“We will have to change”

The President’s remarks at the Newtown vigil last night were moving, and promising.

Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

…the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.

I look forward to the specific changes in gun control policy the President will propose and fight for. Minimally, we must “register all firearms, license all owners, require background checks, ban semi-automatic weapons” (Bob Herbert).

And I look forward as well to a change in rhetoric and tone. I look forward to the day when an ecumenical “interfaith” memorial vigil like last night’s will automatically include, alongside the Priests and Imams and Rabbis and Revs, a humanist philosopher – or a president eager to proclaim his own humanist sensibility. “You know,” the President said,

all the world’s religions, so many of them represented here today, start with a simple question.

Why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose?

We know our time on this Earth is fleeting. We know that we will each have our share of pleasure and pain, that even after we chase after some earthly goal, whether it’s wealth or power or fame or just simple comfort, we will, in some fashion, fall short of what we had hoped. We know that, no matter how good our intentions, we’ll all stumble sometimes in some way.

We’ll make mistakes, we’ll experience hardships and even when we’re trying to do the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans.

Good words, right up until the last. But I wanted to hear, unambiguously and unambivalently, that the only plans worth pondering aloud on horrible occasions like these are the ones we still haven’t made, to regulate our own behavior. The inscrutable hypothetical death-dealing “heavenly plans” of an evidently-dark lord of superstition do not console. They do not begin to redeem the obscene, gratuitous loss of those twenty “beautiful little kids” and six courageous educators. They do not deserve breath or mention.

Do we have the courage to stop this?” And does our president have the courage to lead on this, against the entrenched and mobilized gun-and-religion lobby? Those are the right “simple questions.”

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