Sin: (n) an evil act, usually connoting Christian theology related to good and evil
Cynicism: (n) a belief that only selfishness motivates human action
Last week we had another mass shooting at a school in Florida. I more or less tune out the predictable news reports of crying and ranting family members, liberal calls for gun control, conservative dismissals of such because the problem is not guns but mental illness, the counter dismissals of how those same conservatives have worked to restrict mental health insurance benefits, the aghast realizations that the shooter had posted rants about wanting to shoot and blow things up, the Lone-Wolf theorizing, the wonder at the breakdown of society, the horror at realizing that our movies and gaming-industry glorify shooting and blowing things up… Why bother listening. We heard this all before. Nothing has changed. In a couple of weeks we will be back to watching cute cat video’s and speculating on how large Stormy Daniel’s breasts were before enhancement…
Call me a CYNIC. I’m turning off the news and going to split some wood for next winter’s wood stove.
In reading a fellow blogger’s post about the relationship between this incident and the Christian concept of evil, I wrote short response about distancing myself from the debate. The morning, I came across these paragraphs from Pope Benedict XVI’s General Audience of December 3, 2008, in which he addresses Paul’s views on original sin and salvation. These are two long paragraphs, but address some interesting points.
As a consequence of this evil power in our souls, a murky river developed in history which poisons the geography of human history. Blaise Pascal, the great French thinker, spoke of a “second nature,” which superimposes our original, good nature. This “second nature” makes evil appear normal to man. Hence even the common expression “he’s human” has a double meaning. “He’s human,” can mean, “This man is good, he really acts as one should act.” But, “He’s human,” can also imply falsity: evil is normal, it is human. Evil seems to have become our second nature. This contradiction of human being, of our history, must evoke, and still evokes today, the desire for redemption. And, in reality, the desire for the world to be changed and the promise that the world of justice, peace, and good will be created exists everywhere. In politics, for example, everyone speaks of this need to change the world, to create a more just world. And this is precisely an expression of the longing for liberation from the contradictions we experience within us.
Thus, the existence of the power of evil in the human heart and in human history is an undeniable fact. The question is: How can this evil be explained? In the history of thought, Christian faith aside, there exists a key explanation of this duality, with different variations. This model says that being in itself is contradictory, it bears within it both good and evil. In antiquity, this idea implied the opinion that two equally primal principles existed: a good principle and a bad principle. This duality would be insuperable; the two principles are at the same level, so this contradiction from the being’s origins would always exist. The contradiction of our of being would therefore only reflect the contrary nature of the two divine principles, so to speak. In the evolutionist, atheist version of the world the same version returns in a new form. Although in this conception the vision of being is monist, it supposes that being as such bears within itself both evil and good from the outset. Being itself is not simply good, but open to good and to evil. Evil is equally primal with the good. And human history would develop only the model already present in all of the previous evolutions. What Christians call original sin would in reality be merely the mixed nature of being, a mixture of good and evil which, according to atheists thought, belong to the same fabric of being. This is the fundamentally desperate view: if this is the case, evil is invincible. In the end all that counts is one’s own interest. All progress would necessarily be paid for with a torrent of evil and those who wanted to serve progress would have to agree to pay the price. Politics is fundamentally structured on these premises and we see the effects of this. In the end, this modern way of thinking can create only sadness and cynicism.
Okay, time to shake off my cynicism. We cannot allow progress in society to be overwhelmed by the evil that exits within individuals (aka Lone Wolves) and society (misuse of political and religious position and power).
The Second Amendment (right to bear arms) is not the Second Commandment (Do not make idols). The Second Amendment, if you are an Originalist, was written to allow citizens to protect themselves against he oppression of government. The National Riffle Association formed after the Civil War, promoting learning how to shoot a riffle. They noticed that the northern and southern troops were more or less accuracy-illiterate, as evidence by the number of “friendly fire” mishaps, including General Stonewall Jackson being shot in the arm by his own troops. Sportsmen took up the Second Amendment to justify owning guns to go hunting and target shooting in the middle of 20th century. Later in the century, the NRA was taken over by fear-mongers who believe that self-defense against the evils of urban society was necessary. They solicited and spent millions on political campaigns and lobbying against any restrictions on gun ownership. They convinced society that robbers and rapist lurked in every bush and with every knock on the door. Safety for you and your family existed only in superior fire-power (thus have more bullets in your magazine and extra clips in our belt and more guns in your home and no need for conceal-carry restrictions…) We have made guns an idol to which we bow and sacrifice on the Altar of the Second Amendment our children (school and movie theatre shootings), and wives (gun ownership = mortality in domestic violence situations), poor people of color (police shootings of unarmed black men), and police (revenge shooting of those who represent oppression to poor people of color).
