A reader thinks he disagrees with me

A reader thinks he disagrees with me December 21, 2012

…and he writes to gripe at me for not trying to provide some “explanation” for the monstrous outburt of evil in Newtown:

There are only “no answers” because we studiously avoid looking for answers, because the search would lead us to answers that are politically and economically inconvenient for us.  These are not unforseeable once-in-a-generation lightning strike tragedies.  They are a form of human sacrifice that is tacitly approved and enabled by us because we have made a conscious choice that the status quo is worth the price in any number of lives that might be required to sustain it.  It is the same spineless idiocy that used to enable communities to bury a dozen members of each high school class from drunk driving accidents in the 1970s and thousands of coal miners each year a century ago. “We just can’t know why these things happen” was the refrain then too from apologists of the legal and cultural status quo.

Those who say we should just cast our eyes up to Heaven and offer it up to Jesus and focus on the wonderful tales of selfless sacrifice and avoid “politicizing the tragedy” are moral cowards. Without even having the courage to put their names behind it, they are giving a nodding approval to the execution warrants of the next victims of the next Newtown, and of the tens of thousands who will die in less spectacular shootings every day. They have no business bleating about “the sanctity of life” because they embracing nihilism. Any race of beings who perpetually tell themselves “now is not the right time” to even discuss an existential threat to its children is one that is too brutal and stupid to deserve the sacrifice of a Christ figure.  No god that would offer comfort without admonishment to his people for this pattern of negligence is worthy of worship.

But in fact we are in substantial agreement.  My point was not, “Give up.  It’s stupid to even try to prevent such evils” but “When such evils come, all we can do is suffer them in union with Christ on the cross, not analyze them or solve them.  Evil is a mystery.”

That said, evil is not unanswerable and we are to take what steps we can to oppose it instead of passively sitting there.  So while it is perfectly sound theology to say “Things that cause men to sin are bound to come” it is also perfectly good morals to say, “but woe to him through whom they come” (or as that tough old Catholic buzzard Mother Jones used to say, “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”)  The counselors of despair from the gun lobby, which leapt with pre-programmed enthusiasm to express more concern for guns than for the dead, and have spent the past week saying, “There are no answers.  There is nothing anybody can do.  You must resign yourself to the fact that this will happen again and again and again and again” have, as much as the tragedy itself, impressed upon me that fact that there is something deeply evil at work in the battery of NRA Talking Points that go out after each fresh slaughter.  And my reader is right, they essentially urge that we regard each fresh slaughter as a necessary human sacrifice for maintaining the status quo–including this most recent sacrifice of six year olds to Moloch.

The one and only policy recommendation made by those who persistently offer these counsels of despair is that we should become a garrison state in which everybody is packing heat at all times, coupled with piety about the need for every member of our hyper-militarized universal gun culture to be pious Christians.  These two counsels are hard to square with one another.  And the former counsel tends to suggest that the latter is just windy Christianese covering a deep belief in the efficacy of trusting chariots and horses and not in the name of the Lord our God.  People keep sending me pictures of Israeli teachers with rifles or anecdotes about some guy in Bugtussle who allegedly stopped a bad guy by drawing down on him, as though this is a consolation.  Nobody asks, “And if one of these teachers goes nuts and kills their class, should the students all pack heat too?”  Nobody asks, “Is it really sane to say “Freedom means living in a nation of citizens so terrified of violence that elementary school teachers are carrying rifles and side arms and reduced to living in the same circumstances of siege mentality as Israelis.”  In short, the people in the gun lobby who go all mystical and say, “The problem lies in the human heart” belie their own case the next second by offering, just as gun controllers do, a technological, not a religious, solution: Guns for All.  Why?  Because all they have is a gun and every problem looks like a target.  What they object to is not that gun controllers try to offer a technological fix instead of addressing our broken souls.  Rather, they object to gun controllers threatening access to guns and offer instead the technological fix of more death (for that is, after all, the only thing handguns exist to do: kill humans.)

So while it is true that the core issue is moral and technological fixes cannot address that and only God can, it does not follow that there are no technological aids to the problem, nor that the best technological aid is to help facilitate maximum opportunities to kill human beings in a war of all against all.  Christians have, to be sure, a job to do in helping with the conversion of society.  But prudence also suggests that Christians also have a job to do in making sure nutjobs can’t lay their hands on an assault rifle or a handgun.  That’s not just me.  That’s the American bishops. And it’s not just the American bishops.  It’s Rome.

So when I say that evil is not soluble by some easy-peasy political formula or pious nostrum, I am not in the least trying to suggest we sit on our hands.  We are called to be peacemakers.  We are called to help the Holy Spirit with the conversion of human hearts.  And we are called to limit evil as best we can.  So we are called to limit the access of maniacs, not just to nukes, but to Glocks.

We put a man on the moon.  Finding ways to make it harder for maniacs to obtain massive artillery is well within our grasp and, frankly, the main thing standing in the way is the intransigently obstructionist gun lobby.  And we start that process by not repeating lies about how “there are no answers to keeping massive firepower  out of the hands of lunatics” and rejecting the kind of rhetoric that says it is utopian to want to stop outrages like Sandy Hook.  We believe there are plenty of answers for keeping massive firepower out of the hands of Al Quaeda.  We note that England, Australia and other nations have taken effective action to mitigate against maniacs having easy access to weapons–and have done so without turning into Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, and Pol Pot’s Cambodia, as the gun lobby always assures us will happen to an America that crosses them.

I’m prolife.  Abortion on demand has been the law of the land for forty years.  I recognize that, at the theological level, a universe in which a sovereign God permits abortion and the slaughter of innocents is one of the most profound mysteries we are confronted with.  I have no “answers” to why that is.  But I will believe with my dying breath that He hates it and wills that we fight it.  I will *never* settle for or listen to any voice that says, “There are no answers” to abortion.  Why the hell should I believe the gun lobby when it says exactly the same thing about the slaughter of innocents at Sandy Hook?  Such counsels of despair are, I think, from the devil.

That is not, you will note, a political program.  It is a fundamental orientation of my heart.  I don’t have some thought-through political program.  But I have come to a certain amount of clarity about certain things.  One of them is that when people greet the news of the slaughter of children with “Oh well.  Whaddaya gonna do?  There are no answers.  Lunatics will be lunatics.  We just have to take the risk of a culture in which it’s simple for them to have access to field artillery.  Anything other than that is either utopian or incipient Nazism.” I want to take a shower.

I can’t help but think we are approaching a tipping point of some kind.  Essentially, the present social contract has been “We will trade off a certain number of mass murders (and of course a far greater number of private unnoticed murders) for our present gun culture regime.”  Sooner or later, some outrage (and Sandy Hook may be it) is going to spur a great enough number of people with the money and power to make it happen to say, “Screw this present regime.  Something has to change. We can’t endure these counsels of despair anymore.”  What that change will look like–and whether it will be wise–is anybody’s guess.

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