Begetting Fear

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.

Like One of Us

Some envision America as a nation of—God help them!—only people like themselves.  This is Trump’s America, and therefore, the America of the Republican Party.  We can’t quite say it’s a white male America because there are many white males who simply don’t share that vision, but it is hate-filled enough to rouse bombers and shooters and Mitch McConnell.  American terrorists, in a word.  Yesterday, the Sabbath, saw a shooter in my familiar city of Pittsburgh who left 11 dead.  The response of Trump?  The synagogue should’ve had armed guards.  I propose that we ought to put walk-through metal detectors outside churches—better yet, full body scanners like they use at airports.  Might as well see everything the faithful bring with them.

Apart from the obvious tragedy of the innocent victims, another disturbing element of this horrific event is that Trump can’t see that his own rhetoric encourages it.  His mouth may say we shouldn’t hate, but his mouth says a lot of things.  Most of them lies.  His public posturing as the angry white man, the “Christian” bully, the Rambo of the Lord, has jarred people across the world.  When you rail against the media daily from the highest position in the land, you’ve got to expect sycophants (e.g. Republicans) to try to please you with their own acts of outrage.  What more cowardly way can one devise than to shoot those at worship?  Does 45 not understand that armed guards would make a very mockery of what goes on inside?  What do they teach at his church?

Coming up on two years ago, after election day, many people warned that just this sort of thing would happen.  Knowing that the Manchurian candidate they’d nominated couldn’t think for himself, the GOP decided it was a good time to polish up their hit-list.  Those who don’t belong in their white bread, white face, white male country.  This is evangelicalism gone wild, no, Rev. Graham?  Those who can think for themselves are not welcome in a party run by hatred so pure and rife that decent people feel they must take a shower after they leave its presence.  And what of the dead?  For the “party of Lincoln” they have died in vain.  They should’ve had armed guards, as if worship were some kind of dangerous, subversive activity.  The party of the NRA, formerly known as the GOP, has never watched The Witness.  It has never shed a tear for the dead.  And it most assuredly has never been to church, or synagogue.

Image credit: Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme, via Wikimedia Commons

Holy NRA

A religious nation in love with guns leads to some strange juxtapositions.  In a home goods store that I won’t name—hey, you can have fun trying to find it!—we came across just such an oddity.  Appropriately for a franchise near Bethlehem, there was a framed painting of the holy family: Mary, Jesus, and Joseph, halos and all.  Completely surrounding the Prince of Peace and company were framed replicas of guns.  I’m sorry to state that the holy family, notwithstanding divinity, was sadly outgunned.  There’s only one such family, but of the making of firearms there is no end, and much shooting wearies the body.  Of all the weirdness that has plagued Christianity, this love of guns among the evangelical followers of the Prince of Peace has to rank near the top.

Believe me, I know what it is to be afraid.  I grew up with more than my share of phobias, and since buying a house different ones from my childhood set have come to light.  People want to feel safe, and the gun industry has successfully spread the message that a firearm or two will do the trick.  Often it backfires.  Those meant to be protected are killed in an accidental discharge or a domestic dispute turns deadly.  The real drawing power of guns, I think, is the sense of power.  The message in our society is that God wants you to protect your property.  That doesn’t mean that the government can’t take it away, but hey, at least you’ve got a gun, right?

I’ve always felt that ownership was a strange concept.  I look out the window and see the birds perching on “my” roof.  I see the squirrels digging in “my” yard.  I see the rain soaking “my” investment.  In what sense do I own this house?  Am I not just borrowing it long enough to live here while I’m alive?  We met one of the former owners.  Who lived here before him I don’t know.  I have no idea who built the house.  Besides, the money to purchase it came from a bank, and if I don’t pay my mortgage, the real “owners” will step forward and sell it to the highest bidder.  I own no guns.  They’re dangerous and costly and would I ever find peace after shooting anyone?  I look at the holy family.  Joseph and young Jesus have firearms aimed at their heads.  If the holy family isn’t safe, what hope do the rest of us have?

Breaking News

Herostratus, it is said, tried to destroy the Temple of Artemis so that he might become famous. His name is now associated with gaining fame at any cost. In case any of my readers suppose I might be like Herostratus, I would be glad to confirm that I’m not the Steve Wiggins in the headline below. While I do have a beard, I’ve only been to Tennessee once that I know of. When a friend contacted me to ask why I’d shot the deputy (but I did not shoot the sheriff) it reminded me of a post on this blog from many years ago about sharing the name of the gospel singer Steve Wiggins. He’s always at the top for any Google search, which is why I always tell people to use my middle initial when seeking even more than you can find on this blog: “Steve A. Wiggins” usually brings me up. I’m not as desperate as Herostratus yet.

