Out on the nearby rail trail I use for jogging I often hear it.Gun fire.There’s a shooting range—out of sight, and hopefully, out of reach—not far from the path.The loudness of the discharges, even from this distance, is enough to make you jump, even in mid-stride.Often as I’m getting my exercise I reflect that fear begets fear.Many people purchase guns because they are afraid.Statistics support—although mass shootings must be catching up—that the vast majority of those shot receive their wounds from a family member because there’s a gun in the house.And that only makes people more afraid.Fear begets fear.And a cycle of madness begins.American exceptionalism convinces us that just because no other developed nation in the world experiences this level of gun violence the solution is to buy more guns and that military assault weapons should be available to the mentally unstable.
As life in Trump’s America erupts into the summer of hate, at least 31 people are dead from mass shootings, and the GOP stands firmly with the perps.In the United States alone among “developed” nations this level of gun violence is prevalent.In this country alone do the levels of poverty near the 50% mark while the top 1% give us guns with which to play.If you elect a hate-filled man, society will become hateful.Gun violence existed before Trump, of course.Mass killings have been a problem as long as the Republican Party has been owned by the NRA.Add racial hatred and people will die.The GOP wouldn’t recognize an elephant gun if it saw one.
Fear can be treated.While I’m no specialist, my own form of exposure therapy involves watching horror movies.What more horror can there be to a society bent on mass murders and an oligarchy that turns a deaf ear?To some madnesses there may be a method.The movies I watch are, ironically, coping mechanisms.In the midst of all this violence, one wonders at the utter lack of moral rectitude on the part of Republicans who loudly bray that gun ownership will make us safe.Perhaps they hope we’ll become numb, at least on our way to the voting booth.If we learn to deal with fear it can be subdued.So I’m out jogging, listening to the rapid fire of guns somewhere out of sight.And I’m pondering how fear often has the last laugh while the rest of us weep.
I’m standing in a haunted place. There was an act of violence here this week. Gun violence. A man died in this restaurant where I sat with my wife and had lunch just a couple of months ago. I’m in Princeton for a rally organized by a teenager. We’re here to tell the government we the people want sensible gun control laws. The website said they were expecting 500. Five thousand turned out instead. Princeton’s not the kind of town where you expect gun violence. Affluent and privileged, it’s the kind of place many of us go to get away from real life for a while—they’ve got the best bookstore around and you can still find DVDs at the Princeton Record Exchange. You don’t expect people to be shot dead here.
America’s perverse affair with firearms goes hand-in-hand with its refusal to ensure adequate treatment for the mentally ill. We give them firearms and wonder what could possibly go wrong. We elect the mentally deficient to highest office in the land and instead of reining him in, the GOP reigns with terror. They have shown time and again that they prefer NRA money to our children. They have sold out. And the word appropriately used to describe such a party good manners prevent me from inscribing on this blog. Republicans, true republicans, need a new party. Instead they refuse to call this aberration in Washington what it truly is. Thousands took to the streets yet again this weekend. This was my fourth rally or march since January of last year, and hey, government—they keep getting bigger.
“Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.” So saith the Good Book. It’s a book the Republican Party has forgotten how to read. Especially the “evangelicals” who’ve betrayed their saintly name. While I’m here in Princeton, a few hours away in the sullied capitol of this once reasonable nation, half a million are on the march. And just as women led the way last January we’re being shown the truth that anyone can lead better then old white men. And the fact that the organizers of these protests are high schoolers, I am inclined to leave the last words to the prophet Isaiah, whom, for any Republicans who might be reading, is in the Bible: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.”
America’s phallic affair with guns should give us pause to wonder what the true motivation is. My wife sent me an NPR story on the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Congregants gathered carrying AR-15s, saying that the Bible’s rod of iron was really a semi-automatic. Did I say it was a phallic affair? According to the story by Scott Neuman, some of the faithful had substituted the crown of thorns for a crown of bullets. Literally. That man dying on the cross because of government overreach, I suspect, wishes he had his hands free so he could rub his eyes. He’s hanging here dying with the title prince of peace only to have grenade grannies praising his name with high explosives. This is what passes for Christianity these days.
