April 29, 2013
A petition is being presented to President Obama that he do what he can to obtain the release of the two Syrian archbishops who were abducted last week, and to see to a peaceful, negotiated solution to the Syrian conflict. I signed the appeal today; I urge readers of my blog to do likewise. The petition can be signed at the following link: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/appeal-president-obama-and-his-government-release-two-abducted-orthodox-christian-archbishops-syria/xNskxL1q
The text of the petition reads as follows:
An appeal to President Obama and his government for the release of two abducted Orthodox Christian Archbishops in Syria.
An appeal to President Obama and his government for the release of two Orthodox Christian Archbishops, namely Archbishop Paul Yazigi and Archbishop Youhanna Ibrahim, who were abducted by armed rebels on April 23, 2013 in the suburbs of Aleppo, Syria. The driver of the Archbishops was murdered and the Archbishops were forced by the rebels to go to an unknown location either in Syria or in Turkey.
We appeal to you beloved in Christ and peace loving people to sign this petition urgently asking the American administration to use all its influence for the release of these two Archbishops and to bring a peaceful settlement to this bloodletting Syrian conflict through a negotiated settlement.
April 27, 2013
On Monday this past week there were reports from Syria that two bishops from Aleppo, one Greek Orthodox (Paul Yazigi) and another Syrian Orthodox (Yohanna Ibrahim), had been kidnapped near the border between Syria and Turkey, and that the driver of their car had been killed. Anonymous Greek Orthodox sources indicated that the kidnappers were “Chechen jihadists.” On Tuesday, the BBC and other news sources reported that the bishops had been released. That news seems to have been premature; more recent reports (e.g., the BBC, Agence France Presse) indicate that the bishops are still being held somewhere; today the Organization of Islamic Cooperation demanded their “unconditional release.” Prayers are urged on the bishops’ behalf.
April 24, 2013
The Lyceum School Choir — or, to give it its more proper title, the “Lyceum Schola Cantorum” — will be singing this Thursday, April 25th, at a televised mass on EWTN. I will be among them, in the bass section. The mass will be televised at 8:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Savings time, and will be rebroadcast at 12 noon and 7 p.m. We will be singing parts of Palestrina’s Missa Brevis, among other things. A live stream of the mass can be watched, at the aforementioned times, at the link below.
March 31, 2013
I have not written anything on this blog for a long time; indeed, some readers (if this blog still has readers) may wonder to find me still among the living. But I would like, first, to wish those who celebrated today Christ’s resurrection a Happy Easter. For myself, due to an unusually long gap this year between the dates of Orthodox Easter (or Pascha, if you prefer*) on the one hand and Catholic and Protestant Easter on the other, I shall not be celebrating the paschal feast until May 5th, along with the rest of the Orthodox world. (This discrepancy is rooted in a difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars; more precisely, it arises from the fact that the Orthodox churches, or most of them, use the date of the vernal equinox on the Julian calendar — March 21st Julian = April 3rd Gregorian — to calculate the feast day, even though this date now falls 13 or 14 days later than the actual, astronomical vernal equinox. The Orthodox calculation of Easter — first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox — also requires that the feast come after Passover: that is, after the whole seven days of that feast are concluded. But there are so many minutiae involved in the calculation of Easter that even the above description is doubtless only partially complete; for instance, there is a full moon this year on April 25th, so why isn’t Orthodox Easter celebrated on the Sunday immediately following this, April 28th? I don’t know, and I despair of knowing.) Most Orthodox I speak with feel the discrepancy between Easter dates is silly and scandalous, and wish that a common date could be arrived at. It won’t be, mainly because the bishops know that any further changes to the calendar would only exacerbate existing divisions amongst the Orthodox — it would further aggravate and complicate the New Calendar / Old Calendar split that already plagues us.
