You know it’s over when all the notable politicians have taken their bows, this time draped in the winding cloth of Sandy Hook’s victims. On Sunday, a week after Christians, some of them, went to their churches to memorialize the resurrection of the Christ, and 15 weeks after Adam Lanza shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School armed to the teeth with weapons owned by his mother, whom he murdered with a still legal 22 caliber rifle, there slaughtering six heroic staff members of the school and twenty innocent children, the Hartford Courant ran on its Opinion page a series of columns surmounted by the eye catching headline, “Will This Stop More Newtowns?”
By “this” the Courant intended to indicate the anti-gun legislation newly passed by Connecticut’s General Assembly.
The mercifully short but emotionally inconvenient answer to the question is – “No.”
Possibly the most thoughtful column among the three featured on the paper’s Opinion front page was written by Colin McEnroe, who struggled manfully with the usual heart-mind dichotomy.
“He could not afford, also,” Mr. McEnroe wrote of emotionally overcome Republican leader John McKinney, “to lose the Battle of Who Cares More.”
Mr. McEnroe has been around the legislative block a few times in the course of his writing career and knows, as most of us do, that the chief battle – sometimes the only battle – that will secure a legislative victory is won by those who are most able to appeal to raw emotion -- and Sandy Hook has rubbed every emotion raw.
“The problem with most people,” said a philosopher full of years and wisdom (my mother, in fact) is that they think with their hearts and feel with their heads.”
I once brought her C.S. Lewis’ essay “Men Without Chests” to read. The point of the essay was that a heart properly belongs in the chest and not on the sleeve, where it might readily be shown by social deciders to those unpersuadable few as an incontrovertible ipsi dixit.
If only humankind, Mr. Lewis sighed, could manage to negotiate the perilous abyss between the heart and mind that is sometimes opened by the jagged and sharp events of life. Mr. Lewis thought, some think credulously, that Christianity might provide a bridge. So did Saint Augustine, the bishop of Hippo in Africa who argued against pagan Rome but wept when Rome fell. The human heart, Augustine knew, was rootless, in perpetual motion, and could find rest only through a sometimes treacherous return home: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."
It is doubtful that the 20 year-old Mr. Lanza read much of Augustine or Lewis. His spiritual template was drawn from the murderous acts of Anders Breivik, who slaughtered more than 77 people in Norway. Did Mr. Breivik also wear his heart, such as it was, on his sleeve? Is there a pill one might take to move the heart and head where they belong?
There is something nearly pagan, certainly pre-Christian that hovers like a black halo around mass murder crimes and their consequences.
In the Golden Bough, Sir James Frazier recounts an Athenian sacrifice known as “the murder of the ox” or bouphonia. An ox is slaughtered with a knife to propitiate the gods of the harvest. The slaughtering instruments, axes and knives, are first washed in pure water by maidens, then sharpened on whetstones by men, after which they are given to the butchers who slaughter the ox. Following the ceremony, a trial is held by the king-judge to affix blame on behalf of the murdered ox. Ritualistically, all are accused: The water carriers shift blame to those who have sharpened the weapon; these point to the butchers as the guilty parties. And finally, the butchers lay blame upon the axes and the knives – which “accordingly are found guilty, condemned and cast into the sea.”
The pagan ritual – every bit detailed and precise as the seemingly endless political folderol following the murders in Sandy Hook – provide an example of homeopathic magic, during which human guilt is ascribed to inanimate objects such as, in the deliberations of our post-pagan General Assembly, a blameless rifle, found guilty and metaphorically cast into the sea.
Albert Jay Nock, one of the early influences on Bill Buckley, wondered in “Memoirs of a Superfluous Man” how a modern living in the 20th century would know if the world were descending into a new Dark Age.
The mercifully brief answer to that question is – by the signs of the times.