This column was syndicated by Scripps Howard News Service on 04/18/2007
You’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.
You know the shoe I’m talking about — the religion shoe. When the Virginia Tech University story broke, you began clicking from website to website, channel to channel, seeking information and, then, something more.
You’ve seen photos of mourners in pews, offering comfort and seeking solace. You know that believers will pray and that journalists will keep aiming cameras at them, because, that’s what Bible Belt people do. People in southwest Virginia put scriptures on big road signs and build huge crosses next to Interstate highways. They pray. It’s a good photo, but it’s just prayer. Right?
No, you’re waiting for a real religion angle to surface, a crazy one linked to violence and power. After all, religion surfaces in so many bloody stories these days.
Plus, you know there are politicos here inside the Beltway who are sitting, TV remotes in their hands, waiting to grade the candidates. Will Barack Obama get the tone right, with the right mixture of scripture and concern? Will Hillary Clinton look chilly? Will anyone in the GOP herd look both presidential and pastoral?
You know the pope will say something and that — no matter what he says about the mysteries of life and death, good and evil — it will appear in news reports as a naive cry for peace and for an end to violence.
Then again, journalists know that the Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University is up I-81 from Blacksburg. So maybe he’ll come to Virginia Tech and talk about jealousy, broken hearts and the sexual revolution. Or maybe Pat Robertson will say — something, anything. Then, on the other side, perhaps the atheist version of Robertson could call a press conference and say this tragedy is more evidence that life is random and without purpose. That would work.
You’re waiting to find out what video game the shooter played all hours of the day and night. Did he go to see the movie “300” one too many times? Was he driven by Satan or too many “Left Behind” novels? People on both sides of the sacred vs. secular divide need to know. You’re waiting to see if he killed more women than men. You want to know if the big massacre started in the classroom of an evangelical professor who once witnessed to the shooter and made him mad. You heard reporters say the shooter was Asian and you immediately thought: Asia? What part of Asia? What religion was he?
You’re waiting for something that points toward the source of this evil. Am I right? And if you remember the Columbine High School massacre, you may be thinking of that column that journalist Peggy Noonan — a traditional Catholic — wrote about the “culture of death” hours after that hellish day.
She wrote: “Your child is an intelligent little fish. He swims in deep water. Waves of sound and sight, of thought and fact, come invisibly through that water, like radar; they go through him again and again, from this direction and that. The sound from the television is a wave, and the sound from the radio. … The waves contain words like this, which I’ll limit to only one source, the news:
“… took the stand to say the killer was smiling the day the show aired … said the procedure is, in fact, legal infanticide … is thought to be connected to earlier sexual activity among teens … court battle over who owns the frozen sperm … contains songs that call for dominating and even imprisoning women … died of lethal injection … had threatened to kill her children. … had asked Kevorkian for help in killing himself … protested the game, which they said has gone beyond violence to sadism … showed no remorse … which is about a wager over whether he could sleep with another student … which is about her attempts to balance three lovers and a watchful fiance…
“This is the ocean in which our children swim. This is the sound of our culture. It comes from all parts of our culture and reaches all parts of our culture, and all the people in it, which is everybody.”
You’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. You want to know the eternal “why” in “who, what, when, where, why and how.”
I know that I do.
Terry Mattingly (www.tmatt.net) directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes this weekly column for the Scripps Howard News Service.