Where was God in Newtown? Omid Safi attempts to give an answer. I agree with one half of his argument, that prayer is not what some folks think it is. However, I disagree on the nature of God.
I think dealing with the disagreement will make the agreement clearer. Ustad Omid could not see God in acts of murderers and killers. I, however, must. Fundamentally, I believe humanity’s relationship with God is broken. In part, we attempt to fit God into conceptions of Good and Evil, when God is beyond that. We are attempting to make God fit into our world, instead of trying to fit into God’s. The refrain of “Allahu Akbar,” heard in Muslim contexts means “God is greater.” God is greater than we can imagine. God is more Good than we understand and God is more Evil than we know. The call of “Allahu Akbar” is a reminder that we cannot know; that God is beyond.
Is there a mysterious, Divine plan? I don’t know. I’m not sure it matters. If our relationship to God is broken, so too are relationships amongst people, and by healing one, we heal the other. In looking at the Lanza family, and we realize that we have not worked at human relationships. According to many accounts, Nancy Lanza was a survivalist, fearful of other people. We don’t know much about Adam Lanza, but he too needed some sort of contact with other people he was not getting.
I have to see God in them, because I need to know that we are not creating those healing, healthy relationships. I don’t want to convert anyone, but that’s not what relationships are about. We do not have easy access to mental health care, or any other type of health care, in this country. If we do not hold ourselves responsible for physical and mental well-being of our neighbors, how can we be neighbors? The lack of sensible gun control laws is a symptom that we love ourselves and our toys more than we do other human beings. Lack of healthcare, lack of consideration for what easy access to weapons of mass murder means, all lead to fences, where we peer over and look at each other with suspicion. And as we all start to become separated, we force ourselves to become further separated, because we do not know how to turn down fences, only build them
What would have happened if Nancy Lanza felt she could trust the people she lived with? Would she have stockpiled those weapons? What if we said that no one needs more than 3 automatic assault rifles? Or that you had register to get guns like you have to register to drive? What if Adam Lanza had easy access to reliable mental health care? Do these things weigh on freedoms or our budgets more than we think are just? Is Newtown justice?
And then, we have figures like Huckabee using prayer as a tool. His relationship with other people is so broken, that he can only understand God as a weapon or shield. There is no prayer that would have stopped Lanza as he shot the children. God is not our toy, like a Furbee who dances for us when we give the right commands. That is hubris. There is power is prayer, and part of that power comes from being God-conscious. Were those who are crying for more prayer in school truly interested in being God-conscious, they would be demanding we take care of the least among us. Not only the homeless and the hungry, of whom we have too many to count, but those in need of health care. We don’t need more guns to take care for those in need. We shouldn’t be praying for more guns and telling people if they prayed it will stop a bullet. We have to provide so no one wants a gun to get what they want. We have to provide so no one wants a gun to feel something. We have to provide so no one wants a gun to get attention.
God consciousness is not about doing what we want and then remembering to say the word “God;” It’s about remembering God and doing what is right and just. We can argue what those words mean, but when prayer is used to traumatize people, it’s neither right nor just.
Where was God in Newtown? Everywhere. Where were we in Newtown? Nowhere.
Hussein Rashid is an academic and activist. He received his PhD from Harvard University, and his broad research project involves the representation and self-representation of Muslims in America. He has published on Islamicate musics in America, and has delivered talks on the Muslim-American blogistan and Muslims in graphic novels. He has taught at Hofstra University, Fordham University, Harvard University, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and Virginia Theological Seminary. He works in New York’s interfaith communities, teaching at Quest: A Center for Spiritual Inquiry. He has appeared on CNN, NPR, Fox News, CBS Evening News, and Russia Today. He is an Associate Editor at Religion Dispatches, and blogs at islamicate. He is known for his teaching, research, public communication skills, media engagement, and use of Web 2.0 technologies. You can find out more about him at http://www.husseinrashid.com/ Recently, he turned his consultancy into an L3C. islamicate L3C specializes in improving conversations around religion generally, and Islam specifically. We work in education, media, and policy.