Learning to Ignore Religious Reactions to School Shootings

By Wendy Thomas Russell | December 20, 2012 | 8 comments

Photo by RexI’m on the freeway, heading back home from a doctor’s appointment, and feeling morose. For the last five minutes, I’ve been contemplating the Connecticut shootings, just as I have done about a billion other times since last Friday. Right now, I’m thinking:

Life is unfathomably cruel. The human experience is an experiment in limitless love and staggering loss. To be blessed by one is to be cursed by the other. It’s not fair — it’s not anything, really. It just is. And it feels terrible.

These thoughts are not helping my mood.

I take a deep breath. I want to feel better. I need to feel better. I challenge myself to find some silver linings in the tragedy. I think:

Only 20 kids were killed when it easily could have been been more. Because the victims were shot multiple times, they probably didn’t suffer much, if at all, before they died. The victim’s family members will be able to band together and support each other through the difficult months ahead. Foundations will be established in the children’s honor, which will help the living in countless ways. Legislators may finally be motivated to implement real, honest change in this country’s gun laws.

They are flimsy consolations, I realize, but they do console me. A little at least. And for the first time since I got in the car, I feel my body lighten, my muscles unclench, my spirits begin to lift.

But the gun-law thought has opened up another neural pathway. Now I start thinking about all the recent articles and Facebook posts I’ve seen about how school prayer would prevent school shootings. I start to mentally formulate my response to this, which, in very short order involves words like idiotic and garbage, along with a whole lot of profanity.

I check in with my body: It’s heavy again, muscles clenched, spirits fallen. Instead of being sad, I am now angry. I think:

If I wrote a blog post about this, what would I say about this push to put God back in schools? How would I respond to people who say that praying would prevent the violence caused by mentally disturbed individuals, and that secularism is to blame for what happened in Connecticut? Could I get through such a post without using the f word? 

I’m still driving, mind you, and am about to turn onto the freeway exit near my home, when the answer occurs to me — as if by divine intervention.

There is no reason to respond at all. 

We, on the “state” side of the church-and-state issue, know instructing children to pray in school is wrong, but school-prayer proponents are never going to agree with us on that. Therefore, i.e., ergo… there is no reason to respond because there is nothing to say.

Don’t get me wrong, if my kid’s school was contemplating reversing its policy on school prayer, I would absolutely speak to the school board. But it’s not. And I would bet that very few schools across the country are. So what’s there to talk about? Who cares if people who are wrong say things that are wrong? It happens all the time. Does it matter? Are we so insecure in our own knowledge that we must try to convince the unconvince-able of the truth?

No. No, we’re not.

I am off the freeway. I’ve turned onto my block. I relax again. I think:

School prayer, like so many things, is a nonissue for me. From now on, I’ll ignore the articles and Facebook postsI’ll tune out radio and  TV commentary. And if anyone tells me to my face that schools should bring back prayer, I will simply say, ‘okay.’ And I’ll probably even smile.

Because my spirits have been lifted again. And I am home.


  1. Carrie Esposito says:

    Thank you for this voice of calming normalcy. I can’t tell you how hard I have bit my tongue (figuratively speaking) from responding on Facebook and even in person to my own family members when they have said things like this.

    But the thought of it happening scares the life out of me, especially living in the deep South like I do, where it seems like more and more people agree with the prayer in school philosophy without really comprehending what that means! And to speak against that idea is considered insane, if only to attempt to question their position on the matter…i.e….which prayer/religous text would you have our children recite in school? They look at you like you grew another head…more like they never realized there was more than one text to consider…and I’m insane ;)…

  2. Kate says:

    I feel the same way about people who say the answer to school shootings is for teachers to have Uzis in the classroom. Really? Is this the world we want to live in? Let’s be honest–there are lots more wackos than simply those who want to bring prayer into classrooms.

  3. Morgana says:

    Precisely! We don’t need to engage in debate, because this debate is over. We’ve already won.

  4. Well, I admit it, I HAD to blog about it. It was the “godless” meme that got me. Through all of the upset and grief, even while I could barely comprehend the message and posts flying around, I saw the one about how it is the “fault” of the “godless”. Now *I* was being blamed??????
    Well, my friend who posted it said that she doesn’t consider me “godless”, in spite my being a very open atheist. Instead, the godless are those who are actively against god. OH, I thought…interesting reframe.

    Anyway, here is my blog post, had to share!

    Over all, I’m glad when I DON’T feel compelled to respond to that garbage, though!

  5. Julie says:

    Yes! I can’t tell you how many times the past few days I’ve wasted my time formulating a response to these ignorant FB comments, only to delete them with the realization that you can’t argue with this level of ignorance.

    • Barb says:

      I think sometimes that we definitely should respond because the ignorant ones begin to think they ARE right and in the majority. Even if we only say: “That is an ignorant thing to say and you are wrong.” People used to be ashamed to let others know their hateful thoughts. But now with our hate media, they think they can say any awful thing and get away with it. Call them on it. They are NOT right. And I will tell them I think so.

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Due out March 31, Relax, It's Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You're Not Religious offers a well-researched look at a timely subject: secular parenting. With chapters on avoiding indoctrination, talking about death, vaccinating kids against intolerance, dealing with religious baggage, and getting along with religious relatives, the book offers a refreshingly compassionate approach to raising religiously literate, highly tolerant and critically thinking children capable of making up their own minds about what to believe. The book may be pre-ordered by visiting Brown Paper Press.

      Natural Wonderers is my new blog published by the Patheos faith network. An extension of my previous blog — Relax, It's Just God — Natural Wonderers offers stories and advice on raising curious, compassionate children in secular families.
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