20 December 2012

Cult 45

In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, I had already decided to call this post "Cult 45" before I read "Our Moloch" by Garry Wills, but he covers the same territory much better than I could have.

There's no way that the USA will soon deal decisively with this cult of the gun. The most straightforward and honest way to correct our national relationship with firearms would be to adopt a new amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Can you imagine such a campaign to change the Constitution succeeding? I, the eternal optimist, cannot.

Attempts to subvert the plain text of the Constitution ("...the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed") are not a great idea. We count on the other Constitutional guarantees of civil liberties (free speech, free press, the right to assemble, the free exercise of religion, due process, trial by jury, and so on); let's not trick our way past this particular amendment.

It seems like just yesterday that I last commented on this subject, after the January 2011 shooting up of Gabrielle Giffords' meeting with her constituents in Tucson, Arizona. I ended with a question that I hope is beginning to be answered in the aftermath of Newtown. Here's part of what I posted then:

A sad note about guns.... For years, I've been listening to arguments back and forth about gun control in the USA, particularly about the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
In the wake of Tucson's tragedy, students here in Russia are also asking me about gun violence and gun ownership in the USA. For better or for worse, part of our American national DNA is this awkward amendment putting private gun ownership up there with free speech, free assembly, and freedom of religion. Part of me wishes it weren't so--perhaps the part that still grieves my sister's murder with a sawed-off shotgun--but it seems that keeping and bearing arms will continue to be part of the exciting, scary, and messy package that is the USA.

Freedom of speech, press, and religion are clearly elements of democracy, but why does gun ownership evoke the same level of emotional support as those other freedoms--if not more? The "well regulated Militia" hardly seems to explain it. Aside from the frontier ethic of defending "what's mine," there's also a lingering sense, dating to our revolutionary past, that the citizen's gun is also a last resort against government itself, a form of insurance against tyranny.

Whatever the origins of this passionate support for guns, it seems useless to argue that it shouldn't exist. Dozens of shocking episodes of gun violence have come and gone and the U.S. gun lobby seems as strong as ever. But all other constitutional freedoms have their defined limits: speech cannot incite riots; press cannot libel; assemblies can be regulated as to time and place. After due process, even the sacred right to vote can be denied. Can we now find a critical mass, including gun owners, that will come together and define what IS and is NOT meant by "infringing" the Second Amendment? Yes, you have a right to keep and bear arms. But we collectively have a right to do whatever it reasonably takes to restrain you, or your unbalanced neighbor, from spraying bullets in the direction of our fellow citizens--especially our children! Where is the lobby for this right?

Last week's shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, took place in a school, and former Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee was quick with his diagnosis:
We ask why there’s violence in our schools but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? Because we've made it a place where we do not want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability. That we're not just going to have to be accountable to the police, if they catch us, but we stand one day before, you know, a holy God in judgment. If we don't believe that, then we don’t fear that. And, so I, sometimes, when people say, 'Why did God let it happen?' You know, God wasn't armed. He didn't go to the school. But God will be there in the form of a lot of people with hugs and with therapy and a whole lot of ways in which he will be involved in the aftermath. Maybe we ought to let him in on the front end and we would not have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end.
I want to take this statement seriously, in part because many people I respect are probably nodding in agreement with Huckabee. As raw rhetoric, it seems logical and attractive: If you take God out of our schools, then don't be surprised when evil fills the vacuum. And perhaps Huckabee is tying in with a legitimate criticism of the marginalizing of faith in our culture. But back to what he actually said:  I've got an intense interest in both God and our schools, so I want to present a few points in response.

First: we have not "systematically removed God" from schools--but rather we've required public schools not to use their power over our children to impose religion on them. At this very minute, controversies rage here in Russia over persistent attempts to institutionalize religion in the public schools; it might be instructive for Mike Huckabee and those who agree with him to see what is going on here and see if their viewpoints might need adjusting.

God is in every school and can never be removed. Every believing pupil and student, supported by every believing family, has many ways to be faithful witnesses to the reality of God. Believers serve on probably every school board in the country. Voluntary school-church partnerships abound, and not just in the Bible Belt, but even in "secular" Portland, Oregon. But the psychological weight of the school must not be used to trespass the boundaries of students' consciences, neither with some specific locally dominant creed nor with a homogenized civil religion that would never be admitted into any church.

Second: Before God was "removed" (presumably by the Supreme Court's decisions of 1962 and 1963, and its "Lemon Test" of 1971), God was presumably in on the front end, during the days of Jim Crow and "separate but equal," multiple scandals involving abuse of children, the prohibition of aboriginal languages, and on and on....

Third: In my own post-1962 school experiences in the USA, I had several teachers who both exemplified and openly discussed integrity, responsibility, accountability, and so on. We were never ever taught to base our ethical standards on simply not getting caught by the police. I don't know, but I suspect that several of those teachers were indeed preparing us for eternity, but in any case I cherish my memories of their classes.

Warmest Christmas blessings to you--whether you celebrate Jesus' birthday next Tuesday, December 25, or whether you celebrate (as we and most of Russia will) on January 7. Christmas is one of the few times when our secular culture actually provides an opening to celebrate the Name above all names! Let's raise Christ high in joy and love, with goodwill to ALL.

Lessons in biblical manhood from the most original review of the film Lincoln I've read so far.

"Meeting for worship with a concern for music."

Chicago Reader's "People Issue 2012": "Keith Magee, the pastor."

Northwest Yearly Meeting's Peace with Justice blog: a new mom considers Newtown and "the disease that is fear".... Meanwhile, "Russian Gun Lobby Seeks Right to Bear Arms."

President Putin backs a bill to ban adoptions of Russians by U.S. citizens. Political poker chips? Two different Russian Orthodox perspectives.

"All My Tears"

Grace Laxson & Justin Lavik :: All My Tears from Antioch Church on Vimeo.

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