Photo credit: Isabelle Grosjean ZA, Wikipedia
Sensible evangelicals have been in full retreat since November 2016. Stripped of their label by extremists who somehow mistake the lamb of God for Rambo, they no longer have a name of their own. Like worms on the sidewalk in the rain, there’s nowhere left to go. The same is true of rank and file Republicans. They wonder what has become of the (God help us!) party of Nixon. Watergate seems like a mere indiscretion compared to this. I’m sorry, were you waiting for Armageddon? Don’t worry, those who move the hands of the doomsday clock have shifted it closer to midnight than it’s ever been before. You’ll have your end times soon enough.
Among the ironies witnessed by the crucified one from his vantage point high on the cross is that it was his zealous followers who started all this. Religious experts tell us that all world religions depart significantly from the teachings of their founders within one generation. If you’ve read Paul’s letters you know this to be true. I grew up as a Fundamentalist. Even though for my career I specialized in the Hebrew Bible, my upbringing was focused on the red letter words of the other testament. Over and over and over again I read them. Think of others before yourself. Turn the other cheek. Walk the extra mile. Give away everything you own. The ones I don’t recall internalizing were: arm yourself with deadly force. Give your grannie an assault rifle. If someone slaps you on the cheek, blow him away. It is more blessed to destroy than to forgive. We sit beneath a giant clock with a commander in chief with an itchy nuclear button finger. Even a clock can be a crucifix, if you look at it in a certain way.
Teachers, preferably unarmed, are some of my favorite people. While the travesty of a government muddles along in the District of Columbia I think back on my own education and wonder what went wrong. I’m sure you knew kids who hated school; I certainly knew plenty. For whatever reason they didn’t want to be enclosed in a classroom with everyone else, learning stuff for which they could see no practical application. Reading doesn’t appeal to everyone. Memories of advanced math still send shudders down my spine. And what was the point of gym class if it wasn’t to make those of us who liked reading feel bad at that awkward stage of life when you discover your body isn’t as well-made as that of others your age? Education isn’t perfect, but it’s what we now need more than ever.
There’s no way that everyone will learn to enjoy reading. We aren’t cookie-cutter people. Thinking, as my own mathematical experiences demonstrated, can be very hard work. No one person knows everything. That’s why, at least in my day, after you reached sixth grade you started to have teachers who specialized in subjects. What I didn’t realize as a kid is how hard these modern-day saints have it. Pay scales are low. Hours are long for those dedicated to being good teachers—the brevity of the school day beliefs the amount of work done after hours. Increasingly our educators have to hold down a second job to be able to survive. The least we can do is learn in gratitude.
School shootings are so tragic because many of the victims are those who haven’t had a chance at life yet. We elect uneducated presidents and wonder what could possibly go wrong. Education, if done right, becomes a lifelong journey. The day that passes without learning something new is the day I come home and go to bed depressed. More than simple evolving, life is learning. Teachers are those who set us off on that track. The young, it is true, have more flexibility in learning. There are more options open to you before your thinking gets set in its way. I ran into seminarians who, no matter how much you’d offer, had already made up their minds. No education required. Perhaps what we need to teach at the youngest possible age is that school never ends. The formal classroom experience may cease at grade twelve, the baccalaureate, masters, or doctoral degree, but the learning goes on. And it’s a good thing, not some bizarre punishment. For that teachers, unarmed, are those to whom we should be grateful. If only we’d be willing to invest in them.
It was just after dark and the red and blue lights were shredding the night in Wallkill, New York. We’d driven past this mall just over an hour ago to take our daughter home after a too brief Thanksgiving break. Now there were police cars lined up along the length of the Orange Country Galleria Mall, and my wife said, “I hope it’s not a shooting.” Life in America’s that way. About two hours later we were home and yes, it had been a shooting incident. For reasons nobody knows, a man discharged a handgun into the floor at the crowded shopping center, injuring two. Police had not located the shooter, and no motive was known. The mall was evacuated and holiday shoppers feared for their lives.
