I set off a bit of a firestorm yesterday when I shared Bob Douglas’ post from Facebook on the Newtown shootings and our worship of guns. At times I wish I were more articulate because immediately my own posts were attacked as naive and wrong-headed. In my own further reading I came across this post from Ben Witherington, a New Testament scholar and cultural observer who said what I wish I had been able to say as well. I am reposting it for all our benefits. – Steve
The Slaughtering of the Innocents—- Again
December 16, 2012 By Ben Witherington
We are all familiar with the story of nasty old King Herod and the slaughtering of the innocents. Herod was indeed a paranoid Idumean who just happened to be king in Judaea. There would always be questions about his legitimacy as a ruler in that land. And in order to maintain his throne he was prepared to kill some of his wives and offspring as well. ‘Paranoia strikes deep/ into your life it will creep/ it starts when you’re always afraid….step out of line ‘the man’ comes and take you away…’
There are many things ironic about King Herod, not the least of which is that his fortress built on an artificial hill on the back side of Bethlehem (called the Herodium of course) where he thought he would be safe is also where his tomb was found in the last decade. The story in Matthew’s Gospel is totally believable knowing Herod’s character as displayed at length by Josephus, but we need to not over-imagine the size of the story. Bethlehem was a one horse town at best in Herod’s day, and the number of infants under two would have been exceedingly few— maybe 10-12. So don’t let the gory Renaissance paintings fool you—- what happened in Newtown Conn. this week was likely far worse than what happened in Bethlehem so long ago.
I was watching an interview this week after the massacre in Newtown and the inevitable question was asked—= ‘What could we do to prevent this from happening again?’ The candid answer given by a former head of various FBI operations was as follows— ‘absolutely nothing unless we are prepared to significantly change our gun laws and also change what we do with the mentally ill’. But even that would not be enough because some mass murderers are not technically deranged, they are simply wicked. There is a difference.
In the case of the Newtown killing it seems clear we are dealing with a mentally unbalanced person. Psychologists have already been weighing in with the theory that: 1) Adam was disturbed about his mother’s warm relationships with the school children she taught at Sandy Hook. He felt he was losing his mother, or most of her affections were directed elsewhere. 2) in a rage he decided to stop that positive thing from ever happening again— killing his mother, and then numerous children. It remains to be seen whether he also killed himself, but perhaps he did. I want to return to a few points. Sometimes in the wake of such a massive tragedy as happened this week, people have a sense of helplessness, a feeling that nothing at all could have been done to prevent it. This however is not quite true, as I will speak to in a minute. But one of the reasons so many people are bewildered about this is that they simply do not understand either human fallenness or mental illness.