In retrospect, all things become predictable. Some things, however, are easily anticipated. It did not take an hour before ABC News was attempting to connect the VTU murders with the assault-weapons ban, despite the fact that the ”heavily-armed” murderer, Cho Seung-Hui, was actually armed with two of the smallest firearms known to man. In fact, the only way to be less heavily armed and still qualify as armed would be to carry two .22 pop guns instead of only one.
Fortunately, after 20 years of similarly fraudulent anti-gun antics, the American people are no longer falling for such absurd tactics from those who wish to disarm them; ABC’s own online poll was running more than 2-1 against the utility of additional gun control measures even as the body count was still ticking upward on the cable news shows. While the irony of the fact that Virginia Tech is a legally gun-free zone may have escaped the empty talking heads of the news media, it clearly was not beyond the notice of the average American.
This may come as shocking news to some, I know, but it is true nevertheless: criminals do not obey laws.
It is true that we cannot know how many of the victims would have lived if those inclined to legally carry firearms had been permitted to do so by the university. What we do know is that maintaining a gun-free zone cost 32 lives and that at least two individuals who confronted the murderer were forced to do so at a significant disadvantage, being unarmed, and were unable to stop the killer.
As numerous commentators pontificated at great length about Cho and his decision to wreak havoc in the lives of his victims, an essay by Dinesh D’Souza engendered particular dismay among the atheist community by asserting that atheists have nothing to offer and are nowhere to be found when tragedy strikes.
The response to D’Souza was more than a little amusing, considering that none of his critics took any issue with the anti-gun crowd’s similar use of the massacre to attempt to score political points; at least D’Souza’s article was factually correct. When a tragedy occurs, atheists are silent because they have no intellectual comfort to offer the grieving, no hope of a hereafter, no glimmering of a silver lining that may one day penetrate the dark clouds. They don’t claim to. However, I believe atheists should be congratulated for their circumspection in these circumstances, not castigated for it.
Still, one celebrated response to D’Souza posted on Daily Kos, written by an atheist VTU professor, was well worth reading for the mordant humor to be derived from it.
”We don’t believe in the possibility of redemption after our lives, but the necessity of compassion in our lives. We believe in people, in their joys and pains, in their good ideas and their wit and wisdom. We believe in human rights and dignity, and we know what it is for those to be trampled on by brutes and vandals. We may believe that the universe is pitilessly indifferent but we know that friends and strangers alike most certainly are not. We despise atrocity, not because a god tells us that it is wrong, but because if not massacre then nothing could be wrong.”
What eludes the VTU professor and makes his response so inadvertently amusing is the way in which he completely fails to understand the basic foundation of D’Souza’s argument, which is that as an atheist, he has absolutely no grounds for condemning Cho’s actions. His maudlin assertions are as touching as they are lacking in intellectual support; he rejects even the possibility of God’s existence, (presumably due to the lack of scientific evidence), but fails to inform us precisely where ”complete and absolute” pain or ”loss” can be found, what they weigh and what elements they consist of. And even if we agree that the professor’s morality is more perfect and beautiful than Jesus Christ’s, because it lacks any claim to universal applicability, it has no more standing for you or me than do the moral sensibilities of the murderous Cho.
And the professor clearly senses this on some level when he writes: ”if not massacre then nothing could be wrong.” But if human and animal history is reliable, massacre is as natural as sex. Therefore, in the absence of God, nothing is wrong.
Nietzsche, among others, articulated this long ago. Without the strictures of the Creator, we are all beyond good and evil and only the individual is capable of adjudicating the good or evil of his actions. Cho believed that he died giving hope to the hopeless, and it is unlikely that he was incorrect in believing this; no doubt there is somewhere an angry, bullied child taking savage satisfaction in the bloody events of last week, just as some did publicly in the weeks following Columbine.
Without good and evil, there is only strength, weakness and the will to power. And even the weakest among us can, for one brief, searing moment, let his will be done. That is the lesson of Cho Seung-Hui.
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