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WHAT DOES TRAGEDY TEACH US? THAT HUMAN NATURE IS FALLIBLE BUT FIXED ETERNAL TRUTHS ARE NOT

"Sometimes he doesn't think real good."

In the aftermath of investigation, examination and evaluation into the fatal shooting of two Capitol Hill police officers, it's my bet that the most accurate and insightful explanation will be those words offered by the assailant's father hours after the shooting. His words were quoted by one of the countless reporters who, along with the rest of America, clamored to make sense of what turned a sultry Friday afternoon in the nation's capital into a sinister caricature of all that America and her democratic freedoms represent.

I was in the Capitol that afternoon, one of the countless people ushered out from a meeting during those brief moments of confusion and panic.

No one knew exactly what was happening except that there had been a shooting and a gunman was feared to be still at large. Within several minutes rumors circulated that the gunman had died in the gunfire. It wasn't until some time later that we learned the gunman and a tourist had survived the shots, but two officers, including the very one we had passed by a short time before, had not.

For me, the painful irony of this tragedy lies in the very purpose in my being at the Capitol that day. I came as part of a nationwide council representing people from across the spectrum of religious faiths engaged in an endeavor dubbed The Ten Commandments Project. The purpose of the project is to reintroduce to postmodern culture those ancient words honored by the major religions around the world.

Our group had an appointment that afternoon to present a marble replica of the Ten Commandments to Senate Majority Leader Richard Armey. He met with us in his private office and, after a brief, informal ceremony, he accepted from us two sets of tablets -- one for his own office and one for the Senate, in accordance with a joint resolution passed in April calling for the display of the Ten Commandments in the Capitol building.

The purpose in our presentation, contrary to cries of church-state separation alarmists, is not to establish an American theocracy in place of our unsurpassed system of democratic government.

No, our purpose is to recall to the public consciousness the kind of principled moral framework upon which virtually every culture, religion and creed has relied for the duration of Western civilization: unchanging moral truths that proscribe exactly the kind of mayhem that was unleashed in those corridors literally minutes after the close of our ceremony.

Many will look for complex answers and even more complex solutions to such horrific acts. Can we blame the educational system? Or the parents and neighbors who were all-too-familiar with the gunman's long history of "troubles"?

Can we point to the rhetoric of anti-government hate-mongers? Or to government officials who knew Russell E. Weston Jr., the alleged gunman, was a potential threat to the president and others? Should we fault the U.S. Constitution for containing a Second Amendment that allows guns to be owned by people?

No, the pathetic truth is that in this case -- unlike so many other examples of depraved and inexplicable indifference to human life that have filled the newspapers recently -- Weston was the victim, in the most literal way, of his own frail humanity.

By all appearances, he was no man on a mission. No cold, calculating Timothy McVeigh plotting revenge on a hated government. No religious kamikaze, spurned lover or desperate teen-ager. Just a troubled man with a mind that didn't think "real good."

The fact is that at some time or another, we are all guilty of not thinking "real good." Perhaps not with such dramatic or fatal consequences as those unleashed in the Capitol on July 24.

But, nevertheless, we are all subject to imperfect intellects that all the education, government programs, sensitivity training and metal detectors in the world cannot put together again. As the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah lamented, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick. Who can understand it?" Here is described the condition of all humankind, not just the Russell Westons of the world.

This is why reasoning people must recognize the limitation of the power of human reason. While there are no easy answers, what answers do exist do not lie in the heart or mind of man, or in man's government, but in the fixed eternal truths that lie beyond the reach of the frailties and fallibilities of the human condition.

KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR, principal of Charles Grandison Tinney High School in Buffalo, is a pro-life activist.
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