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Gary Horton: Reflect on ourselves to solve violence

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: December 19, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 19, 2012 2:00 a.m.

“The Lord bless you and keep you;

The Lord make his face to shine on you
and be gracious to you;

The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

— Numbers 6:24-26

And so ended our Sunday service with the reassurance that God will protect. Pressing toward our sanctuary’s exit, an old-timer friend paused to shake my hand. This gentleman has been around a long time and in his long life he’s seen a lot of good things and bad things, happy things and sad. Today, the old timer is visibly shaken and discouraged.

“Gary, I can see how this senseless shooting tragedy in Connecticut could cause a person to give up on the whole idea of faith and God completely.”

His eyes tear up as he voiced how the recent mechanized slaughter of innocent children defies the faith world’s pat assertions of God’s love and kindness and — and how for many, the ability of humans to inflict this cruelty mocks any concept of a divine plan or divine intervention. I agree with him.

But I also wonder, “Why do we keep pulling God into human tragedies like this in the first place? What’s God got to do with it, when we repeatedly bring these things, and allow these things upon ourselves, without correction?”

Many are religiously trained such that they wonder why God didn’t stop the young mentally ill man from repeatedly pulling the trigger of his semi-automatic 30-round assault rifle. Or why God didn’t stop, or at least cause a cop to stop Adam Lanza on his way to the elementary school after gunning down his own mom, earlier that day.

As human as it apparently is to kill, so too is it human to wonder of God’s plan in our messes and wonder why he or she remains passive regarding our human propensity towards self-destruction and misery. It’s predictable then that many politicians and societal “leaders” step into this gap, blaming the “lack of God in our schools” as cause for this shooting and the so many shootings before it. Predictably, upon this tragedy, religious soothsayers decry our lack of faith, our acceptance of gays, our departure from some version of American Christian orthodoxy as the root cause of an Old Testament God picking on innocent kids as his way of telling us to “shape up or there’s even worse hell to pay.”

Let’s be clear: This is not an anti-God column, nor is it an anti-faith missive. It’s an anti “anti-action” column aimed at a politically cowered world where it’s too risky to actively lead on our complex problems and is much safer to trade in trite platitudes of faith. Oh, after each shooting we’re led to bow our heads and say our prayers and promise to hold our families closer and tell everyone how much we love one another. Someone has said that “words are cheap” and boy was that guy right.

Credit George Bush with actually doing something after the atrocity of 9/11. Too bad the something he did brainlessly multiplied the violence. Still, at least the guy had the right guts, if not the right brains, to act. Meanwhile, everyone on the gun-violence issue, from Barack Obama down through the gun-lobby-whipped Republicans to the silver-haired leaders of Christian mega-churches, pray for comforting, pray for healing, and ultimately pray to keep the votes and donations coming their way, without having to unsettle any of those powerful vested interests vested in the ever-popular killing machine business.

And so it also goes with our reaction to senseless deaths by guns, alcohol, tobacco, poverty, gang violence, drones, war, and all the other sumps of human misfortune where the ultimate result of human greed is human violence, suffering, and death. Oh, it’s so much easier to assign God to the equation with soothing balms of spiritual opiates than to actually, rationally, deal with the difficult, complex problems.

Another smart guy like the “words are cheap” guy also said wisely, “God helps those who help themselves.” America can benefit by reducing the prayers-as-delaying tactics and actually getting to work on our semi-automatic violence problem — even if that means triggering some displeasure of vested interests. Yes, yes, we all plainly understand that restrictions on assault weaponry alone won’t absolutely solve these problems — but it’s one positive step that moves us forward. Similarly, improved mental health and social services won’t catch all the cases of troubled kids — but it too will help if we have the courage and will to implement the substantial improvements required.

In the end, America can choose to act measuredly and logically. Or, we can soothe ourselves with another round of passive prayers, bowing our heads and blaming our sins but not our policies — until the next violent episode herniates from our fearfully inactive, politically cowered society. And when it certainly again does, smart guys like my old-timer friend at church will again wonder how folks retain their faith when God’s response to our man-made problems ironically seems as passive as our own.

Gary Horton is a Valencia resident. “Full Speed to Port!” runs Wednesdays in The Signal.


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