Mike Huckabee and America’s Sin Problem

On his talk show, Mike Huckabee had the following to say about the shooting in Aurora, Colorado (that link goes to the Fox video; there are excerpts in print here):

Ultimately, We don’t have a crime problem or a gun problem – or even a violence problem. What we have is a sin problem. And since we ordered God out of our schools and communities, the military and public conversations, you know, we really shouldn’t act so surprised when all hell breaks loose.

I find Huckabee’s analysis (which others have also voiced), far from being a call to appropriate religious introspection, an attempt at blame-shifting. American life and society is more infused with Christianity than just about any other in the world. And yet the secular, “godless” societies of Europe for the most part do not see anywhere near as many shooting deaths in their countries as the United States does.

And so let me offer a challenge to Huckabee and other Christians who try to shift the blame onto the removal of God from public schools (see too my recent posts about whether the shooting has anything to do with the teaching of evolution). Other societies far more secularized than we are do not have the same problems to the same extent as we do. And so why not take this opportunity to ask about America’s real sin problem?

And what is that problem? It would be too easy to point out that large numbers of Christians in the United States are full participants in American gun culture. As news reports both old and recent have indicated, other countries (like Switzerland and Canada) share or exceed Americans’ love of guns, but still do not see the numbers of shooting deaths that we do. While there is something puzzling about Christians loving guns, that in itself does not seem to be the heart of the problem.

The biggest difference between us and those other countries which excel us in secularism, and yet do not share the extent of our problem with murder and violent crime, is our own indifference to the poor, and the ever-growing gap between rich and poor in our society, not only in terms of income but also in terms of access to everything from basic daily necessities to health care.

Poverty and wealth are something that the Bible talks about regularly, and not just in Old Testament texts like the laws in the Torah or the Book of Amos. It is an issue that is addressed in relation to the values and expectations of the Kingdom of God in the New Testament. Yet it is such an enormous blind spot in the US, that many Americans actually oppose even minimal attempts to change things for the better, somehow mistaking their own capitalist values for something the Bible teaches rather than condemns.

There is some evidence that societies with significant poverty witness more crime, and that there is a connection between a wide gap between extremes of rich and poor and violent crime. But even if that isn’t the solution to America’s leadership in the number of fatal shootings we see each year, it is still something the Bible addresses. And we won’t know how this might affect other aspects of our society unless we actually begin to do what we’re supposed to, and address our “sin problem.” This seems like as good a place as any to start.

We read nothing in the New Testament about early Christians trying to impose their beliefs on the Temple in Jerusalem or in pagan temples around the Roman Empire. But we do read about them sharing all their belongings in what has been described as a form of “love communism.” I don’t think that exact model fits our modern setting. But even the underlying principles behind their practice of sharing possessions, the belief that eliminating the gap between rich and poor is what God desires, is something that American Christians have abandoned in favor of the Gospel of materialism, of consumption, and of wealth.

We do indeed have a sin problem. And it is time to repent, instead of trying as usual to use the issues of the “culture wars” to try to distract from what our real national sins are.

 

  • Straw Man

    Your critique of the Christian right, for using this tragedy as an excuse to inject their pet causes into the discussion, is on target–indeed, you aren’t nearly harsh enough in your treatment of it.

    Nevertheless, you then proceed to do exactly what you criticize them for: you inject YOUR pet causes into the discussion, no better evidence than theirs.

    Do you actually have empirical data associating concern for the poor with prevalence of violence? And do you have any suggesting a causal link? You’ve already shown graphs which, interestingly, suggest a correlation between disbelief in evolution and the murder rate, so why would you casually assume that this new (undemonstrated) correlation is causal, and dismiss the other? And how are you controlling for confounding factors?

    America’s experience of violence is indeed very strange, and worth exploring. I don’t claim to have the slightest idea what underlies it. The first thing that leaped into my mind (like school prayer into Huckabee’s, or welfare into yours) was the fact that American Christianity has thick Puritan roots; writers like Rothbard have drawn a link between Puritanism, which you might have thought died with the colonies, and alcohol prohibition. Is there any connection whatsoever? I haven’t the foggiest. I’m curious whether a Puritan strain leaves us vulnerable to Manichaean thinking, dehumanizing our opponents, witch-hunting, executing sinners, and the like. And I’m curious whether that creates an environment in which nut-jobs are more likely to attack crowds of innocents, as opposed to whatever nut-jobs do in Europe (perhaps they get off on swapping salad and dinner forks on unsuspecting victims).

    But in any case, the “real cause” of violence like this is a genuine, difficult, and important question, and I think you and Huckabee do equal disservice to it by suggesting facile answers. I realize that you hedge your statements and instead try to turn the tragedy into a springboard for launching into your chosen topic, rather than flat-out suggesting that there’s a causal relationship, but I don’t think that improves things. If anything, it makes it worse. “I don’t know if the tragedy is in any way connected, but… [let's talk about something else of my choosing instead].”

