american culture

Eucharist

I was thinking about the Eucharist today. Did you know "eucharist" comes from the Greek word for "thanks?" That's pretty cool. The central ritual of Christian practice over the millennia is to say "thanks."

It has probably been said a thousand times before and more eloquently than I am capable of, but this stands in stark contrast with the global system of capitalism which dictates the rhythm of our lives.

Capitalism's primary animating value is scarcity. This logic, that there isn't enough, pulls every other human value into its matrix of scarcity. Time, money, natural resources, love, companionship, beauty—all these and more are stripped of their ultimate value and defined instead by fear, anxiety, and the will to power. How ironic that capitalism generates so much waste, a surplus so tremendous that no one in an earlier age could possibly imagine it, while so many go hungry. Capitalism's excess and the gap between rich and poor reifies its own myth of scarcity.

Eucharist, on the other hand, is a symbol not just of gratitude for the fundamental fact that everything that is worthwhile in life is an unmerited gift, but it is an expression of abundance. Through this ritual Christians gesture toward the meal saying, "We exist there, in the wheat and grapes, in the broken body of Christ given for us," and we respond "Thanks," content that this will be more than enough—enough to share.

Bang

“Being a reporter in America is being a war correspondent.” — Logan

More people got shot today. People get shot every day. This is America, the land of getting shot. This week it was two television employees in Virginia, one reporter and one photographer, murdered on live TV.

Here is the grim reality, which has been said before but bears repeating: nothing is going to change in this country when it comes to violence, gun violence in particular. Nothing substantive, anyway. If a classroom of six-year-olds dying won’t do it, nothing will. I suppose the only defense we have left is to keep talking about it when it happens. That’ll be the last thing to go. Talking about it, I mean. Eventually we won’t even do that anymore, because why talk about something you can see inside, outside, on your screen, in front of your face?

The gun debate is as tired as the shootings themselves. I’m tired of having it. I don’t think anyone should have a gun that isn’t specifically made to hunt an animal that you then intend to eat. Everything else should go. Don’t quote the 2nd Amendment to me, because unless you understand the part about “well-regulated militias,” we won’t agree. I don’t think you should get to have a handgun or an assault rife. You can think whatever you want. It doesn’t matter if we disagree anyway.

Some might argue that this level of cynicism borders on nihilism, and that nihilism won’t solve anything. Maybe it won’t. But there’s only so much death and gun violence you can see before you realize that your voice is lost among the haze of raining bullets and the clacks of firing mechanisms.

I suppose we could take a common-sense approach for starters, but that’s not very American. We could have universal background checks. We could outlaw military-grade weapons for civilian ownership. We could push for stricter legislation on any number of gun issues. But we won’t, because of that damnable amendment and the heinous misinterpretations of it. So we’ll watch people die in droves instead. It’s just another Wednesday in America, after all.

Violent Aberrations

While gun control is a touchy subject, it is nonetheless one worth wrestling with. In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting there are hosts of bills concerning the regulation of firearms before state legislatures across the country. Indeed, a bipartisan bill that would require background checks to purchase a gun was before the US Senate just yesterday. It would have passed but it failed to gain a 60 vote super majority and was filibustered off the floor by Senate Republicans.

So gun control is in the news daily. I've been thinking about it. And I think I have a take on the issue that I can stand and that might prompt interesting conversation no matter who I'm talking to.

I want to preface this by saying that I don't agree with the tired old line "guns don't kill people, people kill people". It seems obvious to me that limiting private access to assault weapons and high yield hand guns should also limit deaths from guns in the United States. I understand that there arguments that refute this, but I don't find them convincing.

That being said, while it is the nature and purpose of a firearm to deliver a huge amount of force to an object from a distance, and this fact may make it easier to carry out violent acts upon animals and humans alike where the physical manipulation of a blade, for example, might not be so easy, a gun doesn't have a mystical power to turn a person into a killer. So the question is, what about our society, as opposed to a country like Canada (where gun ownership is also high), leads people to carry out acts of destructive violence against other human beings? This isn't the politically practical question, but it is the question conservatives and liberals alike should be asking themselves and discussing together.

As the beginning of an answer to my own question, I propose that violent acts like Sandy Hook, the Aurora theater shooting, and -- yes -- the Boston bombings, are not violent aberrations within an otherwise peaceful society. Instead, these acts of incredible violence happen against a backdrop of subtly violent interactions that make up our systems of economics, politics, foreign policy, law enforcement, public education, physical health care, mental health, entertainment, religious observance, and sports. We come ever so close to having an at least tangential discussion about these issues when we talk about mental health. However, usually we end up demonizing the mentally ill as the perpetrators of violence while ignoring their victimization at the hands of a society that has largely forgotten its human responsibility to see to their well-being (including in the piece linked above by Gabrielle Giffords) and so we redouble the violence against them through the discussion itself.

We encourage this violence and take part in it to our individual benefit and to our collective downfall. While I support gun control, and believe it not only to be constitutional in general but also specifically constitutionally mandated, it is really only so much blabbing in the face of the problems that really beset our society.