Marianne Williamson is Right. We Have a Gun Problem AND a Culture Problem

Odessa

I am getting tired of the way the gun debate plays out in the wake of mass shootings.  Everyone tries to score political points or use the deaths of innocent lives to advance their own agendas.

For example, here is court evangelical Tony Perkins claiming that the problem is not guns, but evolution and the “driving of God from the public square.”

Others naively believe that mass shootings will stop if we just ban certain weapons.

Why can’t it be both?

Do we live in a violent culture?  Yes.  In one sense, the United States has always been a violent culture.  In another sense, there are clearly things going in our culture right now that were not present fifty years ago. It is thus worth thinking about changes over time when we try to explain why we have so many mass shootings.

Are guns a problem?  Yes.  If Tony Perkins is correct, and we do have a moral problem in the country, then why wouldn’t he support bans on assault weapons that can kill large numbers of people in short periods of time?  If Perkins believes that human beings are sinners, then I think he would be the first person to want to take these weapons out of the hands of sinful people who will use them to kill people.

I think Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson gets it mostly right.  Here is a taste of her recent op-ed in The Washington Post:

America does not just have a gun crisis; it has a cultural crisis. America will not stop experiencing the effects of gun violence until we’re ready to face the many ways that our culture is riddled with violence.

Our environmental policies are violent toward the Earth. Our criminal justice system is violent toward people of color. Our economic system is violent toward the poor. Our entertainment media is violent toward women. Our video games are violent in their effect on the minds of children. Our military is violent in ways and places where it doesn’t have to be. Our media is violent in its knee-jerk shaming and blaming for the sake of a better click rate. Our hearts are violent as we abandon each other constantly, breeding desperation and insanity. And our government is indirectly and directly violent in the countless ways it uses its power to help those who do not need help and to withhold support from those who do.

The darker truth that Americans must face now is this: Our society is not just steeped in violence; we are hooked on violence. And in area after area, there are those who make billions of dollars on deepening the hook. Until we see that, we will just have more violence. Our minds must awaken so we can see all this. Our hearts must awaken so we can change all this. And our politics must change so we can discuss all this.

Read the entire piece here.

Candida Moss on “Thoughts and Prayers”

El Paso Thoughts

According to theologian Candida Moss, “thoughts and prayers” can be good things, but they alone cannot solve the gun violence problem in the United States.  To suggest otherwise is bad theology.

Agreed.

Here is a taste of her recent piece at The Daily Beast:

The idea that prayer demands action has a biblical basis. We tend to assume that characters who pray also take steps to have their requests met. Dr.Meghan Henning, an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Dayton, Ohio, said, “When we read the story of Hannah praying for a child are we to assume that she stopped having sex?” Similarly most Christians (though not all) combine prayer with medical treatment when ill. When it comes to rectifying injustice and evil in the world the Epistle of James quite explicitly demands that we act: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” (James 2:14-16). 

Both Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama agree. In a Sunday Angelus message in 2013, Francis said “Prayer that doesn’t lead to concrete action toward our brothers is a fruitless and incomplete prayer… Prayer and action must always be profoundly united.” Just last year the Dalai Lama tweeted that although he is a Buddhist monk he is “skeptical that prayers alone will achieve world peace. We need instead to be enthusiastic and self-confident in taking action.” 

The necessity of both prayer and action are recognized by pro-life Christians who both pray to end abortion and seek to re-legislate Roe v. Wade. As John Fea wrote this week, the thoughts and prayers excuse simply would not fly in the case of abortion. Thus, the question is not, “are thoughts and prayers sufficient?” but rather “when does the loss of human life necessitate action?” Surely, for the conscientious Christian, the answer has to be “whenever it occurs.” 