Just a few months ago I was in Penn Station, New York when a similar panic ensued. Rail police had used a taser gun on a passenger who’d gotten out of hand. As we were entering the station to catch our train, scores of people were running out in a panic. It had sounded like a gunshot. Clothes and personal effects littered the floor of the station once we got inside. This is the world in which we live. A world enamored of weapons. A world where we hate and distrust the stranger. A world where our government receives support from gun lobbies and refuses to put controls on the sale and ownership of firearms. A world where a peaceful Sunday night on the busiest shopping weekend of the year ends in panic and tears.
Wallkill, New York, is not exactly a metropolitan area. Upstate, as we’ve been learning for the last several years, is pretty big. Small population centers dot an impressive landscape of Catskills, Finger Lakes, and beautifully wooded hills. The people are generally friendly, less brusk than they tend to be in New York City. It seems that where two or three are gathered together there’s a handgun in their midst, however. Trusting ourselves to be good people, we want to arm ourselves to shoot the “bad guy.” Meanwhile Congress still tries to pass legislation to reduce health care since, I guess, too many people are getting shot. It can be a real drain on the economy if the wealthy have to chip in. It’s upstate New York. We have about two hours to go before we can rest at home. Galleria Mall is in lockdown. The rest of the nation is too.
In a strange kind of oneupmanship, the horrendous murders in Sutherland Springs overshadowed the story of Scott Ostrem’s multiple shooting at a Walmart in Colorado. Ostrem apparently shot at random and killed three people. No motive is known, but when his apartment was searched a stack of Bibles was found. Plenty of people have Bible stacks in their houses—I know I do—but the odd element here is guns. The “reasoning” behind the NRA’s convoluted logic is that guns are for self defense. Everyone ought to have them, along with their Bible stacks. When those voices in your head begin to speak, which you grab—gun or Bible—may make all the difference. Fact is, you don’t have to be mentally stable to buy guns. And no matter how much the NRA says you should shoot back, guns in the hands of madmen obey no rules.
Trump promised to make America great again. One of the statistics at which we excel—indeed we’re a world leader—is gun deaths. We also do pretty well at opioid overdosing. Politicians can’t seem to figure out that the underlying causes here are related to the society they’ve built where you can’t ever get ahead and no matter what you do the 1 percenters will get richer while you spend your days struggling to get to the point when you can climb back into bed and sleep it off until it all starts over again. Watch them in congress. See them trying to thrust more money upon the wealthy. See them pocket the funds the NRA so generously offers. And then read the statistics. Some inexplicable disconnect exists that no amount of drugs will bridge. We are a hurting nation. And stacks of Bibles aren’t the answer.
A Bible stack in its natural habitat
In antiquity there was an ideal. Not that it ever existed in practice, but at least they had the idea. The ideal was that there was nothing wrong with wealth as long as the wealthy first ensured that everyone had enough. Then they could go on an accumulate as much as they wanted. The problem of course is that nobody knows what enough is. When do you know that you have enough? Today there’s no ceiling cap. Take your pick: money, guns, drugs, Bibles. You can have as much or as many as you wish. In just about any combination. Any combination that doesn’t involve money. Only the 1 percenters should be entitled to that. And the rest of us here below and fight it out over the remaining three.
The irony of a nation that has gun laws made by those with body guards is especially cruel in the shadow of Sutherland Springs. Just a month after the worst mass shooting in United States history, another cohort of corpses receives only empty answers from DC. The solution to all the shooting deaths, 45 asserts, is more guns. This from the same White House that can find no credible alternative explanations for global warming, yet continues to break down any emissions barriers it can. The real noxious emissions are coming from the greedy mouths of the chicks in the feathered GOP nest. What is the word for what lies beyond insanity? We need it now.
