Saturday, January 12, 2013

Violence is not the Solution to Violence

While browsing Facebook the other day a picture caught my attention. (Unfortunately I cannot find a way to link to or embed it here.) It shows Jesus (in classic white-man Jesus appearance) holding a young child and talking to a bunch of men with the caption:
You have heard it said, "Love your enemy and do good to those who persecute you." But I say, if you feel threatened, don't hesitate to blow someone away. The Second Amendment gives you the right. Besides, the Founding Fathers were Christians, so it's all good.
In its hyperbole, this captures well a key concern I have with the rhetoric I hear coming from a certain segment of Americans. I find it particularly disturbing that many of those who espouse such views also present themselves as brothers and sisters in Christ. They fail to recognize an inherent contradiction in their thinking. They argue that they should have the right and the means to use violence to protect themselves from violence and forget that the very Jesus they proclaim himself stated unequivocally how we are to respond to those who threaten us.
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your father in heaven.

Jesus' words should strike us as very radical. Perhaps they strike us as too radical, so we have to ignore them or dilute them in some manner because we cannot bring ourselves to actually apply them concretely. No, we are more comfortable with the idea of forcefully defending ourselves than with the idea of loving our enemies. We consider our Second Amendment rights more important than living out the words of Jesus. That should give us reason to stop and think.

In response to the violent rampages such as the one in Newtown, or in Aurora, or in any other number of cities in recent months and years, some, including the largest gun lobby in the country, cry out that the solution is to arm more people, to make guns more accessible so that criminals will be detered. I think this is a very false solution.

Violence is not the solution to violence.

More weapons does not equal more safety. Liz at These Square Pegs has a great article that points this out quite clearly, pointing out among other things that the risk of homicide is three times higher in homes with firearms. If more guns made us more safe, we should be among the safest nations on earth, yet somehow we feel less safe. I will not feel more safe if more people are carrying weapons, ready to use them whenever they perceive a threat. I can imagine a scenario in which someone starts shooting in a Newtown- or Aurora-like scenario, and several other “well-intentioned” citizens pull out their weapons to shoot back. Only in the melee it is not clear who is shooting at whom and suddenly more people are dying because it has become an open gun-battle. Guns do not make us safer. Violence does not reduce violence.

We need to take the discussion in our culture beyond whether one has an uninfringed right to gun ownership and what restrictions are reasonable on guns. We need to talk about the culture we have created and continue to perpetuate that glorifies violence as the solution to problems. In the month since the Newtown massacre I have been to the movie theater a couple of times and in light of all these violent shootings I am struck by the number of films we produce and watch which effectively glorify violence. How many crime shows do we need on TV? Why are violent video games some of the most popular? I confess that I too enjoy some of these movies and TV shows (although I generally limit my video gaming to sports games and such violent escapades as Mario Kart), but I recognize that I need to examine my own consumption of these products. I don't think the solution is all or nothing, but I think we must rethink how we portray violence and stop teaching ourselves and our children implicitly (and now, with statements like those made by the NRA, explicitly) that violence solves problems.

We should re-envision our society. We can reduce levels of violence and the inclination to resort to it as a solution by changing the way we view and treat others. We can choose to not live in fear. We can choose to work towards a more just and equal society. Violence and the perceived need for guns will be reduced as we change the way we think and act toward one another. It is possible, but will not be easy. It will take a lot more effort, time and education than simply arming more people or posting armed guards in our schools. It will require a willingness to rethink our values. It will take sacrifice. But I believe the outcome will be worth it. (It will not require completely renouncing gun ownership. Many European countries with very strict gun laws, such as Germany, still have high levels of gun ownership, but not the levels of violence in the culture that we do.)

I fear that as a society we are not willing to have this conversation. I doubt that we are willing to sacrifice some very sacred cows in order to change our ways and reduce the culture of violence we have created. Most unfortunately, I question whether many within the church are willing to take the words of Jesus seriously. From the rhetoric I hear and see, too many Christians hold more strongly to their Second Amendment rights than to the teaching of Jesus. As God's Church we should be leading the change in society away from violence, but instead we often seem to be the ones holding most strongly to our culture of violence. This saddens me. But I will hold on to hope and will support those who advocate for change in this area, such as the former congressional representative from my district, Gabrielle Giffords, who herself was seriously injured in a mass shooting in Tucson two years ago.

I believe the time has come for change. Will we embrace it, or will we cling more strongly still to our culture of violence?

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