The aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre has been predictable and political. Mental health advocates have called for more services and access; that’s their job. School officials have reassured parents and reviewed and bulked up security plans where needed; that’s their job. And, of course, gun control advocates have seized the moment to call for more restrictions on firearms; that’s their job.
But these measures only address the symptoms.
Even the slayings of the most innocent among the innocent has failed to move us to address the most fundamental question the Sandy Hook shootings have unearthed: What is the origin of the evil that is festering among our culture and driving more of us to use violence to address our grievances?
Make no mistake: We are confronting evil. Gun control laws don’t address evil, and neither do mental health professionals. Priests, rabbis and imams are experts in that field. Yet there has not been a serious call for Americans to return to the pews for some deep soul-searching and moral reassessment.
We have no problem flooding churches and quoting Scripture in the wake of these massacres, but we’re blind to the notion that regularly attending church and acting upon Scripture could help prevent mass shootings in the first place.
Who knows whether a pastor or parishioner might have provided the emotional and moral anchor Adam Lanza lacked? Who knows whether regular church attendance could have provided the spiritual bond and marital counseling that would have kept Lanza’s mother and father together and given him a more stable family structure where he felt secure and loved?
I’m not naïve enough to believe that church attendance would solve and prevent all of our social ills, but we stick our heads in the sand when we ignore empirical data that show regular church attendance leads to more socially desirable outcomes.
In December 2006, Dr. Patrick H. Fagen, then of the Heritage Foundation, cited 132 academic studies and reviews (“Why Religion Matters Even More: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability”) showing that regular church attendance led to a more stable family life, strong marriages and well-behaved children.
A habit of church-going also produced a reduction in domestic violence and substance abuse. In 2002, Dr. Byron R. Johnson of Baylor University (“Objective Hope: Assessing the Effectiveness of Faith-Based Organizations: A Review of the Literature”) reviewed hundreds of studies and found that the overwhelming majority concluded that rates of depression and suicide declined as religious practice increased.
These findings correlate nicely with survey data the Gallup Organization has been compiling on America’s well-being and religiosity. In various reports this year, Gallup reported that the highest well-being scores come from those described as very religious.
Conversely, those who claim no religion scored the lowest on well-being measures. Gallup also reported this year that those who actively practice religious faith reported fewer bouts of worry and depression and had fewer daily negative thoughts.
An unwillingness to confront and heed the data borders on religious and intellectual bigotry. Calls for more gun control laws evade the truth of why more of us pull the trigger in anger and hate. The answer won’t be found in the halls of a legislature. It won’t be found in character instruction delivered in the classroom. And it won’t be found in candlelight vigils, public prayers and makeshift memorials.
The long-lasting answer will be found in the moral structure and intellectual discipline provided by religious faith. In 2000, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI – put it best:
“The deepest poverty is the inability of joy, the tediousness of a life considered absurd and contradictory. This poverty is widespread today in very different forms in the materially rich as well as the poor countries. The inability of joy presupposes and produces the inability to love, produces jealousy, avarice – all defects that devastate the life of individuals and of the world.”
The door that leads to this type of wisdom and resulting societal well-being swings open every Sunday.
Contributing columnist Rick Martinez (firstname.lastname@example.org) is news director at WPTF, NC News Network and SGRToday.com