No, not everyone who has faith in a deity acts like that. Yes, many people, regardless of what they believe or don't believe, may be offended by people calling acts of violence 'God's will.'
However, my feelings about all of this are:
It is not appropriate to assume other people identify with a ‘god’ or ‘gods.’ In the news, in documentaries, in the classrooms, at restaurants, around town, on the money we use, or in the pledge of allegiance. 'God talk' can be damaging in many ways, depending on the circumstances.
It is not always appropriate or politically correct to assume a ‘religious’ audience. And while freedom of speech is a basic American right, it’s still really rude and taboo to praise or thank a higher being, as those in that documentary did, for being ‘saved’ after a tragedy has occurred. It’s insensitive to families and loved ones who suffer in the aftermath of such events.
It is not appropriate to tell children to ‘Die for Christ’ or any other religious figure. Especially when they really have no idea what’s going on, or what they believe or don’t believe when they’re born and raised within a sect. To teach children that kind of extremism is a form of psychological abuse.