The downward spiral of violence
In the early hours of this morning, a pit of sadness and anger appeared in my stomach. Flipping through the headlines, I learned of the terrible tragedy in Wisconsin where a lone gunman entered a Sikh temple and murdered six people in cold blood while injuring several others. Hot on the heels of the Aurora, Colorado shooting, it’s difficult not to feel frightened, angry, and helpless.
While the shooting in the Sikh temple is certainly headline worthy, just 100 miles south, in Chicago, violence over the weekend took as many victims, with at least 5 people killed and nearly 30 injured, mostly the result of gun violence. It’s been a violent summer in Chicago, and fortunately, these deaths are actually making headlines rather than being relegated to the back pages, hidden among the stories editors deem less intriguing.
Faced with such tragedy and loss in both street violence and pre-meditated killing sprees such as those in Wisconsin and Colorado, the inevitable “Why?” is unavoidable. Lately, the conversation has picked up around gun control. But while I support stricter gun laws and much tighter regulations even to the point of disallowing most (if not all) private citizens from carrying guns, I also think that access to personal killing machines is only a secondary cause to the kind of violence we’ve seen escalate in the summer months.
Violence runs deep and strong in American culture. To be patriotic is to celebrate our nation’s military might. Raised in a military family myself, when I came home from college and expressed that I didn’t believe the appropriate response to the 9/11 attacks was military action, my step-father turned red in the face and had a few choice words for me. My mother, also disappointed, suggested I leave the dinner table. While my family knew better than to question my love of country, usually pacificists and other peace advocates are mocked as anti-American.
It seems as if this country cannot engage on the international stage when there is conflict without threatening violence. Between President Obama’s decisions to have human beings who may or may not be terrorists assasinated and Senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham’s frothing at the mouth at the opportunity to enter into combat in yet another middle eastern country, the message to Americans and to the world is that violence can only be quelled with more violence. It defies logic, and yet it is so readily accepted as gospel truth.
This culture of violence is so thick in several Chicago neighborhoods that young people see their fate as two-pronged: Either they’ll end up in jail or a coffin. Young people find themselves in a seemingly unbreakable cycle of violence by virtue of what side of the tracks they’re born on. There's virtually no way out.
Changing gun laws is one thing; changing the culture is another entirely. It’s like taking away a stick a child keeps using to hit his brothers and sisters, without the discipline and counseling against violent behavior.
But Christians are no strangers to the call to transform culture. In the instance of a country hell-bent on war-making, in the middle east or in city streets, in movie theaters, schools, and places of worship, it’s imperative that we always walk in peace.