“The problem is not guns! It is hearts without God, homes without discipline, schools without prayer, and courts without justice.” Service for Christ
A while back, I ran into this message on Facebook. It bothered me, but it took me a couple of days to really absorb how dangerous and misleading it was. The problem with messages such as this one, sent out on the internet via Facebook, is that they are incendiary; they stir up emotions by appealing to dimly remembered fragments of lives lived or lives imagined, but they are also seriously flawed in their thinking and in their supporting evidence. In this short article, I will attempt to explain the problems with this kind of message and with this kind of thinking and thus demonstrate how damaging they can be when spread widely on the web.
Let’s start with the first phrase – “the problem is not guns.” Clearly one of the problems is guns, especially in the case of mass killings such as the recent one in Orlando. It is hard for me to imagine this angry man entering that club armed with a steak knife and a pair of scissors and wreaking the same level of havoc. Even a pistol with nine shots would have led to much less damage, though still more than a knife. Statistics have shown again and again that states with the most guns are the states in which the most gun-related killings take place. Surely, only the most perverse minds would argue that there is no connection. Clearly one of the problems is guns, but I agree that there are other issues just not necessarily those offered by the writer.
Let’s look at phrase two – “It’s hearts without God.” As with all the component arguments in the above fantasy, this one’s meaning is obscure. Does the writer mean the god that teaches loving one’s neighbours, regardless of their beliefs and personal sexual preferences, or the wrathful God who says, “vengeance is mine”? Does the writer refer to the Islamic one god, the Christian one god, or the Judaic one god? Please note that logic, properly applied, suggests that these one gods must, by definition, be one and the same god. Finally, what exactly does having a heart with god mean? Does it mean believing in god, thinking about god all the time, or perhaps just saying you believe in god? Does it mean actually living the so-called laws of god or actually acting as god reportedly said one should act? Making this choice then creates the dilemma of which ‘one god’ one is choosing to follow? No matter how one cuts it, the phrase is vague to the point of being meaningless except to radical nuts who think they know what it means, and therein lies the writer’s purpose.
Let’s consider the next two phrases together – “homes without discipline” and “schools without prayer.” They are part of what I like to call the “things were so much better when I grew up” syndrome. I have often heard the generation that raised me say things like “our parents were tough on us, but we turned out fine”. Parents were tough disciplinarians, and everyone prayed in the schools, and life was much simpler. Perhaps that is the real reason things seemed better. They were simpler. I grew up in rural Ontario near Windsor. I lived on a farm, but my nearby town had no African, Muslim, or Asian residents. I did not even know what soccer was. In a fairly homogenous society, inter-group differences tend to be very minor. Even then though, I often heard negatives aimed at Catholics or Jews and disparaging comments about Italian (Eye-tie), Polish (Polack), Czech (Bohunk), Displaced Persons (DPs), and heaven forbid, those horrible Gypsy people. Hatred was rife even though our parents beat us, and we all prayed in our school rooms. But at least the groups at which our hatred was directed were others. That made everything simpler didn’t it? Just a further word about prayer in schools. I am quite certain that the writer likely means “Christian prayer”. But Christian prayer sets up negative feelings toward non-Christians. So how does that help?
A subtle underpinning of the prayer issue is the belief among many Canadians, and I suppose Americans, that our countries are essentially Christian ones. In fact, neither country has ever been officially Christian. Instead, they were free democracies populated mainly by Christians until western business practices and interventions in otherwise independent nations, in other parts of the world, so thoroughly disrupted the lives of those inhabitants that they had to seek refuge in a more stable area, i.e., the West. I suggest that our nations have become more complicated since then, but in fact, we have only ourselves to blame. And as a result, we are no longer nations primarily inhabited by Christians but nations with populations of diverse cultural and religious practices where having one prayer system in schools is intolerable for the majority as well as grossly unjust for all.
This brings us to the final phrase, “courts without justice,” also completely obscure in its meaning. What is justice? Who is being treated unjustly? My guess is that the writer means courts that treat the first-wave immigrants unfairly and thus favour those late-comers, or perhaps, courts that uphold laws saying it is unfair to force non-Christians (read Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus or atheists) to endure Christian dogma camouflaged as moral instruction. It is true that our courts are unjust. They routinely confine black and native offenders at higher rates and for longer terms than they do for white establishment-oriented groups. But what would one expect when police forces are rife with racism and are allowed to use subtle racial controls, such as carding, routinely? This argument’s obscurity leaves it open to wide interpretation. Again, just what the writer intended.
Let’s sum up:
First, the arguments put forth are all obscure to the point of being meaningless. But of course that’s the point. The writer is not trying to use logic here. He or she is trying to incite people: people with hatred in their hearts; people who feel unjustly treated; people for whom logical thinking is not a common practice. The writer purposefully leaves meanings open to interpretation but is also aiming very clearly at a certain audience: white, Christian, Anglo-Saxon people or wannabes, who believe they live in a “Christian” nation that has existed for many years, but which, in fact, never really existed at all except by coincidence.
Second, the writer uses nostalgia for some dimly remembered Eden where parents were encouraged to beat their children and which wasn’t great but at least was simply white and Christian. It is natural for humans to want to go back to a simpler time, but all this really means is that we want to go back to being children because no matter how hard it was, we did not have to make decisions or work at crummy jobs for low pay just so we could eat.
So, in the end, my point is that messages such as the one above are dangerous when spread so easily on the web. First, because their meaning is unclear, they are open to interpretation by various groups but mainly those who feel unjustly treated by life. In North America, this group tends to be descendants of those who initially settled here many years ago, even before our nations existed (please note, I am making a distinction between two groups: those who feel unjustly treated and those who are unjustly treated). Ultimately such messages merely stir up the hatred that lies just barely below the surface. These messages do no good for our society. Second, such messages often employ the “common sense” argument for justification; however, one must be careful of accepting them because what appears to be common sense is not always good sense, especially when the thinkers eschew the useful, basic underpinnings of a proper argument - logic and evidence. Finally, these messages appeal to nostalgia for better places and easier times, but those times and places never existed except in our dimly recalled memories of childhood. Our parents, no doubt, saw them differently.
My recommendation is that when you see such messages or find them among the announcements of your friends, do not pass them on. Anger expressed sends angry ripples through the universe of being and thought. Those ripples will come back to lap at your ankles, rest assured.
One final point. I believe the writer may have made a spelling mistake. Perhaps he or she meant to say, “hearts without good.” Now that actually makes sense!
I am the author of The Summer of the Ennead and I want to use this blog to engage readers in a dialogue about what this book means to me and what I think it has to say to others.