Wednesday, March 29, 2023

"It's not the guns. It's the culture."

"It's not the guns.  It's the culture."

This is the argument, raised several times a month, whenever there is another in America's never-ending series of school massacres.  Or church massacres.  Or mall massacres.  Or country concert massacres.  I lose track.  They're simply too frequent to remember them all.

There's always a gun involved.  A murderer can't do this as easily with pointed sticks, which we know because we no longer hunt nor make war with spears.

No matter what the circumstance, or who is killed, or how many are killed, there is little question that we as a society are at an impasse.  We make the same arguments, every single time.  "It's the guns!"  "It's the culture!"  "We have too many guns!"  "Our culture is broken!"  "There need to be fewer guns!"  "There needs to be more Jesus!"

We have coalesced into two factions, utterly divided, unable to hear one another.  We are Blue and Red, progressive and conservative, thesis and antithesis.  

But I found myself wondering if perhaps a way out lies in synthesis.

It is not just the guns, nor simply the culture, but the poisonous combination of the both.

The thing that is broken is our gun culture.  

The spirit that now animates America's gun culture is at the heart of this long tragedy.

Years ago, I wrote a little novel, a peculiar apocalyptic tale of the Amish living through the collapse of American society.  One thing that's easy to miss in our gauzy buggies-and-bonnets romance-novel view of Old Order Mennonites is that they own firearms.  Plenty of guns.  They hunt.  They slaughter livestock.  There are guns in my novel, and those guns serve a purpose. 

But that purpose is not self-defense, or the use of force against an aggressor.  The Amish, who are as deeply, sternly pacifist as the first Christians were pacifist, would rather die than harm another.  Better to lose your life than your soul, to paraphrase our mutual Master. 

It's a gun counterculture, one steeped in the hard Christian discipline of nonviolence and self-sacrificial pacifism.  If American gun culture was like Amish gun culture, things would be different.  But it is not.  It has also changed.

In my grandfather's time, guns were the realm of hunters, farmers, and sport.  My grandfather owned a rifle, which he used for those purposes.  Now?  Most Americans own guns because guns make us feel powerful, and power makes us feel safe.  If we are threatened, we can use our guns to kill our assailants.  That's what our culture teaches, what the endless firefight of our Roman circus entertainment industry celebrates and encourages, what the howling profit-driven umbrage of culture warriors sings to our hearts.

The call, from many of my Christian brothers and sisters, is for a change to the human heart.  I accept that.

Why do you own a gun, if you own a gun?

Is a gun a practical tool that feeds your family or your neighbors?  Do you hunt or slaughter livestock?  Do you compete in shooting sports?  Then all may be well with your soul.

Do you believe that violence has redemptive power?  Do you believe that the power to harm those who threaten you is justified?  Righteous, even?   Are you fearful for your life, afraid that without a gun, you will be in danger?  Do you desire dominance and power over your enemies?  Are you a proud gun owner?

If so, then the proud spirit of your gun ownership is the opposite of what Jesus taught.  It is what is broken.  Because that dark spirit, the spirit that desires to rule over neighbor and enemy?   The Amish describe that pridefulness as "hochmut," and it is the fundamental nature of all human sin. It is close to what classical Christian orthodoxy would call "concupiscience," the proud lust to possess, to dominate and control.   

Because it is not just the guns.  It is the culture, and the spirit that animates the culture.