Making Secular Sense of a Massacre

A gunman opened fire during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Most of us, after hearing about this, are probably feeling sickened and disturbed.


No doubt preachers of all stripes will come crawling out the woodwork to align their loving god with the massacre in Aurora, Colorado, or thank Him for survivors. No doubt moralisers of all kinds will bash their pulpits and proclaim – not justify – how the Internet, secularism, Obama, liberals, atheism, godlessness, those not conservative in the right way, homosexuality, women, the military and international wars, the glorification of violence in video games and films, caused this horrific incident. They will catch the tears and fill their pockets. They will count the bullets as part of their arsenal of fear-mongering. The rest of us will look on horrified, confused, angry, trying to block out their noise.

Hardest for me was reading about a fellow writer, talented at her craft, who wrote on sports. Her Twitter timeline currently stands exposed like an open diary of a person who will never return to close it. Her last entry proclaims her enthusiasm for the film she will never see to its end.

For those of us without god or belief in higher powers, we do not have that comfort solipsistic illusion affords. We cannot and do not press our palms and enchant existence around the contours of our species. We recognise death for what we know it to be. We recognise that the answer to the question “Why these innocent people?” is “Why not them?” Reality is not a plush cushion contorting to our desires: it’s a cold landscape where we have to make do with the tiny fires we provide each other. And it’s this and only this to which we can turn, when the biting wind of meaningless horror comes howling at us.

I have no message of hope for anybody who is grieving, since I think hope is unhelpful and, by definition, false – if it were true, then it would not be hope but reality. We shouldn’t hope, we should act; we shouldn’t hope, we should do.

There’s nothing good or encouraging to say. I only wanted to express that I do not want tell you how to feel, except to find comfort and recognise how stupidly fallible and fragile, yet so difficult and hard to manage, our lives are. And recognise that for almost everyone else too, no matter how much they may hold views you disparage.

I am a fan of Batman and the film franchise. Writing that seems quaint, stupid, and pointless. But it does mean something: it means I shared something with people who won’t ever see this film. It means I shared a world with people I never met, but who were as willing I am to fork out money to see our favourite superhero battle the very same type of violence they succumbed to. There was no Batman to save them, no superheroes to swoop in to stop the bullets. Passive and human and real, they died in a stupid, vain, idiotic, meaningless, cowardly attack from a terrible, horrible human.

Whatever you think about guns, whatever you think about violence, we can all agree this mustn’t happen and indeed should be glad that it doesn’t happen more often. Let’s not let their deaths be for nothing and think how we can make sure such an incident never happens again.

Image Credit: lafoto/Shutterstock

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