Names can be tricky that way. I’ve written a number of books in my life, and three of them are either published or in production. Holy Horror, which is now available on McFarland’s website (the book itself will be out in August) is listed on Amazon. It isn’t paired with my other two books yet, perhaps because it is so different. My Amazon author page brings up A Reassessment of Asherah and Weathering the Psalms, but it’s a little coy about Holy Horror. This blog isn’t quite like trying to destroy Artemis’ temple, but then, it isn’t exactly a Twitter-follower magnet either.

I have a friend who has a fictional Twitter account. He has more than twice the number of followers I do, and his Twitter persona is made up. I follow people who don’t follow me back. I do hope this isn’t how Herostratus got started. It is tragic that a deputy was shot and killed by an armed Wiggins in the south. I’m no friend of the NRA, and like most of the world I believe we’d be better off with far fewer guns, and Herostratus is pretty much forgotten today. In fact, every time I want to mention him I have to do a Google search to find his name. Destroying property of the gods, apparently, doesn’t always give you lasting fame. Looking at what’s happening in DC these days I see confirmation of that all the time. But then don’t take my word for it—I’m only a blogger with a tiny Twitter following. Just don’t accuse me of having a gun or trying to sing in public.

Weaponized Ignorance

Blissful ignorance. Yesterday I knew nothing of the Parkland school shooting until I went out to get the paper for my wife, just as I was leaving for the bus. My peace has been shattered ever since glancing at the headlines. How any rational being can’t see the horror we’ve created by allowing gun lobbyists to buy the Republican Party I simply don’t know. Yes, I’m afraid. Yes, I’ve thought that maybe buying a gun would make me feel safer. Then I realize the insanity fear breeds. We could, as a society, address this fear. We don’t, however, because there’s far too much money to be made by it. We become weak-kneed whenever we think of that money flowing any direction rather than into our personal coffers. Insanity? A small price to pay.

The priorities of this nation are so messed up that Bedlam looks downright civilized in comparison. Even as we’re trying to come to terms with this 18th mass shooting of 2018, Republicans are attempting to balloon an already obscenely bloated military budget. Where do these weapons of personal destruction come from, if not the military technology? We want so badly to kill the enemy, and the castoffs end up in the hands of a troubled public. A traditional firearm to protect one’s home may not be unreasonable, but an assault rifle is. It crosses the line between fear and hatred. With a White House incumbent who ran on a ticket of hate, we’re reaping the whirlwind which we’ve sown.

Fear, many don’t realize, is a gift. It preserves us from danger in many circumstances. When it rules our lives, however, it becomes a neurosis. A psychosis even. Politicians may act stupid, but they know well that fear-mongering wins elections. Study after study has shown it to be true. This is a science they don’t doubt. The ease with which guns are available to what is clearly a deeply divided and very frightened public is like a piñata full of hand grenades. This is a scenario with no winners except those who accept the power the fearful eagerly give them. This is the danger of a thoughtless government driven only by personal gain and lucre. Those faithful to the call of destruction are, ironically, often evangelicals awaiting the end times. Agents of chaos bring those giant hands ever closer to midnight. The sweep of the clock moves ever forward, and if they’re anticipating Armageddon there’s no need to wait. It’s already here.

Bible Practice

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.

Guns and Ghosts

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.

To Fear Itself

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.

Frozen Over

The_Blob_poster

For reasons that may eventually become clear, I was watching The Blob. It seems that each generation’s fears are unique to its time—let the reader understand. For whatever reasons, star-appeal I expect, Steve McQueen was cast as the teenage Steve Andrews. A little unbelievable as a twenty-eight-year-old teen (Sissy Spacek was a more convincing teenage Carrie at twenty-six) Steve drives around his small town trying to find and stop the Blob. What is the Blob? Nobody really knows. Emerging from a meteorite, it seems to be an EBE (Extraterrestrial Biological Entity) that encompasses, dissolves, and assimilates animal life forms, getting bigger all the time. In a day when the Russians were actual enemies, this is hardly an intentional vision of capitalism but an apt description nevertheless. If it touches you, you’re dead. Since it can ooze through air vents, there aren’t too many places at hide. It forces itself upon you.

