Over the last several months leading up to my arrest in front of Colisimos gun shop and then the five months after that leading up to my trial, I have been made acutely aware of how deeply embedded violence is in U.S. culture. While I was already quite aware of the role violence plays in our culture, being involved in an effort to stop the flow of illegal guns has shown me how irrational the arguments of the NRA and the gun lobby can be. I have come to see more clearly that the struggle in which we are involved has touched a nerve deeply rooted in our cultural DNA. J. Denny Weaver (Anabaptist Theology in the Face of Postmodernity, 2000) has shown how from the very beginning of our nation there has been a clear belief in the link between freedom and guns. A simple search on Google or YouTube of “Freedom and Guns” reveals how prevalent such a belief still is today. In a recent NY times op-ed piece Bob Herbert even suggests that the recent shootings in the Holocaust Museum, Pittsburgh and Wichita, are linked to the NRA-inspired surge in gun purchases since Obama’s election, out of fear that Obama will impose stricter gun control laws.
However, I think the issue goes far deeper than guns or the NRA. We on the progressive end of the political spectrum are as culpable the conservatives we like to lambaste. While the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller was an expression of violence gone wild, so too are the daily abortions he and others like him commit. While the violence on our streets is a concern, so should be the thousands of murders we witness on our favorite TV shows and movies. While we rightly decry violence against police officers in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and other major cities, what about the violence against innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan that is unfortunately (we say) a part of our military strategy? What kind of culture makes it more attractive for poor inner city kids to choose the military and the possibility of dying in war to the staying in their neighborhood and facing the possibility of dying in that neighborhood? While we are not alone in the world as violent, dangerous place, how many weapons large and small are manufactured here and sold to be used in those other places? We wonder about how certain criminals can be so inhumane, and then we put them into a criminal justice system that is so violence-saturated that often people come out more violent than when they went in.
Sadly, religion, especially Christianity, has been a contributing factor to this culture. The pogroms against Jews, the enslavement of Africans and subsequent systematized racism that followed, and the virtual elimination of millions of Native Americans – all by Christian (Protestant and Catholic) Europeans – testify to the debilitating and denigrating role religion has played in the perpetuation of violence against others. A simple YouTube or Google search of “God and Guns” reveals how alive that link still is today. The absurdity of this link was taken to an extreme recently in a Kentucky church that actually had a worship service dedicated to allowing people to openly carry their handguns.
This culture of violence is literally killing us directly and indirectly. We are painfully aware of the direct cost of violence as we watch the evening news. However, Dan Groody (Globalization, Spirituality and Justice, 2007)illustrates the indirect cost by talking what military spending could be used for. If the world redirected its military spending for one day, malaria in Africa could be eliminated. Two days spending could provide the health services to prevent 3 million infant deaths a year. A week’s spending could provide education for 140 million children in the developing world. When we examine these costs of violence, we have to ask: what must change?
While the United States is not alone in its addiction to violence, it is too easy for us to either rationalize it, feel overwhelmed by it, or try to simply deny it. Professor John Horgan routinely confronts fatalism in his students regarding the inevitability of war. My guess that a poll of most Americans would reveal that while they favor limits on gun purchases, they are resigned to the fact that the laws probably will never change, and that those of us who try to fight the NRA and the gun lobby are like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Certainly there is good reason for skepticism when common sense laws get thrown about courts, as happened in Philadelphia this week. There is reason for despair when a “one handgun a month” law can’t get passed in PA, but the Congress can pass a law allowing people to carry concealed weapons into national parks. There is reason for frustration when those in the pro-gun lobby continually create confusion and fear by stating that attempts to control the sale of any guns, is tantamount to control the sale of all guns.
There is no question that our cultural addiction to violence remains strong, and yet I remain imminently hopeful not only that gun laws will change, but that we are at a time when the futility of violence and the absurdity of the gun lobby’s arguments are showing them for what they are. I am hopeful because there are many countries in the world, especially Europe and parts of Asia, where societies carry on quite civilly without the need to show bravado through violence.
I remain hopeful because a change in our culture’s addiction to violence will either consume itself or we will change.
I have hope because I believe in a God of Justice and a God of history.
I have hope because I I believe with Paulo Freire that change is difficult, but it can happen.
I remain hopeful because as I study the movements for social change such as happened with civil rights and against nuclear arms, I can see there was a time when it seemed that things would never change. And yet today we have a black man as president who talks about his commitment to abolishing all nuclear weapons; who would’ve thunk it?.
I remain hopeful because our cause is right and just, and stands on the side of Truth and “Truth crushed to earth is still truth and like a seed will rise again” (Martin Luther King, Jr.).