    • spinkham

      I’m assuming he was at least somewhat influenced by my earlier post, so I’ll link to that here, though it only gives a broad sketch of the problem it does give correlation data through the middleman of religiosity(roughly religious actions like attending church and praying).

      There is a good amount of evidence in the literature that increases in income inequality leads to poor social and health related outcomes. Correlation unquestionably strong.

      Directly related to violent crime: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953698000975


      Income inequality was strongly correlated with firearm violent crime (firearm homicide, r=0.76) as well as the measures of social capital: per capita group membership (r=−0.40) and lack of social trust (r=0.73). In turn, both social trust (firearm homicide, r=0.83) and group membership (firearm homicide, r=−0.49)
      were associated with firearm violent crime. These relationships held
      when controlling for poverty and a proxy variable for access to
      firearms. The profound effects of income inequality and social capital,
      when controlling for other factors such as poverty and firearm
      availability, on firearm violent crime indicate that policies that
      address these broader, macro-social forces warrant serious
      consideration.

      See also: http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/resources/publications/research-digest-1-violent-crime-web

      * The relationship between inequality and homicide has been found in
      many different settings-among developed and developing countries, both
      between and within countries. Relationships between inequality and
      violence are stronger when comparing whole societies and tend to be
      weaker when looking at small areas.

      * Several studies have found that small reductions in income inequality cause large reductions in homicide.

      *Inequality affects homicide, whereas a society’s average income level does not.

      *The relationship between inequality and homicide seems to be part
      of a more general divisive effect of inequality which weakens the social
      fabric.

      *Almost two-thirds of the higher homicide rates in southern (as
      compared to northern) states of the United States are attributable to
      their greater income inequality. There are lower rates of homicide in
      the Canadian provinces than in the states of the USA as a result of
      their smaller income differences.

      Causation can only really be studied through time series analysis and isn’t as well studied as the correlational data, but there is a growing body of evidence.

      Here’s a few related papers:

      http://webs.wofford.edu/pechwj/Income%20Inequality%20and%20Crime%20in%20the%20United%20States.pdf

      http://people.mcgill.ca/files/samuel.harper/2004milbank2.pdf

      http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/income-inequality-health-social-problems

      http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/33/2/311.full

      • arcseconds

        that’s great, thanks.

        Just one question though:

        Several studies have found that small reductions in income inequality cause large reductions in homicide.

        Do you really mean ’cause’ here, or ‘are correlated with’?

        • spinkham

          I’m not sure.. That’s a quite from the link above it, and I haven’t read their primary sources.

          I know there’s good evidence of causation with health outcomes and religiosity, but haven’t looked as much at the literature on violent crime and causation.

      • Straw Man

        Interesting stuff, Spinkham. I accept your report that there is a strong correlation between income inequality and homicide rates.

        It’s still the case that I hesitate to assume causality, and to discount other factors as having a strong influence. I would also hesitate to leap to the conclusion that *redistribution* is therefore the obvious solution; at the very least, the econometric studies on the correlation between societies with and without forced redistribution, normalized for income inequality to compare comparable societies with forced and unforced equality, would seem to be indicated.

        Which speaks to the issue that the appropriate response to a tragedy isn’t to start spouting bromides. Actually addressing the real problems, in the best way, is hard. And not every problem even has a solution. The bottom line is that we try to find a solution, doing the hard work of figuring out what the problem really is, and what would really solve it, and without discarding our core principles in the process (and here I’m thinking of the exaggerated fear of “terror,” and the mass death abroad and mass erosion of civil rights at home that we now tolerate because we’re so terrified of “terror”).

        • arcseconds

          This graph is interesting:

          http://www.social-europe.eu/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Graph_1-1-e1329339314264.jpg

          The Gini coefficient is a measure of income inequality, and this shows the Gini of market incomes, and the incomes after taxes and transfers.

          It shows that taxes and transfers (especially taxes) do succeed in achieving income equality. It also kind of suggests that market incomes in industralized, majority European countries are kind of naturally quite high. The vast majority of countries on the graph are industrialized, majority European countries, and almost all of those countries have market income equality of about the same as the States or a little less. Only China/Taiwan and South Korea have market income equality comparable to equality achieved by tax-transfer. It would be interesting to know what’s going on in South Korea, as that’s reasonably industrialized.

          So I’m not sure it’s going to be possible to get a useful study on homocide versus forced equality / unforced equality, at least not for majority European industralized nations, because that’s the way they get income equality.

          (maybe it’s actually the tax/transfer system itself which does the work, not the resulting equality? ;-])

          There doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe that forcing income equality does bad things to homocide rates, though, because those with the largest amount of tax/transfer look like mostly the usual suspects: Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden all have very low homocide rates, France and Belgium are still under 2, the only ones which look like high tax/transfer and bit high on the homocide things are Finland and the Czech Republic. Poland’s got a high tax/transfer rate and a highish homocide rate, but it also has a high remaining level of actual income inequality (due to a high market income inequality).