The truth of the matter is that even if miracles happen and prayer has miraculous (as well as psychological) benefits, it is simply bad theology to suggest that prayer alone can solve the problem of gun control. Petitionary prayers (prayers that ask for things) do not always deliver what a person wants. There are countless people who have faithfully prayed to God and not received the thing that they asked for. This isn’t just historically true, it’s theologically true. There are all number of reasons this is the case. In the first place, God might have other plans. So we might “ask” but not “receive” in the way that we expect or want. Arguably the best example of this is Jesus himself. According to the Gospel of Mark, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before his death, Jesus kneels down to pray and asks his “Abba (Father)” to allow “the cup” (i.e. death) to pass from him. It is what he wants, but Jesus recognizes that the outcome will be what his father wants. It’s an example of obedience. but it’s also a story about a frustrated request in which through prayer Jesus discerned what he was supposed to do. It’s an important example because otherwise people who pray and don’t receive help are led to believe that they are spiritually failing.

Read the entire piece here.

When a President Visits Those Who Survived a Mass Shooting…

Here is Trump in an El Paso hospital:

CNN also has coverage here:

Back in 2017, Joshua DuBois, head of Barack Obama’s Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships from 2009-2013, described Obama’s meetings with families of the children killed during the 2012 mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School i n Newtown, CT.

Here is he wrote:

That news began a weekend of prayer and numbness, which I awoke from on Saturday only to receive the word that the president would like me to accompany him to Newtown. He wanted to meet with the families of the victims and then offer words of comfort to the country at an interfaith memorial service.

I left early to help the advance team—the hardworking folks who handle logistics for every event—set things up, and I arrived at the local high school where the meetings and memorial service would take place. We prepared seven or eight classrooms for the families of the slain children and teachers, two or three families to a classroom, placing water and tissues and snacks in each one. Honestly, we didn’t know how to prepare; it was the best we could think of.

The families came in and gathered together, room by room. Many struggled to offer a weak smile when we whispered, “The president will be here soon.” A few were visibly angry—so understandable that it barely needs to be said—and were looking for someone, anyone, to blame. Mostly they sat in silence.

I went downstairs to greet President Obama when he arrived, and I provided an overview of the situation. “Two families per classroom . . . The first is . . . and their child was . . . The second is . . . and their child was . . . We’ll tell you the rest as you go.”

The president took a deep breath and steeled himself, and went into the first classroom. And what happened next I’ll never forget.

Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son. . . . Tell me about your daughter,” and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away—many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all—the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M’s, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.

And then the entire scene would repeat—for hours. Over and over and over again, through well over a hundred relatives of the fallen, each one equally broken, wrecked by the loss. After each classroom, we would go back into those fluorescent hallways and walk through the names of the coming families, and then the president would dive back in, like a soldier returning to a tour of duty in a worthy but wearing war. We spent what felt like a lifetime in those classrooms, and every single person received the same tender treatment. The same hugs. The same looks, directly in their eyes. The same sincere offer of support and prayer.

The staff did the preparation work, but the comfort and healing were all on President Obama. I remember worrying about the toll it was taking on him. And of course, even a president’s comfort was woefully inadequate for these families in the face of this particularly unspeakable loss. But it became some small measure of love, on a weekend when evil reigned.

And the funny thing is—President Obama has never spoken about these meetings. Yes, he addressed the shooting in Newtown and gun violence in general in a subsequent speech, but he did not speak of those private gatherings. In fact, he was nearly silent on Air Force One as we rode back to Washington, and has said very little about his time with these families since. It must have been one of the defining moments of his presidency, quiet hours in solemn classrooms, extending as much healing as was in his power to extend. But he kept it to himself—never seeking to teach a lesson based on those mournful conversations, or opening them up to public view.

Jesus teaches us that some things—the holiest things, the most painful and important and cherished things—we are to do in secret. Not for public consumption and display, but as acts of service to others, and worship to God. For then, “your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you,” perhaps not now, but certainly in eternity. We learned many lessons in Newtown that day; this is one I’ve kept closely at heart.

Read the entire piece here.

