Saturday, December 5, 2015

“Prayer-shaming” won’t destroy the American pro-gun culture

Cover of 12/3/15 New York Daily News.
As if we needed another political buzzword, we’ve got one now, provided by Atlantic writer Emma Green (and retailed by American Conservative pundit Rod Dreher): prayer-shaming.

A couple of years ago, I came across a meme which suggested that religious people pray instead of doing things to make the world better. Of course, that ignores the vast bulk of history, in which most people who worked for positive social, economic, environmental, and political changes were also people who prayed, went to church, or had some other form of religious expression. (Ever heard of Dorothy Day? Lech Walesa? Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? Martin Luther King, Jr.’s doctorate wasn’t in astrophysics! The list is endless.) In many cases, the activists’ religious convictions pushed them into the fight; in many cases, they considered their devotional lives sources of emotional strength.

The idea that a life of prayer precludes a life of social action is ridiculous on the face of it ... unless you’re a Republican politician. Then you’re fair game for the charge that “the only thing you’re willing to do about this mess is pray!

There are many assumptions packed into these attacks on prayer [writes Green]: that all religious people, and specifically Christians, are gun supporters, and vice versa. That people who care about gun control can’t be religious, and if they are, they should keep quiet in the aftermath of yet another heart-wrenching act of violence. At one time in American history, liberals and conservatives shared a language of God, but that’s clearly no longer the case; any invocation of faith is taken as implicit advocacy of right-wing political beliefs.

Let’s take a look at something from Twitter:


Let’s do as George suggests, and compare and contrast. On the left, we have politicians and talking heads scoring political points and making BASFOs — Bombastic, Angry Statements of the F**king Obvious. On the right, we have politicians offering sympathy and prayers for the victims, giving us at least the impression that they care about the people who got hurt ... or, in the words of the New York Daily News, “meaningless platitudes”. In reality, neither side is actually doing anything about the problem, but hey! the left at least sounds like they want to do something about it! The people on the right will probably go off and ignore the problem, right after they sing a chorus of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”.

That, my friends, is exactly what Green means by prayer-shaming: condemning the religious for praying, on the counterfactual presumption that those who pray don’t or won’t do anything substantive.

First, if you mock someone for offering prayers and sympathy for victims of violence, all you demonstrate is that you’re a self-righteous, insensitive cretin ... especially if all you’re counter-offering is rage and insistent demands that somebody do something about this! In fact, I find it crass and disrespectful of the dead that anyone would use such a tragedy to advance a political agenda before the bodies are even cold in the morgue.

Second, that we need to do something to get guns out of the hands of nutbags and domestic terrorists is, as I said before, a statement of the effing obvious. Stamping one’s foot and mocking prayer won’t get it done faster. Insulting your opponents may be great for rallies, which are made for “preaching to the choir”; it’s a lousy tactic for swaying your opponent to your side. If you’re not looking to get your opponent on your side, or at least to reach a reasonable compromise, then you don’t really want to solve the problem ... you just want to indulge your ego. Try persuasion, not condemnation.

Third, is God supposed to be fixing this? Certainly, the sentiments the Daily News highlights aren’t requests that we pray to God to dramatically intervene in the problem of mass shootings. Indeed, at risk of over-simplification and misunderstanding, I state that most Christians of sufficient maturity and reflection know that (for the most part) God requires us to clean up our own messes. At any rate, God is neither a comic-book superhero nor a genie, and shouldn’t be regarded as such; how, when, and why He meddles in human affairs is beyond our comprehension. If you’re going to mock Christian beliefs, you might bestir yourself to understand them first.

Julia Duin of GetReligion.org suggests that the prayer-shaming is simply mounting Democrat frustration with Republican efforts to block meaningful gun control. However, besides the objections Green stated above, it assumes that outrage and BASFOs ought to be our first reaction whenever violence breaks out and bodies pile up ... that we should be composing and passing drastic legislation even before the last “meat wagon” leaves the scene. Certainly, the GOP needs to break the hammerlock the NRA has on them; but does it follow that no one should spare a single thought for the victims and their families until some new law is passed?

(Other people have pointed out that California has some of the toughest gun laws on the books. But until we know how the alleged killers obtained their arsenal, the relevance of this fact can’t be properly assessed.)

The reason why the NRA has such a powerful hold on Congress is because Americans want to own guns. It’s that simple. Many people who don’t own guns, and who have no immediate plans to own one, would at least like the ability in principle to buy one if the need arose. Moreover, Americans want to be able to purchase guns without having to justify their purchase to some government functionary who has the power — and the inclination — to deny them the privilege.

Leftist writers like S.E. Smith may not understand hunting or self-defense; however, that’s a function of their ideological preoccupations, not proof of irrationality on the part of hunters and home-protectors. Many of these gun owners would agree to tougher gun laws so long as those laws were targeted (you’ll pardon the expression) at removing them from the possession of the criminous and the insane. When a law crimps an otherwise law-abiding citizen’s gun ownership because some well-meaning Defender of the Public Good has decided s/he doesn’t need a long gun, or a handgun, or an automatic rifle — well, that presses all sorts of you’re-not-the-boss-of-me buttons: “Who the f**k are you to tell me what I do and don’t need!? Who died and made you God!?”

“We aren’t living in an era in which we need a ‘well-regulated militia,’” Smith grumps. “In fact, the organizations calling themselves ‘militias’ today tend to land on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of known hate groups on a regular basis. These are precisely the people we don’t want carrying guns.” That the SPLC is by no means a politically-neutral observer, and has flexible (not to say opportunistic) standards for defining “hate groups”, is a fact we must reckon with even if Smith doesn’t. (Anyway, the paramilitary units that find their way into the SPLC’s bad graces aren’t true “militia”, since they’re neither organized nor affiliated nor paid by any State.) As to whether militias are needed — well, that’s where many people, many of whom don’t belong to any paramilitary organization or SPLC-defined “hate group”, beg to differ.

At the risk of sounding like an auto-insurance commercial: If you’re a Congressperson or Senator, you represent people. That’s what you do. Most often, you represent PACs, which in turn represent people not confined to specific political borders. While the number of gun owners has declined for some time, NRA membership reportedly surged in 2013 to 5 million after the Boston Marathon bombing. In theory, though, the NRA represents all 112 million gun owners (34% of the US population, according to the Pew Organization). Remember, this is supposedly after a decline. And only about 25% of American voters favored a handgun ban in 2013 (Gallup).

So here’s the summation: To have a reasonable chance of being passed into law, future gun legislation would have to be carefully drafted so that it doesn’t impose an unreasonable burden on people who are unlikely to use the guns to commit mass murder. I don’t think it can be done unless and until American mental healthcare is drastically overhauled, so that people like Robert Lewis Dear don’t slip through the cracks. At any rate, it would certainly require that the left not treat all gun owners like brain-damaged children, wannabe crooks, or white supremacists. 

I repeat, prayer-shaming won’t get more effective gun control passed. It certainly won’t make pro-gun Americans gun-haters; it won’t stop them from wanting to hunt buck, shoot clay pigeons in the back forty, or defend their homes against intruders. All it will do — all it has done — is announce leftist hostility to Christians. And that’s another subject entirely.