The thoughts here are gut reactions to two incredibly disturbing events, and are my first reflex thoughts to the problem posed by them. Honestly, I do not know the answer. I do not think anyone does. However, I am entitled to my opinion about strict gun control laws and a rigid definition of the Ten Commandments.
I had the good fortune of sitting next to an Indian man in the Princeton, New Jersey Starbucks last night who explained to me the distinction between Sikhs and Muslims to me. While many in the West think Sikhs are Muslims due to their attire, they are in fact descendants of people on the Indian subcontinent who resisted Muslim conversions. From the Wikipedia article Islam and Sikhism, “The spread of Islam in South Asia was greatly aided by many Islamic dynasties that ruled parts of the Indian subcontinent starting from the 12th century. The prominent ones include the Delhi Sultanate (1206–1526) and the Mughal Empire (1526–1857). The Sikh gurus frequently came into direct confrontation with some of the Mughal rulers due to the Sikh faith’s opposition to forced conversions.” Ironically, since 9/11/2001 Sikhs have been the target of hate crimes, a symptom of the growing culture of Islamophobia in the West. Also at Starbucks was a French Ph.D. student at Princeton Theological Seminary. He read the blog post, and for the most part liked it. He took some issue with my statement, “Rather than trying to delineate between guilty and innocent we should acknowledge shared guilt and move on to repentance,” but after some explanation of my view point he saw where I was coming from.
I wrote this about Aurora the other day. The same logic applies to today’s shooting in Wisconsin at a Temple.
“No one can be viewed as the exclusive transgressor in regard to what is done. Rather, the more a person’s action seems to call for condemnation, the easier it is in most cases to show how the agent has in various ways been tempted and provoked and to show for how long the evil in that person has been nourished by the sin of others. Consequently, in all sinful actions a shared work and a shared guilt are involved.”
—Friedrich Schleiermacher, “On the Sacrifice of Christ That Makes Perfect,” in Reformed But Ever Reforming, trans. Iain G. Nicol (Lampeter, Wales: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997), 88.
I saw this quote on the blog of a Ph.D. student at Princeton Theological Seminary “The Fire and the Rose” after falling asleep early tonight around 7:30 pm and waking up at 1:00 am. The author of the blog prefaced the quote by saying, “In light of Virginia Tech tragedy …” I have refrained from writing an entry on the Aurora shooting that occurred recently out of deference to the many victims of the crime. Why should I contribute to what is an already vociferous Internet response to the tragedy? However, after stumbling across this Schleiermacher quotation above by a fellow seminarian I could not help but do a Google search for the latest information on this month’s most recent mass murder – the Aurora, Colorado “Dark Knight Rises” theater shooting. The result, a lot of information but no insight.
Reading an article entitled “Colorado Suspect was Getting Psychiatric Care” in the New York Times tonight was enough to spark some thoughts that perhaps may be novel enough to write on. Briefly, here is what I know about the case. The shooter James Holmes was a 24 year old neuroscience graduate school dropout who was able to procure a small arsenal via the Internet. He dyed his hair orange, dressed in body armor, and entered a theater at a midnight showing of the new film “The Dark Knight Rises” and opened fire onto a crowd of innocent people. The result, 12 people dead and approximately 50-70 injured. The police apprehended him and he stated, “I am the Joker.” So far, the news media has been fairly quiet about the case. He has been shown in a preliminary hearing in court looking disoriented and lost. Now, the media is reporting that James was in the process of receiving mental health care. The shootings occurred approximately 40 miles away from Columbine, Colorado – the scene of another mass murder that has graced the headlines during the past few years. In a nutshell, the picture that has been painted so far of the events and personalities of the Aurora shooting are well – insane.
In a climate where everyone is trying to place the blame somewhere (James Holmes, the Internet, the Second Amendment, Hollywood, Satan, mental illness, graduate school, etc.) it seems to me the only reasonable response is to say that the burden of guilt is shared. Rather than trying to delineate between guilty and innocent we should acknowledge shared guilt and move on to repentance. This is the same approach that the German nation uniquely took after the Holocaust. The reasoning goes, “We all bear the responsibility of these events so it is our responsibility to ensure that they never happen again.” James Holmes pulled the trigger in Aurora, but his mind was conditioned by American culture. Educational culture. Entertainment culture. Digital culture. All of it. While we are still in the dark regarding the details of the Wisconsin attack, I suspect a similar narrative.
