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Of Guns and Men

In the U.S. there was a terrible tragedy in Connecticut that ended the lives of many children and adults. The gunman was a disturbed individual who first shot his own mother.

Then he turned his weapon on the children at Sandy Hook School.

The purpose of this post is not to answer “why”. That much has already been answered:

  • Because of sin.
  • Because of sickness.
  • Because of the world in which we live.

And from the perspective of a minister and theologian, this incident is (in many ways) easier to answer than what many consider to be “acts of God” like tsunamis, hurricanes, etc. I’ve addressed those types of disasters previously.

In the wake of this horrible act of violence, the U. S. is launching into a huge debate on guns. For the record, I don’t own a gun. But to turn the debate into strictly a debate about guns is missing the larger point – particularly if it’s a question about the ownership of guns. In Switzerland, most households own guns. In the U.S. every household had a gun during much of the first 100 years of our nation’s existence.

The issue is not about gun ownership.

If however, the debate is one of the type of gun ownership that should be allowable privately, then that is a worthy debate to have. Not all Americans have the “right” to shoot bazookas, for example. So it becomes a question of the types of guns folks should have access to. I don’t know enough about guns to dissect that debate, but it’s safe to state that the average U.S. citizen probably doesn’t need an M-16 to shoot deer. And beyond James Bond, I’m not sure if chambering a Glock should be an everyday practice.

So clearly the line is somewhere in-between.

The larger issue is not about guns. It is about U.S. society – and that’s an issue no one really seems to want to touch. Not our politicians and not our citizens.

It’s important here to know about country values (for more on values, see other posts or, but it would be tangential to the purpose of this post.  And I’m keen to stay “on target”. The U.S. is armed and dangerous (as opposed to armed and safe vis a vie other countries of similar or greater sizes). Yes, not as bad as many African or eastern nations, but not as good as some western nations.

So the questions to ask are: What has changed? Why has school violence increased to become an annual event as we progress into the future? (see for one timeline).

For some, it’s attributable to a greater proliferation of violent video games (to which the Millennial generation seems glued). For others, it’s all about governmental policies and parties.

While both of those may be factors, it might be worthwhile to consider something else.

Is it possible that the underlying cause is an increasing comfort level with vulgarity and immorality as a society? It is probable that in finding ways to justify a moral code without God, we find that justification to be too relative to matter?

To put it bluntly: mad men don’t really care about the “common good” and frankly, immorality often pays big dividends in the short-term. And if we believe people are simply a higher form of animal that cease to exist once life is ended, then for many people we should at least recognize that a cessation of existence is a welcome relief to existence without meaning.

How then, does a person who believes in meaninglessness generate meaning on his/her epitaph? It is entirely possible that the lack of meaning actually drives meaningless actions in the pursuit of living meaningful lives.

And that is a deeper discourse about the soul and the shared values of America.

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Derek Webster is pastor of Radiate, a new church planting movement in Richmond, Virginia. Derek also works for a national think tank addressing major demographic trends.