“Is our hope in walnut shells
Worn ’round the neck with temple bells,
Or deep within some cloistered walls
Where hooded figures pray in halls?
Or crumbled books on dusty shelves,
Or in our stars, or in ourselves,
Who will answer?

If the soul is darkened
By a fear it cannot name,
If the mind is baffled
When the rules don’t fit the game,
Who will answer? Who will answer? Who will answer?”

– Ed Ames, “Who Will Answer?”

Tomorrow, Jared Loughner, the man accused of killing six people and wounding then-U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, is set to plead guilty. As we brace for the inevitable media frenzy, lets take a look back at the events of January 2011…

 A Look Back…

Countless voices fill the airwaves. Legions of writers feverishly post articles. Scores of politicians rush to the microphone. All of them hope to answer the question, “why?”  Why did Jared Loughner shoot and kill 9 people? Mark Potok from the Southern Poverty Law Center summarizes well the social angst to understand the motives and bring meaning to the actions of this young man:

“It’s hard to say. When you look at the Internet material he purportedly produced, the first impression you get is that the 22-year-old now in custody for the shooting of 20 people in Tucson was completely out of his mind, or at least mildly deranged. His writings will be virtually impossible for most people to understand, what with his runs of unexplained numbers, his fondness for weird syllogisms, his mysterious references and his apparent semi-literacy.”

To whom do we turn?  What voice is speaking out the balm of meaning?

Is meaning found in politics?

Within minutes of Laughner’s attack, shameless politicians and sniveling pundits were blaming the rhetoric of their political foes. While most sat perched in stunned silence at the slaughter of human life, the buzzards swooped in to take advantage of  Opportunity’s Carnage. Yet even when all the evidence refutes the claims of these early attackers, politicians, such at Vermont Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders, still sent out fundraising letters and in so doing they write their own epitaph of “Money” and “Power”on the gravestone of tragedy.

Why do they continue to attack?  Because their words, morbid and crass as they are, reflect the ultimate search for meaning found deep within every person.  Sanders’ thinking, and those of his ilk, is the ultimate extension of the 20th Century atheist dictator Joseph Stalin’s Statist philosophy where meaning is rooted in politics. Therefore, the first instinct of Statist thinkers is to try to give Death its meaning through politics.

Blame is laid on the enemy of Political Rhetoric because in a secularized society ruled by the political class, the criminal must be the victim. Take the words of Robert Fitch a professor of political science who wrote in 1959 an article entitled “The Obsolescence of Ethics.”  In it he writes:

“Ours is an age where ethics has become obsolete. It is superceded by science, deleted by philosophy and dismissed as emotive by psychology. It is drowned in compassion, evaporates into aesthetics and retreats before relativism. The usual moral distinctions between good and bad are simply drowned in a maudlin emotion in which we feel more sympathy for the murderer than for the murdered, for the adulterer than for the betrayed, and in which we have actually begun to believe that the real guilty party, the one who somehow caused it all, is the victim, and not the perpetrator of the crime.”

In Laughner’s case, he is pitied as an insane gunman driven over the edge by the harsh tone of political debate.  Therefore, the only way for the Statist to bring meaning to this tragedy is not to blame the shooter, but to pass laws and vilify enemy politicians.

Politics fails to bring meaning.

Is meaning found in the meaningless?

For Laughner, it seems clear at this time that his actions were not rooted in a political worldview.  According to one friend:

“Loughner “did not watch TV. He disliked the news. He didn’t listen to political radio. He didn’t take sides. He wasn’t on the left. He wasn’t on the right.”

So if he was not a ‘victim” of rhetoric, how can we find meaning in his actions?  How do we bring meaning to death?  I believe that is is impossible to understand Loughner unless we are willing to examine the Atheist worldview that, according to the books he read, seems to have consumed his thoughts.  According to his Facebook profile, here is that list:

Animal Farm, Brave New World, The Wizard Of OZ, Aesop Fables, The Odyssey, Alice Adventures Into Wonderland, Fahrenheit 451, Peter Pan, To Kill A Mockingbird, We The Living, Phantom Toll Booth, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Pulp,Through The Looking Glass, The Communist Manifesto, Siddhartha, The Old Man And The Sea, Gulliver’s Travels, Mein Kampf, The Republic, and Meno.