Like many thinking people I’m very pleased with the results of the gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia. It seems, temporarily, as if reason has found its voice. The mistake at this point would be to relax and feel as if the job were done. We have raving lunacy at the national level, gun violence out of control, and politicians who just can’t live without NRA blood money. The story of Sarah Winchester’s ghosts may not be true, but it doesn’t have to be. We have a nation full of ghosts. Barely elected candidates claim a mandate to destroy the infrastructure that has allowed them to become rich. The wealthy, you’ll notice, are those who want to take all the marbles and go home. And they live in houses with guards to protect them from all the firearms they’re handing out like candy on Halloween.
Stop and think about this. The White House admits that climate change is human caused. The conclusions are quite dire for those who own property in New York City, let alone entire nations that will be underwater in a few years’ time. The response? Ignore the facts. Boast a bit more about how great we are. Give tax cuts to the wealthy and guns to the poor. Why doesn’t this equation add up? Pardon my jeremiad on what is the first hopeful morning a reasonable person has had in a long time. We have to start taking back local politics and let the national government know that it no longer speaks for the people that somewhat giddily gave it power just a year ago. Otherwise there are bound to be many more ghosts about. And one thing we know for certain, Washington doesn’t believe in ghosts.
Fear, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew, would paralyze a nation more quickly than anything else. In recent years politicians have rather cynically used that information to sway voters. Fear-mongers, such as Trump, tend to have the upper hand because, ignoring FDR, we’ve given in to our fears. The shootings in Las Vegas on Sunday night are only one more example. The NRA, which has doggedly insists that the only way to combat guns is with more guns, defends its rhetoric yet again as 59 people have needlessly died just for attending a concert where a madman checked 23 guns into a hotel room with him far above. Conceal and carry is no solution to fear. Guns have no place in the hands of a fearful public.
A profound sadness accompanies such insane violence, supported almost unequivocally by the GOP. It’s not a matter of someone armed in the crowd shooting back; the shooters take the initiative of taking their own life when some hidden trigger tells them they’ve murdered enough. We see the pattern over, and over, and over. We are a violent people. A violent people have no business having easy access to weapons. As long as money has politicians in its wallet this will never change. We’re all afraid of those who have the guns. And Washington has a perverse love of money. Those of us who don’t have guns are easy to push around. That’s what America is all about anyway.
As this past election showed, and continues to show, a candidate without a mandate may easily buy the White House. The causes held so dear by the Republican Party—guns, no healthcare, tax plans that favor the wealthiest—all of this plays to our fears and gives them power. If we weren’t afraid, what need would we have of guns? After many decades of helping the poorest be an active part of this country, Washington is now intent on dismantling the aging safety nets we’ve put in place. Retirement is a reality for a very few. Medical costs are, even with Obamacare, still a constant worry for many. Natural disasters come and we can’t mobilize even to help our own. But we’ve got guns. Fear itself has come to define the home of the brave. It is said that Sarah Winchester, the widow of William Wirt Winchester, never let the mansion built on blood money be finished for fear of haunting. That is one fear we apparently no longer have, even though guns have no effect on ghosts.
The proofs for my article on the Bible in Sleepy Hollow are now here. It will be appearing shortly in the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture. For those who know my previous academic work—hi, both of you!—this represents a departure from the familiar for me. Some years back, floundering for a teaching position like a fish that’d flipped out of the acadarium, I talked to a colleague who confirmed what I’d long suspected: study of the biblical text is dying. Face it, nobody cares about J, E, D, and P, or even Q, anymore. We’ve made our point. The Bible is a composite document with many sources that people can still tuck under their arms on the way to the polls. It’s so easy to forget that this text is the basis for so many lives and eternal plans. While we scholars have been arguing with one another, culture has moved on. That’s why I looked at the Bible in “Sleepy Hollow.”
