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The Rev. Dr. Peter Samuelson The Rev. Dr. Peter L. Samuelson

The Rev. Dr. Peter Samuelson is a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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Who is to blame?

January 10, 2011

We are having an ongoing conversation in the wake of the horrific events in Tucson, Arizona where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords  and 13 others were critically wounded and 6 people assassinated by a deranged gunman named Jared L. Loughner.  At times like this, when senseless things happen, we go searching for a cause.  Who is to blame?  Many make the case that our overheated political rhetoric pushed this unstable young man over the edge causing him to act out the political sentiments of anti-government talk-show hosts.  Others say that the use of cross-hairs by Sarah Palin and others on pictures of political opponents invites crazy people to do crazy things.

This search for a cause, for someone to blame, reminds me of our reactions to Hurricane Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti, the first-year anniversary of which is upon us.  We call those events "acts of God," and in our search to make sense of them blame God for the destruction they wrought.   God is the unseen hand directing the wind of the hurricane or shaking the foundations of the earth, just like talk-show hosts or politicians using ill-advised rhetoric are the unseen hand in the Tucson shootings.

What is at work in this "blame game" is a search for a single cause, a simple explanation for a seemingly senseless event, be it an act of God or a human act.  The truth is that the cause of these events is myriad and complicated, involving a whole host of things that add up to the resulting tragedy.  The Katrina tragedy involved global warming, ill-fated public works decisions, effects of poverty and a slow moving government response among other things. Poverty, public works decisions, slow responses by governments also caused the earthquake in Haiti to be more devastating than it needed to be.   The events that led up to a young man taking a gun to a political rally with the intent to kill and wound many are also complicated, perhaps inscrutable. 

This does not mean we should not search for the causes of tragedies and try to amend our behavior so that they could be avoided or at least the effects mitigated.   Watching what we say, making our political discourse more civil, limiting or even outlawing automatic weapons that shoot 30 round in seconds, may not have prevented Jared L. Loughner from living out his crazed and murderous fantasies, but who knows?  At least they may have been less devastating.  

Walt Kelly put these words in the mouth of his famous cartoon character Pogo when assessing the human situation:  "We have met the enemy: and he is us!"  The cause of human suffering is human sin and even when a gunman acts alone, our sin contributes to his act.  Every single attitude and action makes a contribution to the kind of world we live in. Loving acts create a more loving world.  Hateful acts create a more hateful world.  We can't control the actions of a lone gunman, but we can control our own actions, and call on others to act in more loving ways.  By so doing, we could cause the flow of more goodness and mercy and less murder and hate. 

 


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