The month of March 2013 has been a bitter one for me and my family. My sister died on March 6th, a cousin’s wife drowned on March 12th, an uncle died today of old age. My address list is slowly being transformed into a necrology, as I write the dates of death next to the names of the people I know. My sister, Ann Gilbert Ortiz, would have been 60 years old in May; she died of cancer, which she had fought for some twenty years. She was a gentle, decent person, loving towards her family, kind to friends and strangers. Human beings are unique and irreplaceable. I console myself sometimes with the thought that, if God took my sister away at this time, it was perhaps because there are miseries in store that he didn’t want her to have to see. I’m glad that my mother didn’t have to witness 9/11 and all the hysteria that followed it.
I like Pope Francis. I particularly like his economics. As for those who grumble because he does not countenance blessing homosexual unions as holy matrimony, well, neither does the New Testament (see Romans ch. 1, if you are in any doubt concerning this). He is simply doing his job, which is to defend the moral and doctrinal teaching of the Catholic Church.
I suppose I have said enough. Again, Happy Easter.
*Some Orthodox boldly assert that “we don’t celebrate Easter — we celebrate Pascha.” See, for instance, an article from the Orthodox Information Center — which also makes the ingenious excuse for ignoring the astronomical date of the vernal equinox, that to observe it would require that the feast be celebrated on different dates in the northern and southern hemispheres. As though the fathers of the Nicene Council, when they laid down canons for a common celebration for the paschal feast, and tied it to the date of the vernal equinox, left it equivocal which hemisphere’s vernal equinox they meant — or else did not mean to speak of the astronomical vernal equinox, but instead meant to fix a particular date on the Julian calendar in perpetuum, however far that calendar might diverge from astronomical reality. Thus, we “observe days, and months, and times, and years” (Gal 4:10). And we are proud of this, as it shows us how deeply spiritual we are.
January 12, 2013
A queasy fear I sometimes feel
arising in my gullet
from auditory memory
of some demonic trumpet
And sometimes I have had
to sit awhile and catch my breath
when sounds recall the leaden chord
of the angel of death
It’s not so often that I hear
these inward echoings
but when I do, they help me to
remember the last things
Death, and judgment, heaven and hell
(to cite the ancient number)
when seven seals send thunderous peals
and souls awake from slumber
December 18, 2012
As part of an ongoing series of lectures at my church here in Cleveland, I was asked to give a talk this past Sunday; I chose to do so on the topic of Creation and Evolution. Aside from certain initial problems connecting my laptop computer to the projector, the presentation went fairly well. I used the following outline as a basis for the talk, although it should be said that, because of time constraints, not everything in the outline was actually touched upon during the lecture.
Creation and Evolution: Some thoughts on Earth history and its significance for Orthodox Christianity (16 December 2012)
- Who am I, and why am I talking about evolution?
- Peter Gilbert. I teach these days at a private Catholic school in South Euclid; I also taught for seven years at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, NM, and, for three and a half years, I taught at the Orthodox seminary in Durrës, Albania.
- I am not a biologist. In matters of biology, I am what might be called an educated layman. My doctorate is in church history, from the Catholic University of America. However, last year at the Lyceum School I was asked to teach a biology class, amongst a number of other subjects.… I also taught biology from time to time at a college in New Mexico, St. John’s College (although the approach to the subject there differed from what you would find at most colleges; it does not presuppose biological expertise on the part of the instructor).
- Another personal note. Some twenty years ago, I taught in Albania at the Orthodox Seminary of the Resurrection in Durrës. Albania had recently emerged from forty years of Communism, of the most virulent kind; the persecution of religion in Albania was about as bad as it gets. And one result of the communist indoctrination that my students had been through is that almost all of them took it for granted that, if one accepts evolution as a fact, then one is an atheist; if one is a believer, then one rejects evolution. Because Fr. Luke Veronis knew that that was not my view, he asked me, at one point, to speak about this subject at a student forum at the University of Tirana. I did so. It wasn’t a very good lecture; it showed me, in fact, how little I really knew about this subject. But it did increase my interest in the question. The present forum is, in a way, an opportunity for me to revise the thoughts that I first tried to formulate then.
- One other thing. When I was four years old, I visited the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Queens, NY. It helped to produce an interest in dinosaurs that was probably my first scientific interest. That interest never entirely disappeared, although it was eclipsed by other things over time, and I did not, in the end, become a paleontologist.
- The importance of the question.
