Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Columbine High, Clinton, and Kosovo

Stephen Lazarus


May 24, 1999

The Columbine High School massacre, Clinton's affair, and Kosovo don't appear to be related. Yet as different as the events are, there is a deep connection that binds these human tragedies together.

According to Vaclav Havel, the visionary playwright and former political prisoner who is now President of the Czech Republic, we modern folks think we're really smart and "evolved." In truth, however, our actions show we have lost our "transcendent anchor." Quite simply put, we like to think that we can do whatever we want, because we believe there is no authority higher than our own will. But if this is the case, why should people act morally or responsibly or obey the law? "If God is not there," writes Havel, "then we can no longer speak of meaning, of purpose, of accountability, [or] of responsibility."

Universities, businesses, governments and the media conduct day-to-day operations as if God were dead. Or as if God were a "preference" for whoever chooses that "lifestyle." Even the college freshman knows that right and wrong are really whatever you want them to be "for you." Sounds good, but we dont know what we're asking for. The roots of this religious revolt yield bitter fruit.

Teenage gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold make good poster boys for the "I am God" mentality. Columbine survivor Valeen Schnurr left the hospital with four bullets still lodged in her stomach after the rampage that wounded 22 and killed 15 people. The clear message left by the "trenchcoat mafia" is that human life is expendable. Indeed it is, if you believe you dont have to account for your actions to the Creator of life.

This disregard for right and wrong and for life itself often comes cloaked in the guise of self-fulfillment and our claim to be a law unto ourselves. It is mirrored and reinforced every day by America's abortion culture, our insensitivity to violence and poverty in the inner-city, and by those advocates of euthanasia who urge us to claim the right to kill ourselves—a grim picture of our quest to be God pushed to its lethal conclusion.

Clinton sought fulfillment in the arms of an intern. Lurking behind his decision—and Monica's—was the belief that they were entitled. Sexual morality is not a divine boundary to respect for our own good, but the province of the narrow-minded and repressed. With proper discretion and the suppression of evidence, they would be ultimately accountable only to themselves. It was, after all, a private matter—or so they thought.

What do the indiscretions of "freely-consenting adults" in the Oval Office have to do with genocide in Kosovo? Havel, a Central European himself, sees a connection between all acts of human will that spurn the divine order. Only by respecting the divine will—whether for family life or for acts of government—do we experience peace and justice.

In slaughtering the Kosovars or evicting them at gunpoint, Milosevic's campaign of ethnic cleansing uses political power as an instrument of injustice. NATO's response sends the important message that he has no right to do this. Neither his will to remain in power, nor the claim of state sovereignty, nor the desire for a "Greater Serbia," can justify his actions. Justice is not optional. It is God's requirement for governments everywhere.

"[B]lind love for one's state," writes Havel, "a love that does not recognize anything above itself, finds excuses for any action of state [and] inevitably turns into a dangerous anachronism, a hot bed of conflicts, and eventually a source of immeasurable human suffering."

Taking Havel's advice, we should learn to recognize the higher law of God for every sphere of life. Otherwise, we fulfill poet Steve Turners words: "History repeats itself. Has to. Nobody listens."

—Stephen Lazarus, Social Policy Research Associate
   Center for Public Justice


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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”