Many Americans cite their gun ownership and their religiosity as virtues. Maybe we have a reality problem.
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Once I recovered from the latest in the endless processional of senseless mass shootings and dead schoolchildren stories, I began my ritual search for context. As I did, I took note that it was in fact not just, as widely described, a “private school shooting.”
It was a shooting at a private Christian school. That fact did not seem to be germane at first, any more than the idiosyncratic demons of this particular murderer; but I was struck by how initial accounts did not mention or highlight this detail, indicative of a larger pattern.
This brought up for me a subject I’ve been wanting to write about for a very long time. It is — how shall I put it? — a uniquely sensitive and typically avoided topic. And many will surely be upset about what I am about to say.
We live in a “modern” society with continuous advances in science, medicine, technology, and other areas. Yet we also live in a primitive society, with primitive behavior and primitive beliefs and customs.
I am of course referring to America’s gun cult. But I am also referring to its God cult.
I don’t mean to get into a debate over religion or its pros and cons. But I am seeking to raise this topic in terms of the real urgency and relevance it has to all our lives.
The debate over religion is an ancient one. Any reasonable person would admit there are many things that science has yet to explain. Given this, we should always be open to new ways of understanding our world.
Apparently, shootings at private schools — including religious schools — are comparatively rare. Nonetheless, thinking about how religious people associated with the school would process such a horror show reminds me of how often tragedies seem to afflict devout people — and how often, conversely, the immoral and selfish among us, the doers of great harm, suffer no adverse consequences.
I think, for example, of the fearmongers and lie peddlers, especially (of course!) Donald J. Trump, but also NewsCorp’s Rupert Murdoch. Trump just keeps on coming, like The Terminator, and, at age 92, Murdoch blithely moves past a potential billion-dollar reckoning for dividing America over false election claims by buying a new townhouse on Central Park and marrying for the fifth time to his fourth former-model wife.
God and Guns (Or Thoughts and Prayers)
As the religious and secular alike admit, the existence of God is not provable by the comparative fates of the virtuous and evil. It’s significant, therefore, that much of the “trust in guns” to make us safe also comes from faith rather than factual evidence. About 40 percent of Americans have guns or live with someone who does. And 81 percent of Americans say they believe in God; among gun owners (mostly white evangelical Protestants), that rate is even higher.
Joseph P. Slaughter, a religion professor at Wesleyan University, recently wrote on this topic:
I’ve come to know many students from other countries who identify as Christian. I realized they were puzzled at some of the things Americans often bundled into their faith — things these international Christians didn’t consider relevant to their own religious identity.
In fact, in this country, the two issues almost always bleed together.
Whenever there is a shooting, public officials rush to offer “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their families. Thoughts, prayers, flowers, and candles may provide solace to survivors; they do nothing to address the actual problem.
Andy Ogles is the congressman representing the district where the Nashville shooting took place. In 2021, he tweeted:
Want to be ‘WOKE’?
- Read the Bible
- Follow Jesus
- Love as Christ loves
That same year, he sent out Christmas cards showing himself and his family grinning widely as they hoisted their modified AR-15s.
The tragedy of the latest mass shooting is listening to Tennessee politicians who refuse to call it a shooting but who engaged in behavior that caused this to be more likely when they glorify guns. Tennessee Rep @AndyOgles, is this you with your family? pic.twitter.com/LJGnUKqJdA
— Fred Guttenberg (@fred_guttenberg) March 27, 2023
Asked about that photo after the carnage, he declared, “Why would I regret a beautiful xmas card I took with my family?” (He later deleted it from his social profile.)
Another Tennessee congressman, Rep. Tim Burchett (R), waved the tragedy off, saying that there was nothing to be done about such things, and cavalierly noting, “We homeschool our daughter.”
Years ago, we all might have been shocked by that; such a person might have been forced by outrage to resign. Today, we have gone from avoidance of the issue to outright indifference, and from arguments against public schools and support for charter and private schools to (for many) enthusiasm for religious schools, and from that to — no schools at all, at least for the ruling caste.
Meanwhile, Burchett is calling for America to “repent.” He asserts that this religious affirmation, and not actual gun regulation legislation, is the only way to address the free-range shooting of American school children.
Are Believers Believable?
