USA Today, October 9, 2006
A glimpse of grace
The swift blur of tragedy that struck the Amish community last week should
provide a moment of clarity for the rest of us. For a change, what we saw
was religion in its best light.
By Bruce Kluger
heartbreaking schoolhouse massacre of five
Amish children in Nickel Mines, Pa., the story
cut across the media landscape like a
Almost overnight, we learned the grotesque
details of the vicious crime itself, heard the
pitiful back story of its deranged perpetrator
and were subjected to a flurry of the usual
analyses—endless eddies of chatter that
swirled about the tragedy without shame or
about the killings; Hannity & Colmes used air time to bring on, then ridicule, a
religious zealot who called the murders God's will; and columnists lumped the
shocking slaughter into reports of other recent school shootings, as if to imply that
this reprehensible act of madness was merely part of a bigger news story. A larger
picture. A trend.
The Amish citizens of Nickel Mines were oblivious to it all, their religion having long
ago instructed them to forgo TVs, radios and other devices of modern-day mass
Instead, they quietly buried their little girls.
They collected money for the families of the deceased, including the horrified,
grieving wife and children of the murderer. They also invited the family to the
“Grace,” my wife said softly when I told her about this astonishing gesture of
humanity by the bereaved people of Nickel Mines. “Pure grace. Maybe we all have
something to learn from the Amish.”
Religion is by no means an easy topic of conversation in this country—nor in the
world. For many of us, it has lost its power to instantly transform or inspire. Indeed,
this year alone, we've stood witness, repeatedly, to the dark and disjointed side of
religion, and to its ugliest consequences.
We've seen mounting evidence that Islamic fundamentalists have no intention of
retreating from their despicable interpretation of the Quran, bent as they are on
deriving from its ancient verses little more than a global death warrant. We've
watched in failed hope as peaceful Muslims around the globe largely stand mute in
the face of this violence, their leaders unable or unwilling to coalesce into a single
voice that might once and for all denounce the perversion of their faith by their
Over the summer, Lebanese Shiites and Israeli Jews similarly turned a deaf ear to
the sacred tracts of their holy books—parables about decency and forgiveness and
love—as they went about the business of murdering one another over prisoner
exchanges and border intrusions and tiny parcels of arid land.
Catholics worldwide listened in confusion as their new pope, Benedict XVI, reached
back to the words of a 14th-century emperor to draw a heavy curtain between the
righteousness of Christianity and the “evil and inhuman” teachings of the prophet
And here at home, that small but rabid band of evangelicals continued a single-
minded crusade, flocking not to churches, but to talk shows and congressional
offices and town meetings, in an unyielding effort to write its own brand of divisive
scripture into our laws.
Where religion is concerned, we have reached a moment of critical mass in this
nation—and the world—entering into a kind of apocalypse unimagined in the Bible.
And our punishment is not the stuff of plagues and hellfire, issued by a wrathful and
dissatisfied God. Instead, it is simply the souring of our inner spirit and the crushing
loss of our soul. Our undoing is our own.
Meanwhile, the reclusive and serene citizens of Nickel Mines go about their
business. They lay their beautiful children to rest, and silently pray for our