Today marks three weeks from the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, CT; an event that removed any doubt that we live in a culture of death. While we continue to mourn the deaths in that massacre, we are left grappling with troubling questions about why these events happen with such regularity in our nation. Garry Wills reflected powerfully on this just days after the shooting, recalling the biblical treatment of Moloch, the savage god whose thirst is quenched only with the blood of children. He writes:
That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch.
On the day of the massacre, White House spokesperson Jay Carney said it was not the day to review gun control. Other writers have suggested that it is too soon in the wake of tragedy to argue about it. But this isn’t the first time we have mourned as a nation, and this isn’t the first time we’ve been asked to wait, and called to reflect. There have been 31 mass killings since Columbine. Eight of them happened in this year alone. And others preceded Columbine. Yet through all these decades, it seems little has changed to prevent these tragedies, or reduce their frequency, or otherwise ensure the public safety. Was it really too soon, or had we waited too long?
I wonder about the roots of inaction here. With innumerable prayers and countless reflections, why do we seem stuck in an interminable pause, waiting only for the next gunman to act? It could be that calls for action have been routinely drowned out by calls for the status quo. No sooner had Vice President Biden been dispatched to lead a task force on gun violence than the NRA – in a move that seemed to misjudge the mood of the nation – responded with a call for even more guns. Maybe people fear un-thoughtful reactions that don’t address deeper issues about life and violence and the way we care for our neighbors. Rightly so, but it needn’t be that way. We have an opportunity now; we have a choice to make.
Reflection without action seems a fruitless exercise. When we pray, don’t we expect some response? Don’t our prayers cry out for action? If that’s the case, then our reflection should call out for a response; we should expect action to move from it. We can wait for God to act, but maybe what God’s waiting for is our reflective response.
We can also keep waiting for the next gunman, or instead we can take our collective reflections on Columbine, and on Lancaster, and on Virginia Tech, and all the others, and move them into a real response that transforms our society into a culture of life.
Where do we begin?