We have a violence problem


This week much has rightfully been said about gun control and the NRA, and much energy expended in the debate. It is natural in times of tragedy to want to funnel grief into constructive actions. In fact, it may be an important way to survive collective trauma. Researchers find that people who respond to calamities by getting busy—such as those who get busy rebuilding from natural disasters—suffer less PTSD than those who don’t have outlets for action. I agree that a vital debate over guns and NRA coercion is needed. Yes, we need a counter narrative and a counter collective to stand against the NRA; better yet, we need a renewed political system—one not based on bullying or the greasy palm of bribery, whomever the source of the bribe. I want gun control and a ban on automatic assault weapons. I do. Evidence from other countries is strong that such controls can be broadly effective.

But I want much more.

What we have in America is a culture of violence, and I want us to change. For if we get gun control, but fail to acknowledge and address the culture of violence that almost all of us participate in, we will not gain much. What if we get gun control and continue to invest the bulk of our budget in the military? And what if we continue to feel safe in a nuclear-volatile world because we know our country’s weapons systems are faster, more powerful, and inconceivably more well-stocked than that of a loose-cannon belligerent in another dark corner of the world? What if we continue to gorge ourselves on entertainment (TV, films, video games, social media memes) that sells violence as the sure-bet way out of our problems, no matter if the violence is on the family scale, comprised of aggressive language and petty inter-relational vengeance; on the political scale, comprised of angry stereotyping; or on the global scale, comprised of run-of-the-mill aggressions or the horrific doomsday scenarios that are common fare for summer blockbusters? What if we continue to put up blinders to the painful and shameful historical events that formed this country, events that involved violence against so many people we shudder to take it in—most notably Native Americans, blacks, residents of areas taken from Mexico.

America has a gun problem—yes. I heart-fully concur. We need to admit we have become ensnared by the second amendment as surely as an addict is ensnared by his booze. But more to the point, we have a violence problem. We are so possessed by the demon of violence that we barely recognize the ways in which we are hog-tied, eager to be the mouthpiece of violence and to do its will. From rushing out to see the latest super-hero movies (classic vehicles of The Myth of Redemptive Violence—no matter the gender of the hero), to advising our friends to strike back whenever humiliated in relationships, to carelessly courting the impulse to violence when we listen to the news full of spit and fury, to looking down our noses at people who are different, people who are struggling.

Friends, we need to admit we have a violence problem. Those of us in the Christian tradition have been so practiced at missing the point of our tradition that we don’t realize how our lesser and greater embrace of violence stumblingly contradicts the tendenz of the whole biblical arc (Summary: Yahweh is a merciful God; be merciful to others, even to enemies). Even more significantly, it contradicts Jesus’ teaching and the event of the cross, where Jesus exposed to us our violence by becoming our victim and exposed to us our intransigent scapegoating by becoming our scapegoat—in so doing showing us we were altogether wrong about God. For, the event and symbol of the cross was needed not to change God’s mind about humanity, but to change our minds about God.

Lone gunmen are symptoms of a systemic disease. Guns are surely part of that disease. But the systemic imbalance is so much bigger than gun-control, and all of us are sick. Myself included. In a sense, the disease of violence is simply the human condition. Yet in America it is so culturally endemic it has become invisible to most. This is especially true of the violence growing in each of our frightened hearts. If we expend our energy railing against guns without acknowledging the violence of our hearts, we are spreading the disease.

We have a violence problem, friends. The first step to healing is admitting the problem.

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