The pattern of mass shootings in America is depressingly familiar. The response of the far right to these horrific events is also disturbing: They’re attempting to shift the blame to factors that had nothing to do with the violence.
We’re already seeing this play out in the wake of the shootings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were murdered. In the wake of that carnage, Americans are asking many questions: Do we need stricter gun safety laws? Did local police bungle the response? How can we identify individuals who might engage in such horrific behaviors early enough to stop them? What will it take to keep this from happening again?
But some Christian nationalists would rather not have those debates. Instead, they remain obsessed with pinning everything on a blazing “culture war.” But this is a tactic of distraction, and if we fall for it, Americans will never grapple with those difficult questions. Instead, we’ll find ourselves on an off-ramp that leads nowhere.
In Arizona, state Sen. Rick Gray (R-Maricopa) went on a tear last week laying the blame for the killings on the teaching of evolution in public schools and the alleged promoting of atheism in classrooms.
“For decades, for decades, we’ve been teaching our children in school there is no God,” Gray ranted. “You can’t pray. You can’t even pray on the field! There is no God. There are no absolutes. We live in a post-modern world, so whatever you think is right is right, and if somebody else has a different view, you’re still right. There are no absolutes. That we’re animals. And we’re just animals. It’s survival of the fittest. But then we’re shocked when they act that out! But we say, ‘Don’t act that way!’”
A few days later, Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel in Chino Hills, Calif., also placed the blame on evolution in schools.
“We teach kids in school, ‘God’s dead. He’s not real. Evolution is true. You’re nothing but an animal,’” Hibbs said in an interview with Newsmax. “And then we see them act up, and we get upset that they don’t act like angels. We tell them they’re animals, go out there and be a good boy. And this man, this young man conducted himself like an animal.”
Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears (R) took a slightly different, though equally vapid, tack during an address to the National Rifle Association in Houston on Friday, blaming the murders on a general breakdown of society that has come about, she said in prepared remarks, “Because we took prayer out of schools. We have so liberated our sexuality, that we are now informed that men can have abortions.” U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) pursued a similar line, telling a conservative radio station, “I think the secularization of society, I think in many cases the loss of faith” are to blame for mass shootings. He added, “I think the solution is renewed faith.”
There’s so much nonsense in these statements that it’s difficult to know where to begin responding. Suffice to say that no public school in America is teaching children that there is no God. They are (or ought to be) teaching modern science, though, and many of them are also teaching about religion as an academic subject. But they’re not compelling young people to take part in prayer or worship against their will.
If we really want to have an honest discussion about school safety, gun violence and why some young men have embraced violence and terror, now’s the time. But let’s leave Charles Darwin out of it. He had nothing to do with the tragic events in Uvalde.