Any right-thinking stranger on our shores must read our daily news and think our nation has gone mad. We have cultivated the ability to end lives quickly; and yet we are continually surprised when our fellow citizens use the tools we have devised for exactly the purpose for which we invented them. Come to think of it, I think we’ve gone mad, too.
But our madness is not one that can be cured by laws alone. Laws can help to restrain us, and can help by making it a little less easy for us to find ourselves armed for murder. But we need something more, something that churches are better equipped to offer than legislatures are.
What we need right now is a richer moral imagination. We need better stories to tell ourselves, stories about the kind of people we could be. We need, more than anything, to learn to help one another to do the hard work of choosing not to pull the trigger.
And it seems we have become addicted to pulling the trigger. We love the sudden rush when one finger can release explosive, deadly power. We love the feeling of power over others. The feeling that guns give us is divine. I imagine it is like the feeling that Satan had when he tried to take the place of God for himself: absolute power of life and death over others.
What we need right now is to learn to give up that addiction, to learn to feed the right part of our souls.
What we need right now is to encourage one another to give up on being afraid of our neighbors. That fear causes us to build walls around ourselves, and not to notice that the walls we build become prisons in which we hide from humanity.
What we need right now is to find our untrustworthy neighbors and to engage in the long, slow work of helping them to become trustworthy. We need, as Thoreau once put it, “to give the poor the aid they most need … if you give money, spend yourself with it, and do not merely abandon it to them.”
What we need right now, and always, is not to be rescued by others who wield political power, but to practice the power of Gospel love, letting it transform us from lovers of personal security into people who love God and neighbor, spending ourselves and gaining much more in return.
David O’Hara is a professor in the department of Religion, Philosophy, and Classics at Augustana College, an ELCA Lutheran college in South Dakota, where he directs the philosophy program. His most recent book was on C.S. Lewis' environmental vision. O’Hara also contributes to the Chronicle of Higher Education and blogs here.
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