If the Bible isn’t relevant, why bother studying it? If the main character—dare we call him protagonist?—of the New Testament says to turn the other cheek and his “followers” advocate for gun ownership it’s time to ask what went wrong. Scholars know the Bible, but do we know the Bible? Long ago meaning slipped away from academics. Consider science. We can question global warming because the science has become a topic of conversation among specialists that the rest of us can’t hope to understand. Instead of trusting that they know what they’re talking about, we politicize it. Scientific research, even in major universities, is funded by interested third parties. You know, some scholars don’t think there really was even an E after all.
The Bible no longer means what the specialists say it does. I may have spent years of my life and thousands of dollars to speak as an expert, but I soon learned nobody was listening. Meanwhile, culture marches on, somehow supposing if two Corinthians walk into a bar the rich man in his tower makes the best sense, according to the Good Book. Indeed, if you want to find out what the Bible says, all you need to do is head up the Hudson Valley for a season. Or listen to those who hand out tracts and purchase firearms. What could possibly go wrong there? My article will be out in a few weeks. If you’re one of the two who read it keep in mind that there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Everything’s industry. It has haunted me for some years now that we’ve let our corporate greed run away with our imagination so that nothing but “industry” remains. We don’t wish to interfere with the gun industry. The guns we like the best are those designed especially for killing lots of people. We feel happy having them in our homes. We’ve supported industry. Time was when society had more than just industry. Education, for example, was not an industry. It was just education. No measurable outgoes but a better society. Now we quantify and try to measure, thinking there’s something magical about numbers. My, what big ammo you have! The better to shoot you with, my darling. Think of it as the people killing industry.
After all, if you spend all that money on an expensive automatic weapon and don’t kill anyone with it, haven’t you wasted your money? Well, wasting money is good for industry, so we shouldn’t be too harsh. Most people know better than to take their weapons out and blow away those they don’t like. I would feel better if more people were like Pedro Reyes. (We, however, want to build walls to keep his kind out.) Reyes is an artist who had people in Mexico City turn their guns in for useful things. He had the guns smashed with a steamroller, at an army base, no less. The metal from the guns he melted down and made shovel heads so that people could plant trees. Over 1500 guns were turned in. The biblical allusion has already been made, but we would rather, in this country, ignore the good book we love so.
What would the gun industry do if people stopped needing to defend themselves so much? What if people felt less fear? What if politicians, instead of cynically using fear to win nominations, and elections, had the best interest of citizens at heart? Guns are for wars, and wars are useless. We have far more to offer one another than pools of blood and gore and guilt everlasting. Does it not strike anyone as odd that mass shooters intend to die at the end? We could use more shovels to bury them all. Wouldn’t it be even better if, before the shooting began, their guns were melted down and cast into useful tools? One might, in an optimistic mood, call such a thing an industry.
Politics is about power. Say what you will about the Bible, but at least they were clear about it in those days. Kings were alpha males, not public servants. In the light of Orlando we can see how little has changed. Random acts of violence grow more and more lethal and the politicians filibuster, inflating the room with hot air to avoid this issue because this is an election year. An election year where one of the candidate’s cheers can barely be distinguished from “Sieg Heil” and we have put ourselves into a place where such a tragicomedy was possible. Maybe even inevitable. Meanwhile fifty people are dead, joining the many innocents who just happened to be at the wrong place—is there any right place in a land of abundant assault weapons?—in a land of limited freedom. The press argues about exactly what type of gun was used. Maybe that model should be taken off the shelves.
Our alpha males have, at least in states like New Jersey, and increasingly on the national front, modeled bullying. Bullies are nothing without their threat of power used against you. In the same day when schools and social programs emphasize over and over that bullying is unacceptable, bellowing bulls insist on their way and the crowd goose-steps in ecstasy. Those who are different are dangerous. After all, straight white men were here first. They won this country fair and square through genocide, as any Native American can tell you. And you get your way by refusing to compromise. Refusing to reason. Give vent to testosterone and call your opponent out for being a female. Land of the aggressive, home of the grave.