I believe Laughner was trapped in the looking-glass of absurdity and his mental prison is summarized by the Playwright/Philosopher Albert Camus who wrote:

Absurdity lies in the opposition between the human need for meaning, on the one hand, and the unconcerned and meaningless world, on the other.

Laughner was caught between his own longing to give meaning to his life and a world that assured him there was, and is, no meaning. Camus observed that the reality of the absurd resulted in the problem of suicide.

The presence of the absurd makes the problem of suicide the most fundamental philosophical question.

Unlike Camus, the question for Laughner was not, “should I take my own life?” but, “why not take the life of those who bring me pain?” The question is fundamental to those who live in a wonderland without God.

“Why not suicide?”

“Why not murder?”

“Without god, there is only the absurd…”

“Why not provide my own mean to the paradox of my personal pain?”

Jared Loughner sought to give meaning to his own suffering and in so doing he proves the death of Atheism. A world without any god has only questions and each man and woman is left to find their own answer.  In a world such as this, who can judge Laughner’s actions as wrong?   What right does anyone have to define what is good or bad?  Was not this troubled soul merely living out the “Atheist Creed“?

If chance be the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky
and when you hear
State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
Bomb Blasts School!
It is but the sound of man
worshipping his maker.

— Steve Turner

Laughner is not alone in his struggle against the Atheist-absurd. According to the American Journal of Psychiatry (2004; 161:2303–2308), a “god-free” reality leads people toward a more angry and violent life. The study concludes:

“In terms of clinical characteristics, religiously unaffiliated subjects had more lifetime impulsivity, aggression, and past substance use disorder.”

This of course, does not in any way suggest that the only result of Atheism is violence. In fact, there is no “one” answer to the question of meaning because meaning cannot be dictated by an external truth, but discerned only from ones inner desire. The famed Atheist Aldous Huxley (one of Laughner’s favorite reads) in his book ‘Ends and Means’ (1937) expressed his desire for meaning in a meaningless world this way:

“I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; and consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics. He is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do. For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. The supporters of this system claimed that it embodied the meaning – the Christian meaning, they insisted – of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and justifying ourselves in our erotic revolt: we would deny that the world had any meaning whatever.”

In a godless world of meaningless reality where ‘up’ can be ‘green’ and ‘left’ can be ‘flower’, the insanity of Laughner is not an isolated case, but the tragic consequence of grasping for an enigmatic utopia ever-corrupted by those who do not share his inner reality.  Huxley sought fulfillment in hedonism.  Laughner sought fulfillment in violence.  In a world without coherence, which of these two can be judged as wrong?

Meaning cannot be found in a meaningless world.

Is there meaning in rebellion?

Ultimately, Jared Loughner’s struggle for meaning was defined by his rebellion.  He loathed the government and wanted to rebel.  He was angry at women, and wanted to rebel.  He despised the corruption of capitalism and wanted to rebel.  Jared Loughner is the “New Rebel” of the American culture.  Long ago, the 19th and early 20th Century writer G.K. Chesterton saw this coming in his book “Orthodoxy” (73-74).

“But the new rebel is a sceptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book (about the sex problem) in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite sceptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”

Chesterton began his journey by reading the great atheist thinkers of his day and it turned him to faith in Jesus Christ.

There Is Meaning In Christ Alone!

If we are to find meaning in the chaos of the 24-hour news cycle, let it be found in the person of Jesus Christ revealed in the writings of the Christian Bible—the one and only God who can survive the death of Atheism and bring meaning to the life of Jared Loughner.

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. ” (John 8:31–36, ESV)


Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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