Last Sunday, I gave what was perhaps the most emotional sermon ever as I reflected, as did many throughout America, on the events that occurred in Sandy Hook. My personal connections to the community made it all the harder for me to function in the hours and days after the event.
I have read many perspectives over the last few days and have come to the conclusion that the recent events in Clackamas, OR and Sandy Hook, CT have more to do with our love for violence than it does with guns. Guns are only a small piece of the puzzle.
There are folks who believe that banning assault rifles is the solution. I agree that assault rifles have no purpose except for killing mass numbers of people. However, banning weapons will not prevent murders from weapons any more than banning abortions would prevent terminating pregnancies or banning cocaine and crack would prevent drug addiction. The only outcome of outlawing weapons, abortions, crack/cocaine is force these underground giving organized crime syndicates another market to exploit. Plus the number of deaths annually by assault rifles is small compared to the number of deaths by all firearms, whether those deaths are homicides, suicides, or accidental. So a ban on assault rifles only covers a small dent in the overall issue of gun violence, just as gun violence is a small piece of the over all issue of violence. It might seem a victory for gun control advocates but it does not address the problem. It is comparable to swatting at a fly when a tiger is on the prowl.
That tiger is violence in American culture. We have a love affair with violence. John Lennon is quoted as saying “We live in a world where we have to hide to make love, while violence is practiced in broad daylight.”
We begin early in our lives to enculturate our children to violence. When I was young it was watching Tom and Jerry Cartoons and The Three Stooges. We would laugh at their antics but the underlying theme was violence. Today the children are given video games of World of Warcraft and Call of Duty and the Halo series. The animations are increasingly lifelike. One of the purposes of games in any culture is to teach various skills that will enable the player to survive in that culture. Games like Candy Land or Shoots and Ladders teach young children how to cooperate with one another, Chess teaches strategic thinking, and World of Warcraft, Halo? They teach how to become immune to the horrors of war and death. They teach how to be callous in the face of violence–both in the receiving of it and in the perpetrating of it.
I am not going to join the chorus that is trying to blame video games on the recent shooting in Sandy Hook. The factors that led this young man to commit these heinous actions are far too complex to simply point to one factor as the scape goat. That said, our culture’s willingness to lift up these games as desirable products for children and adults is a symptom of this nation’s pathology. It is an indication that our culture is mentally ill when violence is glorified as entertainment. It makes our culture no different than the Roman Empire when people were thrown to the lions and gladiators for sport. We look at that ancient empire and think how barbaric yet our actions are no less barbaric.
We further enculturate our children to violence when we teach our children that it is acceptable to be violent towards women. The recent misogynist statements by our elected officials that rape is only legitimate if no pregnancy occurs or that god (small g deliberately used) ordained the rape for purposes of pregnancy is part of this normative approach to violence in our culture. How many times are our young teens told that when a partner says ‘no’ to sex, that they do not really mean ‘no’? Or that if a woman does not resist sexual advances that she therefore wanted the sex? Unwanted sexual advances are violent and our culture lifts this up as acceptable behavior unless the behaviors become brutal and leaves outward visible marks. Then we might prosecute but what always comes up is that the woman dressed in a manner to invite such advances. Resulting in all bets are off and the violent act is once again seen as acceptable. Violence against others in any form is never acceptable behavior is the message we need to be sending.
We honor and lift up spiritual violence as a normative in our culture as well. Our churches preach that homosexuals deserve death because that is what one of the six verses in the Bible state. The fact that the same Bible says the same for working on the sabbath is over looked (Exodus 35:2). We do spiritual violence to our gay, transgender, and intersex children when we spout such violence from the pulpit. Yet we abhor the actions of Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, not because they are saying anything differently than most conservative congregations in America but because they are are putting into action the words that our ministers have stated from the pulpit. So spiritual violence is fine but acting on that spiritual violence by making it also physical violence, not fine. We are a very sick and demented culture. Those preachers who preach spiritual violence against sexual minorities are the same as Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church–a matter of degrees in action does not make it acceptable nor moral.
Our theology is even steeped in violence. The whole idea of a savior needing to be brutally tortured and killed for our sins reveals a god that is equally violent and non-loving. That is not the good news, that is the violent news. The good news message of Jesus is not found in his brutal death but rather in his life, the love and compassion he showed, the belief or rather trust he held that each of us have the potential to reveal the realm of love. His death, as Gracie Allen might say, is the comma not the period.
Spiritual violence against another person is not appropriate behavior. Words cut just as deep into the heart as a knife does and can shape that young person into being violent, not only against others but destructive against their own being as well. It is well documented that the most virulent homophobic person is one that struggles with their own sexual orientation. The result is they project violently all the self hatred and self-rejection they have out into the world. We need to learn how to love our neighbor as ourselves. Spewing hatred and violence towards others means we neither love our neighbors nor ourselves.
The events in Clackamas, OR and Sandy Hook, CT are horrifying. I hope that we will not only look to substantive legislation like stricter controls on gun registration, not only those sold new but those sold used, just as we do with car registrations. Stricter regulations on requiring gun safety courses for all gun users and locking guns away securely when not in use. But if that is all that we do, then we are doing ourselves a disservice. We also need to change our desire to fantasize being violent, acted out through our video games. We need to correct our theology so it reveals a loving God who wept over his son’s death (the sun went dark and the earth quaked) and not gloried in his son’s violent death. We need to examine how insurance companies handle mental health issues–having a limited maximum number of sessions or day stays in a hospital is not helpful for people who are psychically hurting. We need to learn how to solve our problems with rationality and not with violent words and fighting. We need to learn how to treat each other with respect, how to respect and honor each other.
In short, we need to create a new culture here in the United States. A culture of love and equanimity. A culture of humility. A culture where non-violence is lifted up and valued. This is more than just a few feel good legislative bills proposed and passed but in such a water down version so the legislation is impotent. We need to change our heart. We must change or we will self-destruct in our psychosis as a nation.