    • babby660

      At this point, almost everything is a conjecture; however, it ain’t gonna stop people from talking about it.

      • Straw Man

        Of course people talk about it. It’s dominating the media, the social media, and the water-cooler conversation right now. However, it’s reasonable to expect folks to be respectful about it.

        James hasn’t done anything I’d call vulgar or blatantly disrespectful; only, as I said, that it’s touchy business putting forward theories without seeming to cross the line into saying, as Huckabee did in effect, “See all those dead bodies? Well, they’re dead because prayer was taken out of school!” Or as James could be read to have said, “See all those dead bodies? Well, they’re dead because we don’t have an adequate social safety net!”

        My rule of thumb is to try pretty hard to avoid saying “what you people need” or “this wouldn’t have happened if.”

    • arcseconds

      But you are going off on your own speculations — how is that any different from Huckabee or James?

      • Straw Man

        I am not going off on my own speculations. I’m pointing out, with myself as an illustration, that EVERYONE has his speculations, and NONE of them are worth anything. Including mine. Was that less than crystal clear from what I wrote?

        The key difference is that I do not put my speculation forward as an explanation, nor even so much as a hypothesis. I remarked only that it was the “first thing that popped into my head,” and that I do indeed wonder whether there’s any meaningful correlation there. And I only said that much as an illustration that (1) everyone has his wild speculations to offer, and (2) there are far more *possible* explanations out there than anyone imagines–so the *real* explanation, if indeed we can find it at all, is liable to surprise all of us.

        • arcseconds

          Yes, less than crystal clear. Your actions don’t seem to be commensurate with your statements: why write a long paragraph and waste everyone’s time with reading and thinking about it if it’s literally worth nothing? Especially when you preface your speculations with ‘it’s worth exploring’. That does kind of set one up to suppose that the following speculation is an exploration worth making.

          And especially especially when you still say everyone’s speculations are worth nothing, including James’s, even though you’ve now seen empirical evidence that you admit tends to support him. If empirical evidence doesn’t make a speculation worth something, then nothing will.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

    Crime in America is an interesting topic. I would say that the easy availibility of gun play a lot into the most noticable discrephency, murder. Otherwise in termes of total crime the US isn’t much different than Europe, but we have a real lead on murders. On Auroura i would suspec the number of people wiuth such homicidal fantacies is probably uniform across industrial nations but the ability to effective carry them out is probably better here. I would be interested to see how long it would take to amass the sorts of arsenals and at what price that were used in some our more deadly rampages. Europe still gets them and utimately such an odfd thing can never be alliminated, but I would suspect it is easy to accomplish here.

  • Larry Linn

    The deadly sins:

    Envy

    Gluttony

    Greed

    Lust

    Pride

    Sloth

    Wrath

    ‘Ever heard the George Carlin phrase
    that incorporates all of these into one sentence?

    George Carlin sums them up: “It infuriates
    me that I, a clearly superior person, should make less money than my neighbor,
    whose wife I’d really like to have sex with if I wasn’t so busy laying around
    and eating pork chops all day

  • arcseconds

    Killing sprees are pretty rare events, even in the States. They’re so rare, I’m pretty wary of trying to tell any simple story about them — they could be idiosyncratic. They’re different enough from the average homocide (the killer usually knows the victim, for example) to think that the explanations might not be all that similar.

    This is a complete guess, but I wonder whether killing sprees aren’t better thought as a category of suicide (even if the killer doesn’t die) as a category of murder. Suicide tends to be ‘ritualistic’ in the sense that the person often does it in the way that it’s done in the local area (even to the point where if you block of access to the place to jump from, suicide rates go down). Killing sprees are also kind of ritualistic, and perhaps the local nature of suicide rituals is one reason why they’re common enough in the States.

  • Gary

    This is the same kind of stuff that comes from the FRC, Tony Perkins, Call2Fall, etc. God, Guts, and Guns. Protect your guns at all costs. Protect Israel at all costs. America was apparently given permission by God to exterminate the Native Americans, so us white people could start capitalism. Sell lots of weapons to other countries, to make large profits. Eventually destroy their weapons in a war. Then rebuild them, and sell them more weapons. Who needs Ferengi’s. We’ve got us.

  • Justanotherguy

    I think he makes some good
    points about the bridge between the rich and poor, but you would think
    before the author makes declarative statements about what the early
    Christians did or did not do, that he would study up so he could speak
    authoritatively and not sound ignorant. Clearly he hasn’t read the book
    of Acts and other Pauline writings, or he would know that Paul and others spent weeks presenting
    Christ in the Jewish temples at each city they came to, and Paul (THE
    leader of the early church) knew pagan philosophy as well as anyone.
    That’s early church 101. I’m kind of embarrassed for the author.


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