I hesitated to write anything about Friday morning in Newtown, Connecticut.
My college students year after year point immediately to the culture of violence in this country: the numbing music they listen to through isolating headphones, the video games that glorify the most kills, their own demonstrations of anger in personal interactions. The barbaric, ready availability of murderous weapons in this country is too well and too long known. But having spent over twenty-five years sharing philosophy with children, loving their faces and their wisdom, I make a humble attempt to honor child philosophers everywhere and always.
I am struck by the futility of quests to “make sense” of what happened. Reason is not up to that task. But three points of view, the first from nineteenth century Russia, another from a Newtown parent grieving for his daughter, and the last from a first grader in one of my classrooms, steady me somehow.
Ivan, in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, questions a God that allows children to suffer. He is a believer, wanting desperately to understand the big picture, and states that “all the religions of the world are built on this longing.” Still, why create with the knowledge that innocence will be betrayed? That everything makes sense in the grand scheme—that eternal harmony exists and is heaven’s reward—to all this Ivan replies: “I renounce the higher harmony altogether. It’s not worth the tears of one tortured child.” The “blood of a little victim,” even one child’s suffering, defeats the promise of eternity. Ivan “hastens to give back his entrance ticket.”