The name for the national soul searching process that occurred in Germany after the Holocaust is Vergangenheitsbewältigung, which literally translates to “The means of dealing with the past.” Vergangenheitsbewältigung is a total effort. In Germany, history books were closely examined and rewritten to ensure genocide denial would not happen. German high school students take field trips to concentration camps to learn about the nation’s collective guilt by viewing places like Auschwitz first hand. Symbols such as the swastika are illegal, free speech has its limits in Germany. When right wing hate groups assemble in Germany, ordinary citizens counter protest. The list goes on. If you are interested in learning more this article is a good start. Now you may be saying, “Wait a minute 6,000,000 deaths does not equal 12 deaths! Do you expect America to adopt such drastic cultural changes in response to what is an otherwise isolated event by a criminally insane individual?” The short answer I give is, “Yes.” Here is brief explanation why. More will follow in future blog posts.
The United States of America is one of the most violent nations on earth at least from the perspective of film, the gun industry, and the military-industrial complex. I say this considering both violence within the nation’s boarders and the violence that is exported overseas in the form of products of the Military-Industrial Complex and in foreign wars. For example, the nuclear weapon is by and large an American invention. It is also one of the most individualistic, priding itself on a style of capitalism that at times approaches a style of social Darwinism. While may Americans do not find these values of our nation desirable, we are often stifled to find an alternative (e.g. Whom do I vote for if both candidates are serving the needs of the powerful few?). People here care about “Freedom.” The freedom to do what? To bear arms? To speak freely? American freedoms are for the most part good, they give citizens the ability to live as they wish. People are able to purse their own route to happiness by following what their own heart and mind tell them is right. If “Other” gets in the way of this freedom, however, we are told we must fight. This is where the problem of freedom arises. Is freedom worth human life? If so, how many? After the events in Aurora, I will go so far as to say that some freedoms are not worth human life. I would rather have the lives of the 12 people killed in Aurora returned to their rightful owners than to have the freedom to bear arms. Repeal the Second Amendment, that is a start.
The events of Aurora are not an isolated series of events, they an indication of a systemic problem in modern American culture. Each year, it seems mass murder is becoming more common. Iraq, Afghanistan, Columbine, 9/11, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma City, Wisconsin, Arizona … the list goes on and will continue to go on until an American Vergangenheitsbewältigung occurs. The religious tradition of the United States of America is predominantly Christian. It is within this tradition that I believe many of the answers to the problems of this beautiful country rest. Whether you are a Jew, a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a secular humanist, etc. the majority of the voting population in America is influenced by Christianity. Civic laws are influenced by religious laws. For more on this topic, I highly recommend reading David Sehat’s recent book entitled “The Myth of American Religious Freedom.” If America is truly “One Nation under God” then it should follow His laws, at least the ones that maximize Life. We can debate which divinely ordained laws are applicable to our present reality, but there is one that I think we can all agree on (at least in principle). That law states, “Thou shall not kill.” The Bible is fairly clear on this topic:
“You shall not murder.”
“You shall not murder.”
Do not kill who? The law is quite clear, it is total in its nature. It states, “You shall not murder” without qualification. In other words, do not wage war, do not kill criminals with the death penalty, do not commit suicide, do not commit the crime of murder, etc. American citizens should follow this principle absolutely. In turn, civic laws should be crafted to maximize Life on earth. Life = ? Does war return the Life to victims of tragedy such as 9/11? Does the death penalty return Life to the victims of a crime? Is the Second Amendment worth Life? I am probably in a small American minority that would answer “No” to all of these questions and come to the conclusion that the death penalty should be made illegal, the just war doctrine is a flawed construction, and the American constitution is obsolete (at least in regards to the right to bear arms).
A part of an essay that I read in 2009 by Slavoj Žižek in response to 9/11 entitled “Welcome to the Desert of the Real” comes to mind in reference to Aurora (just insert “mass murder” in place of the word “bombings”), ”Now, in the days immediately following the bombings, it is as if we dwell in the unique time between a traumatic event and its symbolic impact – like in those brief moments after we are deeply cut, and before the full extent of the pain strikes us – it is open how the events will be symbolized … Therein resides the true lesson of the bombings: the only way to ensure that it will not happen HERE again is to prevent it going on ANYWHERE ELSE.”
The hand of Death is already strong as it is, we should not empower it by giving it tools of ever increasing technological sophistication.
“Peace and religious harmony come about through taking action, not necessarily through making prayers and good wishes. In order to carry action out, enthusiasm is very important, and enthusiasm comes from being clear about our goal and the possibility of our fulfilling it. Here, we need educate young people about our ultimate goal, peace in the world, and how to fulfil it by cultivating inner peace within themselves.”
– Dalai Lama
“Peace at Home, Peace in the World.”
– Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
When will the American Vergangenheitsbewältigung begin?
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