Trump Has Failed to Stop the “American Carnage”

Trump inauguration

Conor Friedersdorf gets it right at The Atlantic:

President Donald Trump declared in his inaugural address that the “American carnage” some in the nation were facing “stops right here and stops right now.” At his rallies, he speaks to supporters as if he has lived up to his pledge to “make America great again.” But it’s hard to feel that the United States is “great again” when men born and raised here keep going on mass killing sprees.

Read the rest here.

A Quick Take on Trump’s Pathetic Speech in the Wake of El Paso and Dayton

Trump airport

20 dead in El Paso.  9 dead in Dayton.  This weekend Trump was largely missing.  He gave a few comments on an airport tarmac.  He tweeted a few things.  But he did not address the American people in any substantial way.

Finally, this morning at 10:00am, he spoke to the American people from a teleprompter.  Trump needs the teleprompter because he does not possess the moral resources to be able to speak extemporaneously or off-the-cuff about shootings like this.  He needs others to give him the words of empathy, sympathy, compassion, righteous indignation–the stuff that comes from the soul of a virtuous man.

But even the people who write Trump speeches seem to have no clue.   Consider:

Trump talked about the “perils” of the Internet and social media.  Indeed, white supremacists use the Internet and social media to propagate hate.  But Trump seemed incapable of understanding that he does the same thing.  There was nothing in this speech about how Trump might be empowering these white supremacists through his own use of the Internet.

Trump calls for “bipartisan” efforts in solving gun control.   This is a nice idea on paper, but as long as Donald Trump is in office this will not happen.  Trump demonizes his political opponents.  He tells them to go back to their own countries.  He mocks the Democratic debates.  He calls the Democrats names.  He trashes people from Baltimore.

Trump says that video games glorify violence in America.  Whatever one thinks about the violence of video games, it is pathetic that Donald Trump is talking about glorifying violence.  Trump incites this violence at every rally.  He laughs when a white nationalist in his audience says that we should shoot immigrants in El Paso.

Trump talked about the “dignity of every human life.”  Seriously?  How does Trump’s commitment to the “dignity of every human life” inform his views on immigration, refugees, his political opponents, Muslims, people who are not white, etc…?

He also said that the shooting took place in Toledo.  How hard is it to get the right city in Ohio?  The shooting took place in Dayton.

This speech was a national embarrassment.  But hey–the economy is doing well.

ADDENDUM:  I used the term “pathetic” in the title of this post.  According to Merriam-Webster, the term “pathetic” has four definitions:

  1. “having a capacity to move one to either compassionate or contemptuous pity”
  2. “marked by sorrow or melancholy SAD”
  3. “pitifully inferior or inadequate”
  4.  “ABSURDLAUGHABLE”

Just to be clear, Trump’s speech was a mixture of definitions 3 and 4.

“The Deadliest Mass Shooting in American History”

mandalay

Was the Las Vegas shooting the “deadliest?”  Many people are calling it that.  My news station of choice–CNN–is calling it the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, but they are not saying which shooting in pre-modern American history was deadlier.

Over at Vox, German Lopez tries to makes sense of it all.  Here is a taste:

The short version: It was definitely the deadliest mass shooting in recent history. But if you look further back in the US’s past, the real answer depends on how you define a mass shooting.

The National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, for example, pointed to two past attacks as examples of previous massacres with higher death tolls than the Las Vegas shooting.

In 1873, an all-black militia defended a local courthouse in Colfax, Louisiana — fearing, at the height of racial tensions after the Civil War, that white supremacists were about to topple the regional government, which was evenly split between white and black citizens at the time. Soon after, a mob of more than 150 white men — made up of Southern Democrats, former Confederate soldiers, members of the Ku Klux Klan, and the paramilitary White League — surrounded the courthouse and attacked. Three white men and as many as 150 black men died, according to Smithsonian.com.

Another example: The 1917 East St. Louis Massacre — a white-led race riot — left at least 39 black people and nine white people dead, according to official estimates. But as Smithsonian.com noted, it’s widely believed that more than 100 black people were killed during the three-day massacre.

Read the entire piece here.  In the end, they were all horrific.