Tony Woodlief | Author

Hell and Vegas

As I write this they haven’t determined a final count of the dead and dying in Las Vegas. How many homes are filled this night with weeping? Too many, is one answer. Not enough, is another.

I have nothing to say about the law, except that if opinions about it were limited to those who know something of human nature and unintended consequences, we might get somewhere. Then again, we might find that getting out of this hell requires far more sacrifice by partisans on the Left and Right than they are willing to make. They love human life as much as the rest of us, I suppose, but their hatred of each other runs far deeper. So don’t expect any of this to change.

And what is it, exactly, that needs changing? Well, this human heart, of course. Which is the last thing we want to talk about with anything other than the most sentimental of terms. The ancients understood that mind and heart are intertwined, that together they constitute our being. But we’ve relegated the instrument to pop songs, which is whistling past the graveyard if I’ve ever seen it, because even if you don’t like anything else in the Bible, you’d be hard-pressed to argue against Jeremiah:

The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?

Not us, not if we can help it. For to admit our hearts are sick is to admit we need a physician, and God help us, the last thing many of us want is to need a God who helps us.

If you agree then you already agreed, and if you don’t then I’m not making sense, and so here’s just a final thought on politics and our Constitution and this little experiment in liberty that looks with each passing day like maybe it’s run its course. You wouldn’t know it from today’s textbooks, but the American Founders didn’t believe the liberties in our Constitution were suitable for everyone. “Our constitution,” said John Adams, “was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other kind.”

Of course none of the American Founders would be judged fit by our modern education system to teach a civics course, but we can’t simply pretend that they didn’t say what they clearly said, which is, in a nutshell, that it’s madness to give liberty to a people incapable of self-restraint, and ungoverned by virtue.

United States of America Flag at Half-mast in New England in Summer 2015

And friends and neighbors, the fact of the matter is that we can’t even agree on what the word “virtue” means, other than that it feels vaguely offensive and judgmental and therefore has no place in classrooms or public discourse.

We have departed, in other words, from the experiment as designed. We can’t maintain our communities. Not only do we not know how to keep wide swaths of men from becoming hollowed out and rotten-souled, we don’t know how to keep guns out of the hands of lunatics. We are unfit, it seems increasingly clear, for the liberties bequeathed to us by our ancestors.

But we can’t talk about that. The days to come will bring with them a gusher of gutless words, yet none of these will acknowledge the simple reality that we have become less worthy of this country than any generation before us.

And there is no law to fix that. There is only what there has always been—the slow, steady, unglamorous work on your heart and mine, in our homes and in our prayer closets, in our friendships and in our churches. How do we as a country overcome this descent into madness? By each of us tending to the sickness in his own heart first.

And if that feels too much like work, perhaps begin with a prayer for Las Vegas. Pray for those whose hearts even now are breaking, as they contemplate in which plots of soil—here in this land of the free—to bury their dead.

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