brucekluger.com

    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


    In the hours and days following last week's
    heartbreaking schoolhouse massacre of five
    Amish children in Nickel Mines, Pa., the story
    cut across the media landscape like a
    runaway brushfire.

    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
    analysesendless eddies of chatter that
    swirled about the tragedy without shame or
    abatement.

    Rosie O'Donnell targeted the National Rifle Association in her blistering remarks
    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
    communication.

    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
    funerals.

    “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 countrynor 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
    misguided brothers.

    Over the summer, Lebanese Shiites and Israeli Jews similarly turned a deaf ear to
    the sacred tracts of their holy booksparables about decency and forgiveness and
    loveas 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
    Mohammed.

    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
    nationand the worldentering 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
    redemption.

    Grace.


    (Photo by Eileen Blass, USA TODAY)