Gun violence may not be preventable completely in a nation where guns are a commodity just like anything else. Religion is a commodity. The ninety-nine percent are a commodity. The spoils are there for the taking by a bully and his thugs. It used to be that organized crime was illegal. Now it’s politics. How much did you pay in taxes last year? I don’t know about you, but I didn’t know there was an exemption clause just for being rich. I grew up in a family with simple morals. Right and wrong. We learned that taking something that didn’t actually belong to you, or not contributing when everyone must, is wrong. Taking what’s not yours is stealing. And that especially includes lives. How naive we were! Politics is about getting your own way. Guns make that possible. Heil to the thief.
Gun violence is out of control. While experts dither and bicker about whether this or that act was done by “terrorists” they choose to ignore that gun violence is terror, no matter who’s pulling the trigger. The world in which bearing arms was declared an amended constitutional right was a world of muzzle-loaders. Like in those movies where someone took their shot, missed, and has to reload, feverishly pouring gunpowder down the barrel while the enemy closes in. Firearms were obviously deadly, but limited in their capabilities. All things being equal, it is easy to understand why such a right would be granted. Almost nothing is equal any more, however.
Consider this: weapons are now sold that can rapidly and repeatedly fire rounds that, in the wrong hands, can kill many people before anyone even has the time to react. These guns are useless for hunting, and their only purpose is to kill other human beings. We have been manufacturing them and selling them for many years and laws are such that most people could, if they choose to participate in the insanity, stockpile such weapons against a day when they will actually be used for their intended purposes. Consider also that the government, strapped for money to funnel to military causes, has shifted and narrowed the definition of mental illness so as to “normalize” people who would have, under other circumstances, been in institutional care. Add to this the increasing globalization that has effects that psychologists and sociologists are only now coming to see build stresses and strains in brains that evolved to be among their own “kind” and to distrust the “stranger.” And these stressed minds have easy access to powerful firearms. Who has the right?
I grew up in a different world. Yes, the Vietnam War was going on, but those who returned were exhausted by and despised the violence to which they’d been subjected. The pointless killing of others was culturally and personally just that: pointless. Fast forward half a century. Now we live in a world where seeing violent death represented is a daily occurrence. Even in simulation it is realistic. Mass murderers make videos presenting themselves as so heroic as to inspire followers. We no longer trust religion. We no longer trust the government. We no longer trust the American Dream. Wealth is bottled up where it can’t be reached and guns are distributed like candy. Are all things equal? Hardly. And yet those running for the highest office in the land worm for ways to keep the gun lobbies pleased. If we could only go back to muzzle-loaders and the time it took to reload—time in which even an unbalanced person had to think about what he, or now she, was about to do. Equality has, unfortunately, become as much a fairy tale as the right to bear arms.
Once something becomes socially acceptable, it is nearly impossible to change. I’m no prude, but I remember when “swearing” in public was considered bad taste. When I was a tween (and there was no such thing as tweens then) I heard a guy talking to a friend in a department store. They were on the other side of those kinds of shelves where you can see through to the other side. One of them cussed and his friend said, “Man, you shouldn’t say that when there’s a little kid just there.” I wasn’t shocked by the word; I’m more worldly than most people grant me credit for being. Still, the sentiment was appreciated. These days I dodge f-bombs all the way to work. It’s effing acceptable.
The tragic multiple shooting in San Bernardino to which I opened the paper yesterday morning was completely dispiriting. The statistics showing more multiple shootings than there have been days in the past year while Republican hopefuls chain their wallets to their pockets backing the NRA should give anyone pause to reflect, no matter their party. Our gun madness has led to a collective deathwish for our country. The only acceptable solution, according to the GOP, and Texas, is to get more guns out on the streets. The Old West is called “Old” for a reason. We should’ve become more civilized by now. Instead we accept fantasy for reality.
In a land where politics is making love to gun lobbies, the surest investment is the casket industry. It has become socially acceptable to shoot lots of people and then kill yourself or get yourself shot. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t read about such an incident in the news. Swift, decisive action is called for but we’re mired down by politicians who need ever so much more money to campaign. Bread and circuses. I know responsible gun owners. It has become clear that the only real solution now is to do what is socially unacceptable. Give up our guns. If those who are responsible gun owners were willing to lead by example we might stand a chance against a socially acceptable plague that we’re unwilling to name. Even US citizens can be terrorists in their own country.