Guns do not kill… so do knifes, machetes, baseball bats, rocks, fists and feet, cars… The argument than people who misuse guns (in the USA because of mental illness, in the Middle East because of religious zeal, and Africa because of historic tribal conflicts) does not justify stock-piling arsenals of them in our home and vehicles. But, if we accept a premise that some people will mis-use any tool for destructive purposes, we do not need to make those tools as easily purchased as garden tools (yes, my local Ace Hardware store sells shoves, hoses, and guns, all within 20 feet of each other… need some onion starts or 22 rounds?). Again the more guns someone own the more likely the person is to use it. Fatal domestic violence and suicide rates are highest among gun owners.
Saturation of violent images, in the news, gaming, and movies, teaches us that destroying someone else is the solution. Mix conflict with a gun as the tool to use, and should we wonder why people obsess with using that tool to solve the miseries of life? What most viewers, in my opinion, miss in movies and novels, which include violent images, is that the depiction of violence is intended to demonstrate that evil is futile or leads to more destruction. Rather, they see destruction of what they believe threatens them as the solution. We need literature, movies, and games which offer different ways of solving problems.
Focusing on conflict and division promotes believing that “I am right. You are wrong.” dualism. We cannot understand or empathize with someone whom we vilify. If we may accept different opinions and solutions, we can begin to try to learn what alternative methods someone else may want to apply to a situation. The more options we consider, as individuals and a society, the more likely we might find what we have in common, rather than only how different we are.
We must recognize that concepts of masculinity and femininity are changing. I am willing to consider that some women use guns violently, but the usual image that comes to my mind of a mass-shoot or religious zealot with a gun is that of a hyper-masculine man. The last images of women with guns were probably Patty Hearst and Sarah Palin. Those were both staged for political effect. I know women who hunt and target shoot. But, put together a list of people who have used guns to destroy other people, and the list will most likely be male dominated. Yet, I believe that the sexual revolution of the mid-20th century to the LGBTQ movement of the past few decades threatens those who want to believe and justify their attitudes and actions because Men are From Mars. This may fade out in a generation, as hyper-masculine men grow old with their stockpiles of weapons and ammo. Most younger people I know are not too upset about men cooking, cleaning, caring for their children, writing poetry, etc. They are not threatened by their gay friends marrying. They do not pay much attention to gender fluid friends changing hair color from blue to red. They do not buy into the gun culture. They do not join the NRA. Most of the gun owners and fanatics I know are my age or older. I wonder what they will do with all of those weapons when they move into an assisted living facility? Yet, how many young people will we lose until this generation and it’s idolatry of guns passes?
(For an ironic footnote, during Obama’s presidency, gun sale soared under the rationalization that we had to buy as many guns as we could afford before Obama “takes my guns away”. However, in the past year, with Trump appeasing his gun-lobby supporters, gun sales have plummeted. Two gun manufactures are in financial trouble: Remington has filed for bankruptcy, and Smith and Wesson is on the skids.)
If you own a tool, learn how to use it. If I were to give the NRA a role in gun ownership, it would be to conduct training seminars and provide opportunities for gun owners to practice using their weapons for their intended purpose. Some years ago, I received a call from an NRA solicitor encouraging my joining up. I asked Justin what the Second Amendment said about the right to bear arms. He could not recite the amendment to me, but I could to him. He could not identify what militia he belonged to justify his right to bear arms. He told me that he did own a 22 riffle, and that he practiced shooting in a corn field at about 100 feet. When I asked why he owned a squirrel gun (as we refered to 22’s here in West Virginia), he said for self-defense against someone who might break into his house at night. I recommended that if he truly wanted to be trained to use this tool, he should practice shooting at close range (less than 10 feet) in the dark, as that is the situation in which he expected he would use it. Poor Justin, he did not call me back.
The best defense is to love your neighbor. Theology aside, being connected to your community, knowing whom to trust and whom to not piss off, and helping others is more likely to provide folks who will look out for you and visa-versa. Knowing people is our early-warning system. Lone-Wolves have less of change of hiding out, when communities know each other. Good relationships between teachers, counselors, and youth safety officers are more likely to discover and reach out to someone who is vulnerable to believing that attacking other people is justified. Connecting with those Lone-Wolves when they are Young-Pups may reduce the risk that life events (i.e. the death of a loved adult, the loss of a girlfriend, the fear of being gay, flunking a class, etc.) will derail that young life.
The purpose of Liberty is to Do Good. Stop ranting about my Second Amendment Rights. If we spent more time helping each other, we would not need have guns as tools.