- Evolution is not merely a scientific issue, but is also a political one, particularly in the United States. It has been debated in American courts since the Scopes’ trial in the 1920s.
- The Earth History time chart
A good synoptic presentation of the current scientific consensus view of geological chronology. Has the advantage that, unlike most such charts, it is to scale. It takes the form of a clock; thus, one can get a better sense of how short a time humanity has been upon the earth.
- Radiometric dating, based on a knowledge of the “half lives” of unstable elements, is one source of this chart. But, in fact, it brings together findings from numerous sources.
- The Tree of Life (include a slide of this as part of your presentation).
- Note that, when you were young, living things were divided into “Plants” and “Animals.” The biological consensus nowadays is that things are much more complicated than this. You might have to explain what the words “Prokaryote” and “Eukaryote” mean. (κάρυον = “nut”)
- Two meanings of the word “evolution”
- The two meanings are often confused, and this is one reason why much of the debate over whether evolution is or is not a “theory” is so pointless.
- On the one hand, the word refers to the claim that species have come into being and gone out of existence over the earth’s long history, and that new species in some way derive from earlier ones. This claim deserves to be called, not a theory, but a fact, testified to by all the evidence of geology and paleontology.
- On the other hand, a theory meant to account for the factual evidence. Usually refers to what Charles Darwin called “natural selection,” or, Descent with Modification. A theory first presented in 1859, jointly by Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace.
- This view claims that new species appear because certain individuals are better fitted to their environment, more able to survive, than others are and, thus, are better able to pass on their peculiar characteristics to their offspring. The claim is made that, over a series of generations, such peculiarities in the offspring can accumulate to the point where one must speak, not merely of a variant breed within the species, but of a different species.
- This is a theory, but it is a theory accepted by the vast majority of biologists as being consistent with observable facts: e.g., with the fossil record, with mutations seen in rapidly multiplying populations (like microorganisms), and with the evidence of genetics. It is a theory much in the same way that, say, quantum theory is a “theory”: there are still questions surrounding it, but virtually every working scientist accepts this hypothesis as basically correct and as accounting for the evidence. (People who say “only a theory” when talking about evolution do not know what science is.)
- There have been other theories of evolution besides the darwinian one. Notably, the view of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) was that characteristics acquired during a creature’s lifetime were passed down to its offspring. Others in the eighteenth century (Lord Monboddo; Erasmus Darwin) also held various evolutionary views.
- Darwin’s theory of natural selection received substantial support in the mid-20th century with the growth of the study of genetics, in particular with the deciphering of the molecular structure of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) by Watson and Crick in the 1950’s. The union of darwinian theory with genetics constitutes what is usually called the modern evolutionary synthesis.
- Four theological attitudes towards evolution:
- Rejection (1): Young Earth Creationism
- Takes the biblical chronology literally (Archbp. James Ussher).
- Sees the earth to have been created in 4004 B.C.; takes the six days of Genesis ch. 1 as 24-hour days.
- Worth noting that some of the fathers of the Church, e.g., St. Augustine, already rejected this position, without the benefit of Geology.
- Rejection (2): “Intelligent Design”
- Might be called “Old Earth Creationism”: at least, most of those who hold this position are willing to concede the geological evidence that the earth is very old.
- Holds that natural causes cannot fully account for the complexity observed in life forms, and that an Intelligent Designer has to be posited, even on scientific grounds. (I.e., it posits the inadequacy of natural science, and naturalistic explanation, in the presence of the facts of biology.)
- Its favorite expression is “irreducible complexity.” One favorite example of this, an argument advanced by Michael Behe: the flagellum of a particular species of bacteria is described as a kind of perfect molecular machine, any of whose parts would be useless except as working in concert with the whole.
- I have read a response to this position by a biologist who is also a practicing Catholic, who points out that some of the parts of this machine have been observed in other organisms, serving entirely different functions, which undercuts the whole intelligent design argument. (Rather like the way the carpal bones, which in primates serve as fingers, function in bats as a support for wings.)
