Ben Stein and Mike Huckabee represent one of the three main camps of deep thinkers who have a solution to the scourge of gun violence. Of the three camps, gun-control, mental health and religion, Huckabee's and Stein's prescriptions for "more God" in our schools seem the least likely to have any effect whatsoever and the most likely to offend the sensibilities of non-fiction aficionados.
Gun control is problematic, but rational people understand the need for regulation. Only those contemplating the overthrow of our democratically elected government think that assault weapons are indispensable. Those are probably not people you want walking around with an AR-15 and a 60-round clip, for sure, but we really don't need ANYONE walking around with that kind of firepower.
The problem I have with gun control is that there's no way to get guns out of the hands of criminals. With an estimated 300 million guns in America, there's at least one for every person who wants to commit a violent crime. Still, efforts need to made to stem the flow of guns to criminals and those whose mental impairments may make them prone to violence. And the same laws should apply to ALL gun sales, whether at your local gun store or a gun show at the bingo parlor. Perhaps the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut could've been mitigated if Adam Lanza did not have ready access to a Bushmaster.
The benefits of mental health screening go beyond disaster prevention, but resources these days are scarce and with the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling still looming, I don't hear anyone talking about increased spending on mental health programs. On a practical level, if Adam Lanza could slip through the cracks in a town of 28,000 people, how can we hope to find and diffuse those ticking time bombs in cities of 100,000 or a million or 5 million? Even the most optimal application of mental health advocacy and stringent gun laws will be unable to prevent every tragedy.
God in the classroom, however addresses none of the germinating causes of gun violence, while introducing a myriad of conflictual issues. What types of prayer will be acceptable? What religious beliefs will be taught? Will everyone in Tupelo, Mississippi be OK with a Muslim child bringing a prayer matt to class? Or wearing a yarmulke? How many wars have been fought, how many humans have been slaughtered in the name of God? The sticky wicket of religion is that men tend to create a god in their own image and then use that image to justify their beliefs and their actions. Why do people think they're righteous if they declare themselves to be "God-fearing"? Seems to me only the wicked need fear God.
Stein questions our acceptance of celebrity worship at the same time we prohibit prayer in our schools as if calling our fascination with celebrity "worship" puts it into the same category as actual worship. It's not. There's no moral equivalence and it's irrelevant. Faith, or lack thereof is between a child, the parents and their religious leaders. The most divisive factor we face today is a political party hijacked by a group who think their religious beliefs should be the law of the land. Same as the Taliban.
Faith as solace in the aftermath of tragedy can be invaluable. As a preventative, not so much. Jeffrey Dahmer's family belonged to a devout sect of the Church of Christ. He had sex with, killed and ate teenage boys. Strong Christian backgrounds have produced most of this country's serial killers. Why this is so is hotly debated, but it is so. Whether or not their acts seem like atheistic manifestations, the breeding ground for these monsters tends to be in religious homes.
One in six Americans has no religious affiliation. What would these people do during the religious portion of their school day? Should we mandate religious indoctrination? Are we to assume that because their homes are Godless crucibles they will one day erupt in catastrophic violence? This is not born out by the evidence.
During a discussion over their children's education - religious v. public - my friend's wife queried him, "Where is Jesus in your life?" Even in his own home he had to proselytize his devotion to someone else's dietific concept. It wasn't enough that he couldn't justify the expense of sending his three boys to Catholic school or that he honestly thought they would get a better education in their community's public schools, he had to consider how his children's school choice would reflect on his virtue.
I don't claim to have the answer, I'm skeptical that there is one. I can't think of anything, though for which religion was or is the answer. Historically, it's mostly been the cause of the problem. It seems the more fervent the believer, the more difficult it is to extend our constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of religion to those of different beliefs. The more certain groups espouse America's freedoms, the more they seem to slip toward theocracy.
People like Ben Stein and Mike Huckabee are great at creating sound bites, but lack the empathy required for a visceral understanding of the seeds of violence. Like hammers looking for nails, they are only out there to hammer home their own agendas. That's not the answer the parents of Newton, Connecticut need right now.