Do Not Go Gentle: For Fear of Death, For Love of Guns

Do not go gentle into that good night…
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.*

There might have been a motive, they say. His mother-in-law goes to that church, they’re telling us now. He’d threatened her before, the story goes.

So we have located a reason. So now we all breathe a little deeper, sleep a little more soundly, call our Representatives a little less frantically… Because we were not them/they/there. It wasn’t us. All will be well.

You might not realize it, but this is how your brain works. It is basic psychology. After a disaster, we frantically seek a motive, a reason, anything that will allow us to separate our own reality from that of the victims. We don’t have a violent, psychotic ex-son-in-law, so it will not happen to us. We don’t live in Texas, so it won’t happen to us. We aren’t Baptists, so it won’t happen to us. Etc. Fill in the blank. 

While the logic is deeply flawed– after all, there is usually no rhyme or reason to these killing sprees–that is still where our minds go. We look for the uncommon thread. The thing that puts a barrier between our life and the lives lost.

And it’s all because, whether you realize it or not, you are afraid of dying.

We all are. It is deep within our wiring, and it ensures the fight or flight instincts that keep us alive. It’s evolution. It’s biology.

It is also spiritual. We love life. We want to be alive more than we want to be dead. We want to exist, rather than not exist.

That’s all well and good, as long as the desire to live ultimately makes us live well. But sometimes we get into this pattern of spiritual sickness–where our fear of death actually reduces us to our worst self, rather than elevating us to our best one. It drives us to behaviors that Christians might call the “deadly sins.” Other traditions have other words for these behaviors, but they all come down to the same things: greed, violence, lust, etc. In many ways, our every ill is rooted in the same basic desire to not be dead; to ignore the looming presence of an expiration date on everything we own and achieve.

When that fearful narrative becomes deeply embedded in an entire culture, then the fall-out is corporate sin: systemic greed, violence, racism, etc. It is eat or be eaten. Hoard all the stuff before it’s gone. Dominate an entire race before they can dominate you.

Shoot before you can be shot.

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It is the deepest, sickest irony imaginable–we have all these guns because we reject the notion of death. We equate guns with freedom because we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking they protect life. And isn’t that the real American dream? Not home ownership, not wealth and prosperity, but immortality. 

Just look at our tales of westward expansion–both the real historical ones, and the romanticized cinematic versions featuring Clint Eastwood on a horse. Look at the pace of our technological advances. Look at the marvels of the medical world, and the exploration of space. Over the past 200 years, America has wrought one miracle after another, in so many realms. In all of these places, the desire is the same–let us not be finite. Let there be more than this. Let this life stretch on forever.

We may claim to love our lives, but we have pinned our hopes of longevity on the very thing that is designed to take life away. In the end, our fear of death adds up to a love of guns. And while some might say “guns don’t kill people,” that is really ALL that they do.

We invest countless dollars and hours of human brain power into making safer cars, building a world-class military, securing our borders, and creating new vaccines. And yet, we are fearful and powerless in the shadow of this violent culture; this cache of weapons that we cling to as if to life itself.

At the altar of the gun, we will lay down our lives, the lives of our children, the lives of the faithful gathered in prayer. As much as we claim to love the breath in our bodies, it is our fear of the darkness that lets the darkness have us.

Try as we might to separate ourselves from the victims of these tragedies, they are us. Movie-goers, school kids and teachers, mall shoppers, office workers, worshippers, and innocent bystanders all… It is only a matter of time before this particular darkness comes for us. The sooner we claim our own role in creating the darkness, the sooner we can push back against it.

What is the answer? How to we refrain from going gentle into this night, willing victims of its fearful story?   According to Dylan Thomas, we should rage. “Rage against the dying of the light.”  Resist as though our lives depend upon it. Resist as though we really do love living–and not just the objects of destruction that claim to protect us. If we feel trapped and helpless against the gun machine, it’s because the NRA has so effectively nuanced the narrative that fear will save us; that guns will let us live forever.

Let our love of life speak louder than our fear of death, and that will be a beginning.

Refuse to go gently into this night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Rage and call your representatives. Rage, then donate to common sense advocacy groups. Rage and host interfaith forums about violence. Rage and get involved in your local schools, in roles of civic responsibility.

And today especially–take your rage and vote. Vote for the life that you love, and for the lives already lost. 

Because, in the end, they are us: beloved, holy, light.

*Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

–Dylan Thomas

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