Steve’s love interest, Jane Martin, has a lisping little brother named Danny. While big sister is out on a date battling the jello-monster, Danny—a future NRA member—charges outside in his pajamas shooting at the thing with his cap gun. Can this be? One capitalist shooting at another? Don’t be fooled. This is the nature of the free market. Either the Blob ends up on a dinner plate, or Danny does. We know that prior to 1960s monsters seldom kill little children (but don’t get me started on Frankenstein), so it is the Blob that will succumb. As the town’s teens combat the goo with fire extinguishers, freezing it, Jane, Danny, and Steve escape to go hunting another day.

Those of you who’ve read my blog for any time know that subtext is often the point. I’m counting on you following along with me here—think of what day it is. The small town police chief, Dave, calls in the Feds. No wall will keep this alien out. It has to be deported. To some place that will never thaw. Like all good monsters, the Blob never really finally dies. It must be kept frozen to keep humanity safe. The final words Steve utters are indeed chilling, “As long as the Arctic stays cold.” Getting on sixty years later our “industriousness” has begun to melt the ice caps and the friends of the Blob deny global warming. I’ve seen The Thing from Outer Space too, and I know the last thing you want to do is thaw the Arctic. Remember what day it is, and do the right thing.

Things Being Equal

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.

400px-Manual_of_the_Musketeer,_17th_Century

Trench Warfare

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.

Vickers_IWW

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.

Hurricane Joaquin

The name Herostratus is deservedly obscure. In fact, I shouldn’t even be mentioning him here. His use as an object lesson, however, seems apt in a country fascinated by firearms and fame. Herostratus was an arsonist of the fourth century B.C.E. who destroyed the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. He perpetrated this crime so that he would become famous, and he is representative of those who want fame at any cost. So it was that on Thursday a gunman, who shall remain nameless here, shot and killed nine people at Umpqua Community College in Oregon before being killed by police. This individual, upon investigation, had been fascinated by how obscure people gain immediate fame by killing innocents. After a summer of what seemed like endless, pointless shootings, we now have nine more graves of students to mourn, and as a nation we still lovingly stroke our guns.

Society is a dangerous combination of a cult of celebrity and violence. Most of us live our lives in utter obscurity, not being noticed. For many that is the way they want it, but for some it is a pathology. Guns are so easy to find. Police discovered seven firearms in this man’s apartment, in addition to the six he took to campus. Doing the math confirms the madness of a nation that makes guns so very accessible. Even the insane may buy. All it takes is money. The Temple of Artemis was one of the most magnificent structures of all time. It even gets mentioned, in an indirect way, in the Bible. Although it had been rebuilt, the idea had already fermented, without firearms, that fame could be had for infamy. In antiquity the perpetrator’s name was outlawed. Now anyone can find out who he is.

No shooting is without tragedy. Those that take place on college campuses and high schools are especially tragic because education is the only way to move forward from barbarism. Those who went to class on Thursday were improving their minds. Education makes the world a better place. They were, however, eliminated by a nameless man with easy access to weapons and a wish for fame. Perhaps American Idol and American Gladiator should offer a venue for those who wish to slaughter each other in public. It could be sponsored by the NRA. It was the ancient world, after all, that also gave us bread and circuses. Although the hurricane may be veering away, we have already been hit by tragedy, only this one was of our own making.

joaquin.a2015274.1755.1km

Saints and Serpents

Santa Barbara feels like paradise.  To a guy who grew up under the gray clouds and sometimes cruel winters of the northeast, the sun-washed placidity of the California coast feels almost surreal.  I’d never witnessed a flight of pelicans before, or visited a university campus that felt more like a spa.  Nothing introduces trouble into paradise like guns.  As we are beginning to try to make sense of yet another mass shooting involving college-aged kids, the somber-faced newscasters talk about how difficult it is to handle mental illness as they fret over seven more coffins that should never have been necessary.  It’s the right of Americans to own guns.  It’s the heritage of many to experience mental illness.  Elliot Rodger only had three guns and over 400 rounds of ammunition in his car.  Where’s Charlton Heston when we need a little comfort now?

 

America’s love affair with firearms is too protracted and entrenched simply to turn back the clock.  Guns are functional devices, but their deterrent force seems effectively only on those who don’t own them.  We’ve opened Pandora’s box and shook the last bit of hope out of it.  College is the stage of growing up where we learn about what life has to offer.  Choosing majors, meeting potential mates, gaining a measure of freedom.  Freedom.  Those who own guns don’t seem to appreciate how unbalanced this makes the rest of us feel.  When I walk behind someone smoking on the city streets, I can’t help but think that I’m doing nothing to foul the smoker’s air.  If only I had a gun.