Sarah L. Winchester, it is said, was a haunted woman. The widow of William Winchester, she was heir to the tremendous amount of money brought in by sales of the renowned Winchester rifles. Fearing the haunting of all those killed by the weapons, she built what has now become a tourist attraction—an unfinished mansion that was intended to prevent those ghosts from living with her. With the spate of recent multiple shootings, we might wonder how many other gun manufacturers are living haunted nights in their comfortable homes. A recent petition has been circulating to stop Spike’s Tactical from producing The Crusader assault rifle. Predictably, the sales have been so overwhelming that the religious rifle is on backorder.
The Crusader, as the photos reveal, is emblazoned with Psalm 144.1 “Blessed be the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.” It also features a Crusader’s cross and trigger setting labeled, Peace, War, and God Wills It. Blasphemy in carbon fiber. I suppose I’m hopelessly naive, not being aware that guns could be purchased online, but the overwhelming demand is nevertheless disheartening. It used to be that the Christians were the good guys. You certainly didn’t have to worry about them shooting you. That was the job of the heathen. So many multiple shootings took place this summer than I couldn’t keep track of them all. I live in a world where guns play no role and I wonder if everyone wouldn’t be happier if we didn’t lay down our arms and learn how to get along.
Of course, the Bible is a book where violence against enemies is permitted, and, in places, even encouraged. Society has repeatedly declared that there is no need for experts trained in how to interpret the Bible, and this is what happens. Psalm 144 is a poem for deliverance from enemies. Historical criticism would likely place the piece as written during a time of war. The era in which the majority of the Bible was written was anything but peaceful. Those parts of the Good Book that are particularly extolled are often those that suggest that the answer to war is peace and that setting aside your own will for the well-being of others is something we should all be doing a bit more often. But we cannot deny that “Peace, War, and God Wills It” aren’t part of the violent worldview we also encounter in sacred writ. I wonder what Mrs. Winchester would have had to say about such mixing of the Bible with guns.
With the tragic news coming out of Paris, a predictable set of recriminations are about to begin. Because of the actions of some extremists, “religion” will be labeled a danger to civilization and the sad loss of life at Charlie Hebdo will be chalked up to secular martyrs in the cause of reason. The reality, however, is not so simple. Fundamentalism, as one of my influential teachers used to say, is not a theological position—it is a psychological problem. Indeed, religion does not cause Fundamentalists to become violent, it is rather that religion is used as an excuse by Fundamentalists to act out their aberrations. The religious impulse, no matter how rational we become, will never go away. Those who fear that civilization will collapse might do well to reflect on the fact that religion is one of the earliest defining characteristics of civilization. It is a formalized expression of a deeply felt need, widely shared.
At times it feels as if we’re caught on a possessed merry-go-round. We weaponize our world without stabilizing economies or opportunities. (I know I’m oversimplifying here.) People turn to religion for consolation. Religions give some people the strength to deal with their difficulties. Others will use their religion to justify their hatred and fear. Weapons are nearly as easily found as sacred scriptures. One, however, is much easier to use than the other. Twelve people lie dead for trying to make the world laugh. Three others are surely feeling justified by the extremity of their faith. There is truth in the concept of weeping clowns.
Carlos Schwabe, Death of the Undertaker
Ironically, in a world where pundits and experts refuse to give any credence to religious beliefs, and do not support the study of religion and its offshoots, multiple times each year we find the press asking why this happens. I’m not suggesting that those of us who study religion have an answer, but I am suggesting that we might have some insight. Instead of the knee-jerk reaction of claiming that “religion” has claimed more victims, we need to realize that criminals have claimed victims, both human and abstract. The shooting at Charlie Hebdo is a sad reminder that simple answers are seldom correct ones. My plea has, however, never been complex: supply education, not assault rifles. That’s something in which we can believe.