- Much of the activity of the advocates of Intelligent Design is meant (designed) to affect the science curriculum at public schools in the United States. Such attempts at influencing school curricula have generally been rejected in the courts, e.g. in the case Kitzmiller et al. vs. Dover (December 20, 2005), which ruled that the school board’s biology curriculum, which included Intelligent Design as an alternative to the darwinian account, “violates the Establishment Clause” of the Constitution.
- Acceptance (1): Theistic Evolution
- Sees evolution as compatible with Christian belief (or Jewish or Muslim). Evolution, on this view, is God’s way of creating new species, just as natural geological processes may be held responsible for the present physical shape of the earth.
- For this reason, this view is sometimes called “evolutionary creationism.”
- Implies that certain passages of scripture must be read allegorically, a position which, it may be said, is nothing new; Origen, in the third century, said the same thing.
- The current pope and his immediate predecessor both expressed support for theistic evolution. So did Cardinal Newman in the 19th century; he thought Darwin’s theory could be accommodated within the doctrine of divine providence.
- Acceptance (2): Atheistic Evolution
- Sometimes called “radical Darwinism” or “Neo-Darwinism.”
- Examples: Richard Dawkins; Stephen Jay Gould
- Take the view that evolution is necessarily atheistic, that it rules out any divine action in the origination of species. Evolution, these authors stress, is a mechanical process, and depends on certain changes happening randomly and automatically, without design. Such authors love to point to apparently improvidential features in natural history, as a way of arguing that divinity had no hand in bringing about the forms of life we see.
- My own view is that, when biologists start making theological claims about what God can or cannot do, they usually show their theological incompetence. They make God out to be one observable cause among many. The presumption is that God can only act miraculously, outside of the normal order of things, and cannot act through this order, cannot, in fact, have set it up.
- Attitudes towards evolution taken by Orthodox theologians
- Fr. Seraphim Rose (wrote Genesis, Creation, and Early Man)
- One of the founders of the Discovery Institute (an Intelligent Design think tank) is an Orthodox Christian. (See if you can find out his name before the lecture.) [William Dembski]
- The late Patriarch of Moscow, Alexei II.
- Under Protestant influence, a creationist institute was established in Russia not long ago. Titled “Shestodnev” (Creatio), it was blessed in May 2000 by Patriarch Alexei II. It “conducts conferences, arranges disputes, publishes books, and is actively involved in Internet projects. It places itself as an orthodox society for the defense, study, and revealing the essence of [the] Holy Fathers’ doctrine about the Creation of the World.” As in the United States, attempts have been made in Russia in recent years to include “creation science” as part of the science curriculum in the public schools; one famous case involved a Maria Schreiber, who “refused to study biology in school, saying her world outlook is in contradiction to the one Darwin’s theory of evolution is based on.” The case was brought to court; on February 21, 2007, the Russian court rejected the girl’s case; it has been labeled the “Russian monkey trial.”
- Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. Metropolitan John Zizioulas. Most likely, the present Patriarch of Constantinople (the “Green” Patriarch).
- Metropolitan Kallistos:
- “Religion and science are working on different levels and are following different methods, and using different kinds of evidence. And, indeed, what each is saying is relevant for the other, but we mustn’t confuse these two levels of discourse. The scientist is working from the evidence of our senses, the theologian, the religious thinker, is using the data of revelation, scripture. So here are two different forms of evidence, and two different ways of arguing. As I see it, there need not be any conflict between religion and science, if each is properly understood, because they are answering different kinds of question. The scientist is telling us what there is in the universe, and he is also saying, as far as we can discover, how the universe came to exist in the form which it now has, by what stages it developed. In the religious sphere, we are asking why was the world created, and what is the purpose of our life on earth. Now, in my view, those are not strictly scientific questions, and the scientist does not claim to answer them, though what he tells us about how the world is and how it came to be the way it is may help us to answer these religious questions. Some scientists would say that the question Why is there a universe, where did it come from, what existed before the Big Bang, some scientists would say that these are simply non-questions, which shouldn’t be asked. But in fact these are questions which as human beings we want to ask and need to ask. But I don’t think the scientist, simply on the basis of his scientific discipline, can answer them.