 

One of the most poignant scenes in the Ellis Island museum is where the potential immigrants are being tested for mental illness.  As a hopeful paradise, we seemed to say, we don’t want to invite any problems ashore.  Mental illness is not the fault of the sufferer.  Making guns available to those who suffer depression and rage is madness.  And despite the rhetoric, the only one with gun in hand who ever seems to stop the rampage is the killer himself, by turning his own on the victim and perpetrator.

 

IMG_0149

Standing on a beach in Santa Barbara, you are looking out over five thousand miles of placid, unbroken, blue water.  The sky and the ocean seem to blend together.  A scoop of pelicans flies overhead, becoming lost in the sun.  And there is a serpent wrapped around a tree somewhere nearby.  There always is.

California Weeping

Once again, we as a nation are left to mourn. Gun violence against the young seems, according to the posturing of the NRA, to be a legitimate diversion. I remember watching Gilligan’s Island growing up. The episode “The Hunter”—where if Gilligan survives being stalked by big game hunter Jonathan Kincaid, the castaways will be rescued—now seems strangely prescient. The location changes every few months, however. Yesterday it was in Santa Monica, California. College kids studying for finals being shot at by a man with a semi-automatic rifle. And even after Sandy Hook, and Columbine, and Virginia Tech, we still do not have the will, as a nation, to safeguard our young. Such a perversion of evolution the natural world has never seen.

The logic of allowing widespread ownership of firearms doesn’t make me feel any safer. Judging from the number of young victims of various gunmen—most of whom end up dead so no questions may be asked—we are willing to allow our children to be collateral damage in the war to keep personal weapons. As city after city after city is scarred by the anonymous guy who’s got anger issues taking it out on the helpless, we still insist that guns are our friends. I’d rather be friendless.

My fingers grow fatigued scrolling through the increasing list of multiple shootings. It takes one of sterner constitution than this writer even to make it through the Wikipedia page listing school shootings. Those who die give us ample cause for tears. Those who survive will spend lives dealing with horrible memories. Schools are where we place our hopes for the future. The lessons learned there should give our young the knowledge they require for a lifetime in this complex society we’ve created. Unfortunately that society also includes facile access to deadly weapons that kill with ease. Our hearts raced as Gilligan outsmarted Mr. Kincaid, although we knew he would have to survive. The star always does. But television is a poor guide to reality, unless it’s the NRA telling us why the only reasonable response is to increase the number of guns and let civilization do its work.

IMG_0149

Godly Violence

Just a full-term human pregnancy ago, a disturbed young man murdered two grocery store employees in Old Bridge, New Jersey. He then shot himself dead. Of course, such events will never sway those who staunchly defend our right to bear arms. The ratio isn’t too severe after all. Just two to one. We’ve had worse. But that was nine months ago. Earlier this week a police report revealed that Terence Tyler, the perpetrator, had a tattoo on his chest that read, “If there is a God he loves violence. It is his gift to mankind. It is truly magnificent and for this I am thankful.” The newspaper used the understated adjective “disturbing” to describe it. As an erstwhile biblical scholar, my first inclination is to exegete this strange scripture a little bit.

411px-B_Facundus_145“If there is a God.” The mind of the shooter is one for hedging bets. God is an unscientific proposition, and, we are told even by theologians, unknowable. Long ago Pascal urged a wager: God may not be real, but the safer bet is on the divine—you can’t really lose by believing. “He loves violence.” I’m sure many believers disagree, but those who read the Bible will have to admit that Tyler had a point there. There is an ancient kind of bloodlust that hangs heavily over demands for genocide and animal sacrifices. Even, according to mainstream Christianity, the death of an only son will serve divine ends. “It is his gift to mankind.” This may seem counterintuitive, but again, the Bible would seem to back this up, at least in part. Without violence the 144,000 martyrs wouldn’t have much to sing about. “It is truly magnificent and for this I am thankful.” Were this a biblical passage we would probably have to posit a redactor here, or at least an interpolation. Such editorializing doesn’t fit the spirit of the previous three verses.

Religions, while generally abhorring violence, too often condone it. This mostly comes through literal readings of ancient texts whose contexts have changed so much that the originals are unrecognizable by today’s standards. Bibles and Qurans must be understood by those who’ve managed to outlive them. They become the basis for, the excuse for violence that, as a whole, they condemn. In the United States, however, we trust cordite over creed, and guns over gods. We have moved on from the Old Bridge shootings, already for those outside the families of the victims and the local community, the headlines took a minute to jangle the bells of distant recollection. Not much has changed; the NRA still claims, even more vehemently than ever, that guns are our best friends. And, one can almost hear as a subtext, in good eisegetical style, “if there is a god he loves violence.”