Which brings us to the core of my topic: the extent to which Americans of all stripes seem cultishly unable or unwilling to engage with reality and increasingly are withdrawing into a cocoon of delusion and madness. It’s not only the behavior of the public at large. It is the behavior of perhaps half our elected officials — behavior without which they fear they could not be elected.
I realize that, as I’m writing this, we’re coming up on Passover and Easter, and a week into Ramadan. I know how important these holidays are and the moral lessons associated with them. But with everything from climate change and environmental disasters to gun violence and financial collapse getting worse by the day, isn’t it time to start having a frank discussion about who we are, and just how engaged we are with the actual facts?
Paradoxically, many of the same people who embrace faith without evidence accuse anyone engaged in fact-based responses of wokefully denying reality. Hence, the explosion of pseudo-religious orthodoxies: baby-eating liberal globalists, Pizzagate, the invention of massive election fraud, vaccine chips, UN depopulation plans of Agenda 21, and the like. The “believers” here span the political, theological, and economic spectrum.
What we see in a sizable element of our population is a real distaste for uncomfortable information or inconvenient obligations, irrespective of party or beliefs. Truth simply has no place. Objective facts are overwhelmed by idiopathic personal “truths.”
And so we have the inane response of a man interviewed at a gun range by The Washington Post after the Nashville shooting. The article argues that limiting ammunition magazine sizes, slowing shooters down as they reload, could save lives. The man, who works as a property manager, was irritated by the idea, because he likes to “blow off steam” at a gun range. Having to reload, he believes, would not only make him less safe to others in an actual dangerous situation (bringing down a “bad guy” shooter, for example), at a gun range it would be an inconvenient hassle.
The Big Picture: It’s a Bad One
Like the man at the gun range, many explicitly place personal interest and comfort above all else. Guns are comforting if you’re fearful. God is comforting if you’re questioning. Junk food is comforting if you’re hungry. The politics of today are built around that siloed notion, as we saw in 2016 when Mike Huckabee introduced himself to the public as a GOP presidential candidate with a book called God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy.
Today, that kind of fervent, social media self-definition is so common as to be banal. Just look at all the Twitter profiles, car stickers, T-shirts, and tattoos that announce religiosity, gun ownership, patriotism. They don’t leave home without these labels. Perhaps they “doth protest too much.”
Ironically, the very same people who presumably believe that “God is protecting me” are so terrified that they surround themselves with antidotes to fear, whether AR-15s or life in a high-surveillance bunker.
Statistically, the real threat is not the unknown other. The threat is the gun, the environmental crisis, the repeal of financial regulation, the defunding of schools and libraries, the poverty, and the ignorance. Mass shootings are now so common that we barely blink at the sad particulars and increasing coincidences. Like the local Nashville TV reporter covering the scene at the Covenant School, WSMV4’s Joylyn Bukovac, who revealed to viewers that she herself is a school shooting survivor.
Or this: The day of the Covenant shootings, Ashbey Beasley, a resident of Highland Park, IL, was visiting relatives in Nashville. She was no stranger to gun violence either, as she and her six-year-old son had been present during last July 4’s mass shooting at a parade in Highland Park, where seven were killed, and 48 others wounded.
Beasley was on her way to lunch with Shaundelle Brooks, a Nashville woman whose older son had been killed in the 2018 Waffle House shooting in Antioch, TN. When the Covenant School shooting began and Brooks’s younger son’s school was locked down, Beasley said:
I couldn’t even fully process it. What do you say? Because only in America can you survive a mass shooting and go and make a friend who is the victim of a mass shooting and then go to meet that friend for lunch … and end up in the middle of another mass shooting event.
More from Beasley here.
Without Candor, All Is Lost
Atheism, empathy, human decency, societal disarmament, and environmental stewardship are supremely rational concepts that dare not speak their name.
Politicians of both parties are terrified of acknowledging such concepts, so they pay lip service to some variation on the Huckabee credo. Those who don’t accept God and guns as their savior just have to suck it up and memorize these passwords to the app of this warped American dream. No wonder everyday existence has become more perilous and nerve-wracking for the rest of us.
To borrow very loosely from a better source of truth (Moby Dick, or perhaps Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan),
Their unholy beliefs in the name of God — they task us mightily.