'In the United States of America, at the holiest time of the year, a time marked by religious devotion and unapologetic consumerism, innocent people are being murdered in shopping malls and churches.'
I made that quotation up. No matter how ironically true the facts are, it wouldn't be fair to sum up the events of this past week that way. After all, the reality is far more complex.
For example, these recent slayings - while terrifying in their randomness - don't even show up as a blip in the overall number of murders in our country. The FBI estimates that more than 16,000 murders will be committed in the United States this year - 16,000!
Under these conditions, it's grossly unfair to link the week's tragic events in Nebraska and Colorado to a religious statement or criticism of our socioeconomic lifestyle.
But suppose we had a bad guy running the show and he wanted to start a little war against socialists or non-Christians. Why, that horrible person could use these tragedies as a way to whip up support. He could transform us into a frightened mob and use us to crack down on his enemies - even if he believed he had to torture and spy to find them.
Not possible? Nah, even if we inadvertently elected some kook, our Congress would reject his manipulations. They aren't sheep. They wouldn't allow a bitter big shot to lump unrelated folks in with the assassins!
Can you say, "Baa"?
Once the skillful manipulator explained that these murderers get encouraged by the mere existence of others like them, he would engineer a fear of everyone without a shopping bag and warn that the only way to stay safe would be to round them all up!
Last week, I met a really smart guy who served as a Marine. Now a civilian, but forever a Marine, he sees the Iraq war as a corruption of reality simply to serve the personal desires of a failed man.
He felt that our man in charge made us believe that Sept. 11 changed things. He said that the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon hadn't changed the United States any more than Pearl Harbor had. We're the biggest and the strongest; we should expect to be attacked. But we should be better prepared to fend off those attacks before they happen.
I haven't stop thinking about his words, not just because I agree that we had our guard down, but because he mentioned the possibility of a solitary incident changing us. Certainly, in the face of great trial, societies can react well or badly. We can rise to Everest-like heights by employing our strengths or sink to hell-scraping depths by wallowing in our defects.
Our country didn't change after Pearl Harbor. We merely embraced our finest qualities: courage and a love for justice and for one another. We had a leader who saw the goodness in us and encouraged our considerable strengths and unparalleled bravery. He said that we had "nothing to fear, but fear itself."
After the Sept. 11 attacks, while an entire globe wept on our behalf, our leader told us to quit crying and go shopping. He told us that evil lurked at every turn and we needed to be afraid. He abandoned righteousness and got us to agree that his enemy would do. He set down the mantle of justice and picked up the cluster bomb of vengeance. He employed rumor, innuendo and groundless arguments to entice us to replace centuries of unwavering courage with baseless fear.
Sept. 11 didn't change us - but we are changed. Embracing our fear changed us. And we have paid for the change with the lives of nearly 4,000 loyal soldiers and countless foreign civilians.
Any minute, Congress is expected to provide more war funds. By the time you read this, they may have.
They stopped honoring justice, and now they're too scared to fix it.
On Monday, I read a story about a woman in Colorado who bravely sat at the church and prayed for the gunman.
Our nation has a lesson to learn from her. We need to be a nation of courage again. Fear has made villains of us all.