- “What about the theory of evolution? Very many Orthodox reject this; some of them uphold a form of intelligent design; I don’t care very much for the theory of intelligent design, because I believe it is mixing the levels of science and religion in an unhelpful way. For myself as an Orthodox, I have no difficulty in accepting the evolutionary picture of the universe that is presented by modern science. And I think we shouldn’t say that evolution is merely a theory or speculation; the evidence is very powerful. I don’t find a problem here for my faith as an Orthodox Christian. It is possible for God to work through evolution. He did not have to create everything as it is now in the beginning; he could work through the evolutionary process. But of course, in saying that, we’re moving outside the realm of science, which is not going to make statements of that kind. Again, from the religious point of view, we wish to affirm that human beings have a unique status in the universe, because they are made in the image and likeness of God. The human being is not merely a superior ape. But again, using a phrase like ‘the image and likeness of God’ we are saying something about human beings that science can neither confirm nor deny. We are moving outside the scientific area. So, I believe that a correct understanding of science and the way it works can indeed help our task as religious thinkers, but we need to keep a proper distinction; and if the distinction is kept, I do not think we need see science as a threat. Thank you.”
- the late Theodosius Dobzhansky, geneticist and Russian Orthodox Christian (“nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”)
- Dr. George Theokritoff, geologist (a friend of mine who lives in New Jersey)
- Alexander Kalomiros.
- Fr. George Nicozisin. http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/dogmatics/nicozisin_creationism.htm
- “The Eastern Fathers, generally speaking, did not take a fundamentalist viewpoint of creation. For example, Vladimir Lossky, a great Orthodox theologian of the past century, says in his famous book, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, ‘The Church always freely makes use of philosophy and the sciences for apologetic (explanatory) purposes, but she never has any cause to defend these relative and changing truths as she defends the unchangeable truth of her doctrines.’”
- Sees the only possible conflict between the scientific account and Christian doctrine in connection with the understanding of Adam.
- Yours truly
- Some describe this difference as that between “dualism” and “compatibilism” — on the one hand, the view that view that science and faith are philosophically incompatible, that science rests upon a philosophical naturalism that denies faith necessarily; and, on the other hand, the view that both scripture and the physical world are divine revelation, and testify to the same God.
- The compatibilist position might be summed up by a statement of the late Pope John Paul II, who said (in connection with the question of evolution) that “truth cannot contradict truth.”
- My guess is that, at most Orthodox seminaries (certainly in America), the prevalent view accepts evolution as a scientific fact.
- Theological problems that evolution raises for Christian belief
- How to interpret the Genesis account(s) of creation. In particular:
- What is meant by the “days of creation”? (As mentioned, that already received an allegorizing response from the fathers of the church in the fourth and fifth centuries.)
- If human beings are descended from earlier forms of life, and if man is genetically related to all other known life forms, then how are we to understand the fundamental scriptural claim, that man is created “in the image and likeness of God”?
- Genetic inheritance does not preclude essential difference.
- Who was Adam?
- How to understand the doctrine of the fall of man.
- If the whole story of evolution presupposes death, how is one to understand the claim, that the sin of Adam and Eve brought death into the world?
- The official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church is that, while one may accept evolution as an explanation for Adam’s body, one must hold that Adam’s soul was independently created, by a special act of God, and is not merely the result of natural evolution. Some Orthodox priests I have spoken to hold essentially the same position. Pope Pius XII also declared that one must hold Adam to have been a real individual person.
- This does raise the question, though, of the status of earlier hominids. For example, it is now known that Neanderthal DNA is present in both European and Asian human beings, constituting about 2% of their genome. Similarly, Australian aborigines have been found to possess DNA deriving from Denisovan man. Is one to include the Neanderthals and Denisovan man amongst the children of Adam?
- Some years ago, on the basis of a comparative study of mitochondrial DNA, it was announced that all current human beings could be traced back to a single mother.
- Final reflections.
- Why this question is important.
- At once a religious, a scientific, and a political question.
- If, like the present Patriarch of Constantinople, one is an environmentalist, one cannot ignore evolution. To understand how the world is in the present, one has to understand how it has been in the past.
