Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The theology of distraction and the Newtown mass gun murders

I've resisted trying to speculate about some of the more subjective aspects of gun violence in the US political culture because of the very reason Charlie Pierce mentions in his The Night Before The President Came To Newtown Esquire Politics Blog 12/17/2012: "One pastor got on TV and blamed "the evil in the heart of man." (Unless you adopt his particular interpretation of monotheism, there is something inherent in you that might put seven bullets into a seven-year old.) This is convenient, because this is something against which we cannot legislate." (my emphasis)

A lot of the pet theories that Christian fundamentalists in particular like to throw out there on these all-too-frequent occasions of mass gun massacres are just that: a cover for the gun lobby to focus people's attention on anything and everything but better gun regulations.

For example, Franklin Graham - who apparently is more interested in being a new Jerry Falwell than a new Billy Graham - invoked video games and the Mystery of Evil as excuses not to regulate assault weapons any better. (Why the shock and awe? Washington Post 12/15/2012) Mike Huckabee first blamed the public schools not forcing Jewish and Muslim and non-believing kids to pray rote Christian prayers for the deaths of the 20 kids and six adults in Newtown. He later went on to clarify he remarks and spread the blame to other favorite fundamentalist gripes about the decline of his version of "family," etc. (Mary Elizabeth Williams, Huckabee blames gays for the Newtown massacre Salon 12/17/2012), in the process presenting his God in a very mean, astonishingly cruel and petty light.

For evangelical Christian denominations that stress proselytizing as a central duty, it's normal to suggest, "This nation needs the gospel now more than ever. We need to reach everyone with the hope of Jesus Christ," as Greg Stier does in Another Tragic School Shooting; How Should We React? Christian Post 12/15/2012. How appropriate that might be face-to-face with a non-Christian parent whose child had just been murdered is another question. But if their "witness" for their faith includes trying to be a responsible citizen, this kind of perspective doesn't have to turn into a way to distract from policy discussion that actually address the problem of gun violence.

I have some sympathy for the platitudes that people, including ministers, may wind up producing when they try to provide comfort or orientation to people affected in some way by an horrible event like the Newtown mass gun murders. Jim Denison in God on Trial in Newtown Christian Post 12/17/2012 gives what might initially look like a serious attempt to deal with the issues that often occur to religious people confronted with such situations. But he winds up reducing the complex theological question of theodicy to cartoon charactures. Satan did it. The killer made bad choices. Then he "answers" four questions he posed on theodicy (without using that term) by basically just restating the question. He ends up with the ever-reliable it's-a-mystery answer. Declaring that God ultimately makes everything right, he explains, "This assertion does not guarantee that you and I will experience or even understand God's greater good on this side of glory." It's a mystery! He probably would have been better off citing the Book of Job and it conclusion that human being in the end don't know the ways of God. That way you end up at least with some sense of humility instead of making a bunch of village atheist arguments without answering them.

But his presentation does keep the whole matter safely in the realm of "something against which we cannot legislate." And therefore of no direct practical relevance. Not that a message of comfort needs to. But it shouldn't be an excuse to oppose or ignore practical matters relating to the problem of mass gun massacres.

And what does our reliably mealy-mouthed friend Dr. Al Mohler have to say about the Newtown shooting? In Rachel Weeping for Her Children — The Massacre in Connecticut 12/14/2012, he explains that The Fall (of Adam and that temptress bitch Eve) is to blame. Then there's this: "the Christian must affirm the grace of moral restraint, knowing that the real question is not why some isolated persons commit such crimes, but why such massacres are not more common." Which read to me as, what are you moaning about, it's not as bad as what you should expect! It's apparently also our Christian duties to indulge murderous fantasies about the shooter, and sneer at any suggestion that mental health issues might have some relevance: "Even if executed for his crimes, he could die only once. Even if sentenced to scores of life sentences to prison, he could forfeit only one human lifespan. ... No human court can hand down an adequate sentence for such a crime." Oh, a remember, if you're an adult and get murdered without believing in God according to Bro. Al's prescriptions, you're going to Hail! I doubt anyone is going to be terribly comforted by Bro. Al's message. I'm much more confident that they aren't going to take any decent Christian theology from it.

And what about Bro. Wade "Sword of Vengeance" Burleson, who takes his divine guidance from sources like the John Birch Society? In Gun Control and the Tragedy at Sandy Hook Istoria Ministries Blog 12/15/2012. He says the Newtown mass gun murder happened because, apparently, citizens need guns so they can execute criminals after they are convicted. And there's too many of them thar' gun laws around that prevent that. So God decided to bump off 20 little kids and six adults in Newtown as a message that we need more guns to be killing more people. Or something. I'm thinking Bro. Sword-of-Vengeance might want to cut down on the time he spends on Bircher websites. He seriously argues that this whole business of criminals being judged to have committed crimes against the state is wrong and instead individuals should just be able to gun down wrongdoers, sort of Hatfields-and-McCoys style, I guess. This whole rule-of-law nonsense just doesn't seem right somehow to Bro. Sword-of-Vengeance.

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