We rang the bell 28 times at our church, the First Congregational Church of Ridgefield today, a week after the Newtown horror. Not 26 times as the Governor requested. It mystified me that at a vigil in our town almost every speaker referred to the 26 victims, as if the other two were somehow already in hell, out of our sight and mind, beyond redemption. I am also puzzled by the constant use of the word “evil” to describe what happened that Friday, with the clear implication that the shooter himself was “evil.” I view Adam Lanza as a victim. It is easy for victims to become victimizers.
His mother was apparently a gun nut, with her automatic weapons and special bullets, and perhaps thought having her son learn to shoot would make him into something. Who knows. They both were victims of America's gun culture. I reject the idea that we can just categorize Adam Lanza as “evil,” something the Governor seemed to do on the first day – but it is a word we have heard repeatedly at vigils and in the media. There is certainly evil, and what Adam did was evil, but he was also a mentally ill adolescent. A month or so ago I was talking with a couple with a 20-year old son who suddenly has severe mental problems and one of the things the dad said was that he wondered if his son was capable of doing what the theater shooter did. I’d say that a society that does not do a better job with the mentally ill has something seriously wrong with it. It’s not enough, in fact it’s a serious failing, to simply label and dismiss a mentally ill person as “evil” when he acts out in some horribly violent way.
I say Adam Lanza and his mother must have bells rung for them. I'll ring that bell for every family with mentally ill teens or young adults. Of course, there is evil: The gun lobby that has so zealously insisted on the right to own tactical weapons that can spray hundreds of bullets in seconds — that participates in the evil. The fact that social workers and other mental health workers are, as a group, one of the lowest paid professional groups in our society — that participates in the evil. The fact that starting salaries for new MSWs are typically even less, often far less, than that of new teachers with or without a master's degree — that participates in the evil. The fact that teachers get blamed for what's wrong in our schools so that, when you consider the salary potential, very few young men go into teaching — but then teachers are suddenly on the front lines — all that participates in the evil. I do not have any trouble at all ringing a bell and offering the name Adam Lanza to God's mercy. May God have mercy on us all.