Any grown-up knows that such small-town innocence is illusory, and that what looks pristine to outsiders can be as darkened by suffering as any other place where human beings live together, and alone.

But even so, the illusion has real power, not least because the dream of small-town life makes the whole universe seem somehow kinder and homier. If only a Bedford Falls or Stars Hollow or Mayberry existed somewhere, we tend to feel — in New England or Nebraska, the present or the past — then perhaps there’s some ultimate hope for the rest of us as well. Maybe the universe really was meant to be a home to humanity, and not just a blindly cruel cosmos in which a 6-year-old’s fate is significant to his parents but no more meaningful in absolute terms than the cracking of a seashell or an extinction of a star.

But if the ideal of the Good Place, the lost Eden or Arcadia, can stir up the residue of religious hopes even in hardened materialists, the reality of what transpired in the real Newtown last week — the murder in cold blood of 20 small children — can make Ivan Karamazovs out of even the devout.