On All Saints Day of 1755, a massive 8.5 earthquake struck Lisbon, Portugal. The record keeping at the time was not very concise so but at least 10,000 people lost their lives. This event was jarring across the Christian world because why would God hurt those worshipping on one of the holiest day of the year? So upsetting was the event that many philosophers in the Enlightenment Era tried to go about answering the question of why God would let something so awful happen, and it became clear that the world was not “best of all possible worlds.”
Not only was this event upsetting because of the day on which it fell, but because the earthquake struck in the morning, while people were at church service. In the days before earthquake proofing buildings, the massive cathedrals around the city collapsed with most of the city’s inhabitants inside. The shooting in Texas is eerily similar, along with Charleston, and many other tragedies that happen inside of places of worship because it seems like the kind of place where prayers wouldn’t be directed, but where prayers for tragedies would emanate from. I remember church services growing up having moments where those who were ill or those who were victims of tragedies unfolding across the world would be prayed for.
People feel safe in their most sacred place, church is a sanctuary spiritually. The question remains, are we really going to people who were attacked while at church to pray and not take any other sort of action? Instead are we going to consider taking action as being something blasphemous in itself? I can understand the desire to prevent a media circus when a tragedy happens, for the sake of victims, but this hasn’t uniformly been the case. When a Muslim-American or a foreigner commits an attack, people begin to question if every citizen of an entire region should be barred from entry or should lose their civil rights.
I feel righteous in discussing the guns, which are often the tools regardless of the user, and I’ve been guilty of not waiting to discuss and politicize an issue. The problem really lies in what happens next.
Since the 1700s, there has been an effort to prevent buildings from being destroyed in an Earthquake. The University of Redlands’ Chapel was renovated to withstand a 10.0 earthquake to prevent anything like Lisbon from happening to people inside if an earthquake should happen. There isn’t a consensus on why bad things happen to everyday people, why evil is allowed to exist, though there are many debates about punishment that arise when bad things happen to some people. How can that be explained in the context of church goers? It’s clearly a tragedy caused by a person. We didn’t accept that buildings would fall during earthquakes, we used whatever drive that God or the universe gave us to do better. The issue of how to solve violence is far from cut and dry. The 2nd amendment, constitutional interpretations issues aside, currently protects the private ownership of guns. People don’t want to have this right taken away and stop discussions about what to do next right away. Even Scalia in his ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, which has been central to gun control debates, said “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited…” so this is inherently a nuanced issue.
The exact solutions isn’t clear, but are we going to at least try having a conversations about how to solve the constant mass murder in the “greatest country on Earth” or are we going to accept that things can’t change? If so, the earthquake codes that protect our churches are blasphemous.