The problem with this argument, much like the lie told by Satan to Jesus in which he quotes Scripture, is that it is a truth told in order to lie, because Satan knows that fish do not bite bare hooks. If you are going to lie you always mix it with truth to make the hook taste good. So yes, God did indeed say, “He will give his angels charge of you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up,/lest you strike your foot against a stone.” (Mt 4:6) But he did not do so in order to give us a license to try experiments on him by leaping off the Temple parapet. He is not our Cosmic Lab Rabbit.
In the same way, Jesus did indeed say that the heart is the origin of sin (cf. Mark 7:20-23), including the sin of mass murder. What he did not say, and what gnostic heretics *did* say, was that therefore what we do with our bodies does not matter as long as we address ourselves to the spirit within. That’s because Jesus, the Word Made Flesh, understood that body, soul, and spirit are a unity and what we do with our bodies matters.
This is true, not only when we speak of sex (the normal realm in which this point is made in Catholic public discourse) but also when we speak of our national problem with gun slaughter.
Times without number, we hear some variation on this preachment from Christians laboring to gnosticize the problem of violence and keep it out of the realm of, you know, doing something about it:
“We keep asking ourselves why, but we never seem to get the answer. All we hear is more guns, less guns, as if this is primarily a political problem. The issue is moral, with the political only serving a small part. The problem lies within you and me and the darkness in our own hearts. We have a deep heart problem and a loss of truth and morality problem. Please, keep making it about more or less guns. It makes us feel better about ourselves and gives us a sense of moral superiority. Meanwhile more lives will be lost, if not at the hands of a psychopath with a gun, it will be a psychopath with a bomb, a truck, or an airplane.”
Someday, the people who say this (who also tend to be the people who say, “Murkans are still a godly people who have not become godless secular weenies like the Europeans”) will have to reconcile the claim that increasing “American godlessness in the heart is the real issue” with the fact that our country and not godless secular Europe is the only one where this regularly happens.
Don’t hand me the “Europe has gun massacres too!” line. Nothing like our gun slaughter rate is seen anywhere but here.
Australia, by law and policy and government, not “thoughts and prayers” took *action*–physical, concrete, incarnate, word-made-flesh action after Port Arthus–and the result was that their gun death rate dropped dramatically and they have had no mass shootings since Port Arthur.
The claim that our slaughter rate is due primarily to the growth of godlessness in America is, in fact, a claim that there is something uniquely sinful about the godless American heart that is not shared by the rest of the first world.
My reply: Baloney. What is unique about Americans is not our sinfulness but our easy, insane access to massive firepower, which is due, not to our growing irreligion, but to the fact that our Gun Culture, enabled and enforced by our government and our *laws* and *political institutions* makes sure, first and last, that the arms industry’s pockets are well lined and that those riches fund our politicians, no matter how many innocent people die due to the easy access to firepower by murderous and suicidal people. This is not some mystical issue of irreligion. This is a problem rooted in our refusal to enact sane public policy.
Indeed, it is conservative Christians who are the most passionate defenders of the slaughter and of the insane public policy. And one of their key lies is this one, told to prop up this obscene system by those making this argument.
This is not to say “thoughts and prayers” are bad per se. Authentic Christianity insists that prayer and thought is the root of good actions. Jesus tells us, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” (Mt 6:33). Pope Francis says, “You pray for the poor and then you feed them.”
But Jesus warns repeatedly of a gooey false piety that uses “thoughts and prayers” as a way of fending off obedience. The son who obeys–even if he said “No” to his Father–is the one who obeyed his Father. The son who is all talk and no action disobeyed his Father.
“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’” (Mt 7:21–23).
Telling a wounded kid shivvering on the concrete as he bleeds out in Vegas “Thoughts and prayers! Be warm and well fed. This is a heart problem, a soul problem” while doing nothing to stop the shooter is obscene. What our Do Nothing Gun Culture doggedly refuses to face is that it is just as obscene to refuse to lift a finger to try to stop the next shooter–because he is absolutely certain to come if we do nothing. And when he does and we did nothing or, worse yet, told lies to make sure that he was even better armed to slaughter hundreds more, what answer shall we make to our Lord when he asks why we labored so hard to arm him?