Thoughts and Prayers
As someone who watched Columbine on live television, and is now old enough to see history repeat itself, I knew that we would see the inevitable distractions and non-solutions to America’s gun-violence crisis. We’re now returning, on social media, to that tired old one, “We need more Jebus.” For my religious friends, the punchline this week is, “religion is no substitute for coherent policy, but politicians would like you to think it is.”
So, we’ve gone down the List of Ludicrous Non-Solutions Nobody Will Bother With — in the late 90’s, that was banning popular culture. Now, it’s turning schools into fortified penal colonies that are susceptible to nothing but electrical fires. Next week, we will return to that classic one, “We need more God, everywhere.” As I mentioned, I’m not particularly pro-or-anti-religion, I’m firmly anti-religion-as-a-substitute-for-solutions. And, I’d like to come at this from the way I approach most other questions that can be solved by some solid journalism and history — Cancer survival. On Planet Cancer, you are immediately swamped by suggestions, from the trite (“Have you tried essential oils and yoga”) to the insane (injecting ozone or laetrile, both of which are toxic). When confronted with myriad myths, claims, and solid science, there’s a fast way to proof weird claims. Take them at face value, and keep asking questions to provide context. When someone tells you that leeches cured their sarcoma, follow up. Because, based on my experience, the leech-lover usually completed Standard of Care for their cancer, but also ate a live leech every morning, and the conclusion one should draw is, “Leeches don’t cause cancer.”
Similarly, Americans are being inundated with invitations from the pro-theocracy crowd — these lunatic suggestions that Jebus is some magic, wish-granting genie never, ever come from my deeply devout neighbors and friends, who love their religion, but know it has its limits — it’s always from the screwier end of the gene pool, who seems to think that their version of Gilead will favor their sect.
This should be a fairly quick claim to debunk, right? If all it takes is more God, then Israel should be the safest place on the planet. It (checks notes) is not. Okay, maybe it’s not God, maybe it’s devotion to God! After all, it’s the thought that counts, here. In which case, hyper-theocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan should be the safest places on the planet, in addition to their reputation as superb vacation destinations? They (checks notes) are not.
Okay, I hear the pro-Gilead group grumbling, “They’re not real religions!” Okay, I hear the leftists grumbling, “They aren’t European nations, and don’t have the same heritage and ethnolinguistic factors; those countries are warring, tribal nations without a unifying national identity!” Stepping over the casual xenophobia for a minute; I’ll just roll with those arguments. So, I’m looking for a European city, seeped in Christian tradition, widely regarded as holy, etc. How about Rome?
Well, sports fans, Rome isn’t exactly vacation paradise, prior to 1945. It’s been sacked, occupied, and held by numerous groups, including, wait for it, Christians. And that’s not even ancient history, it happened in the 1520s. Mutinous troops employed by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, not only sieged, occupied, and sacked the city, they reduced the population from 55000 to 10000. Only 2 out of every 11 Romans survived the Roman emperor’s troops. I’ll admit, as a snide agnostic, I’m not exactly going to approach the claims “God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient” with the same childlike innocence as, say, Ted Cruz, but, certainly, if there was one thing any deity worth worship should be able to do, it would be to prevent Their followers from slaughtering and robbing Their other followers. This should be a gimme; it’s just like pointing out that Uncle Rob and Uncle Dave grew up in the same house, have similar values, and please, for the love of all that’s holy, stop throttling each other over the damned turkey. That doesn’t require omnipotence, that’s Grandma level power. A solid dope slap to all parties and a reminder to stand up straight.
And, yet, somehow, God & Co. didn’t even prevent that one. So, in the “tragedy prevention” abilities, historically, religion is less-capable of thwarting evil than most Midwestern grandmothers. Given religion’s role in the Crusades, the Hundred Year’s War, various genocides, and the European conquest of Spain, Africa, the Americas, etc. maybe religion is to armed conflict what turpentine is to small children — best if kept separated.
But those are large-scale conflicts that had centuries of politicking and skirmishes to build up to them! God’s good for the occasional mass shooter, right?!
Well, the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, TX might beg to differ. So would the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in which a gunman opened fire on people while they were praying. Again, if God were going to intervene, I would imagine that saving Their flock in the middle of services might seem an ideal time.
The weirdest aspect of the sociopolitical reaction to this horror is how quickly and immediately everyone is going straight to, “We don’t blame the guns.” We’re pretty solidly grasping at straws in an attempt to blame every damned thing but the guns. Hell, we’re blaming doors, right now. If you make the argument that it’s irrational to blame an inanimate object, basic debate technique would dictate that you don’t immediately follow that argument by blaming a different inanimate object.
The one and only good thing to come from all of this bizarre rhetoric is how haggard and beleaguered Cruz, Abbott, and the rest of the Homicide Caucus look these days. “Gotcha” videos of homegrown activists confronting these men about their utter impotence to prevent violence are popping up all over YouTube. To be fair, if I had to wake up in Ted Cruz’s body, I wouldn’t want to get up and face responsibility or consequences, either, because being trapped looking like that one super-creepy uncle who only shows up to Thanksgiving every 10 years would seem like a curse from God (ironically enough, no Baptists in Texas seem to realize that the mere existence of a man as venal, callous, and nakedly amoral as Cruz puts a bit of doubt on the existence of a benevolent deity). But that’s neither here nor there, the point is, in a system where information is more-democratized and available, we can, in real-time, double-check their statements, campaign donations, and any pertinent statistics. This is the fundamental difference between today and April, 1999 — we don’t have to accept politicians’ platitudes and wait until we got home (or to the library) to fact-check them, we can do it while they’re still in front of the cameras, and ask appropriate follow-up questions. I don’t know if this is going to be a major game changer, but the fact that Ted Cruz literally has to flee reporters rather than offer “thoughts and prayers,” is a hopeful indicator that the forces of chaos, mayhem, violence, and insanity — those same nefarious forces that give voice to the idea that Jesus is an acceptable substitute for coherent policy — are losing their sway in American politics. We can actually get precise measurements on NRA campaign contributions, and the gun deaths per state, to figure out the exact dollar amount a politician values their constituents’ lives (Marco Rubio, BTW, values a Floridian at ~$1350, which seems heartlessly cheap, even for Floridian lives). And, thanks to their addiction to social media, we can pinpoint most politicians’ locations on Instagram. I’m just a guy, but it would seem to me that the least-preferable combination of factors for anyone capable of influencing policy, would be an angry populace, ready-access to weapons that can pierce armor, and a ready-made system to track individuals through any given postal code. But I’m sure they’re fine, they’ve got Jesus (and multiple bodyguards).