- One’s attitude towards this question has a number of practical consequences. If one thinks that the earth is 6,000 years old, one will not be terribly concerned about, say, the inherent limitations in the earth’s supply of fossil fuels. If one is a new earth creationist, everything in the past is, in some sense, miraculous; the apparent necessity for hundreds of millions of years of geological processes for petroleum to be naturally produced is, on this reading, merely an illusion. Nor will one take much thought about global warming, or the idea that there have been, in the earth’s history, major extinction events, most of them having to do with changes in the earth’s climate.
- The debate concerns fundamental matters of faith, how one understands the world and God’s activity as “Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things, visible and invisible.” The issue is not going to go away.
December 17, 2012
The following is a transcript of an address given by President Obama at an interfaith vigil yesterday evening (Sunday, December 16, 2012) in Newtown, Connecticut, where, on Friday, a young man shot and killed twenty young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School before killing himself. The source of the transcript is the website of Time magazine, where you will find also a video of the President’s speech.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you, Governor. To all the families, first responders, to the community of Newtown, clergy, guests — Scripture tells us: “…do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away…inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”
We gather here in memory of twenty beautiful children and six remarkable adults. They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school; in a quiet town full of good and decent people that could be any town in America.
Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation. I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts. I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief; that our world too has been torn apart; that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you, we’ve pulled our children tight. And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide; whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown — you are not alone.
As these difficult days have unfolded, you’ve also inspired us with stories of strength and resolve and sacrifice. We know that when danger arrived in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school’s staff did not flinch, they did not hesitate. Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel Davino and Anne Marie Murphy — they responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances — with courage and with love, giving their lives to protect the children in their care.
We know that there were other teachers who barricaded themselves inside classrooms, and kept steady through it all, and reassured their students by saying “wait for the good guys, they’re coming”; “show me your smile.”
And we know that good guys came. The first responders who raced to the scene, helping to guide those in harm’s way to safety, and comfort those in need, holding at bay their own shock and trauma because they had a job to do, and others needed them more.
And then there were the scenes of the schoolchildren, helping one another, holding each other, dutifully following instructions in the way that young children sometimes do; one child even trying to encourage a grown-up by saying, “I know karate. So it’s okay. I’ll lead the way out.” (Laughter.)
As a community, you’ve inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other, and you’ve cared for one another, and you’ve loved one another. This is how Newtown will be remembered. And with time, and God’s grace, that love will see you through.
But we, as a nation, we are left with some hard questions. Someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around. With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves — our child — is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice. And every parent knows there is nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet, we also know that with that child’s very first step, and each step after that, they are separating from us; that we won’t — that we can’t always be there for them. They’ll suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments. And we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear.
And we know we can’t do this by ourselves. It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize, no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself. That this job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation. And in that way, we come to realize that we bear a responsibility for every child because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that we’re all parents; that they’re all our children.
This is our first task — caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.
And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? 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 that 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?
I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.
Since I’ve been President, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by a mass shooting. The fourth time we’ve hugged survivors. The fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims. And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and big cities all across America — victims whose — much of the time, their only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law — no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.
But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this. If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that — then surely we have an obligation to try.
In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?
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 will all stumble sometimes, in some way. We will make mistakes, we will 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.
There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have — for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child’s embrace — that is true. The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves, and binds us to something larger — we know that’s what matters. We know we’re always doing right when we’re taking care of them, when we’re teaching them well, when we’re showing acts of kindness. We don’t go wrong when we do that.
That’s what we can be sure of. And that’s what you, the people of Newtown, have reminded us. That’s how you’ve inspired us. You remind us what matters. And that’s what should drive us forward in everything we do, for as long as God sees fit to keep us on this Earth.
“Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said, “and do not hinder them — for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
Charlotte. Daniel. Olivia. Josephine. Ana. Dylan. Madeleine. Catherine. Chase. Jesse. James. Grace. Emilie. Jack. Noah. Caroline. Jessica. Benjamin. Avielle. Allison.
God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on, and make our country worthy of their memory.
May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in His heavenly place. May He grace those we still have with His holy comfort. And may He bless and watch over this community, and the United States of America. (Applause.)
END 8:55 P.M. EST