Exploring the spiritual underpinnings of America’s gun culture
The Florida massacre of 17 students and faculty members at a high school last week has prompted much justifiable outrage. One student, interviewed by the media just before boarding a bus for Tallahassee to lobby legislators for better gun control, was asked what was fueling his motivation. He mentioned two things: the searing memories of what he witnessed in his school, and the overarching issue of the gun culture we live in.
Let’s explore the spiritual underpinnings of our nation’s gun culture. For the sake of full disclosure, I don’t own a gun and I have never known anyone personally who did. Speaking for myself, I can’t imagine firing a gun at another human being and I’m disturbed by how casually many hunters fire them at our animal friends and even kill them for trophies, not to mention poachers who slaughter them for financial gain.
In gun debate, someone always mentions how many responsible gun owners there are. People own them for self- defense. Let’s set aside the Second Amendment and look at this issue through the eyes of sacred traditions. At the heart of all sacred paths is love. This is the energetic fabric that binds the whole human race together. Where is self-defense in the nonviolent philosophy of Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr.? It lies in insisting on loving my enemy, which eventually wins my enemy over. This love of enemies is, in Gandhi’s writings, the ultimate expression of religious belief. Of course, it also lies at the heart of Christianity in Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount: “If you love only those who love you, how are you different from the pagans?”
The concept of self-defense developed after Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine. This coincided with Christians having a new vested interest in maintaining the status quo now that all things “Empire” were theirs. They were now encouraged to join in the defense of the Empire and its wealth.
At this juncture then, the simplicity of life preached by all sacred traditions, including Christianity, became polluted by egocentric urgings rooted in greed. This began the decline of truly high character as life became centered around what is “mine.” This devotion to private property above love of my neighbor has resulted over time in the rise of righteous indignation toward one another when what is “mine” is threatened. Add to all this the bounty of riches available in the United States and you have our gun culture.
This has nurtured in the American spirit a fear-based approach to others, and this in turn has stoked the rise of anger toward my neighbor. Property lines, competition, the pursuit of the illusory American Dream have taken us away from our souls. Distance from our souls dances with distance from my neighbor. It’s not long before I feel justified in owning a weapon to defend myself against my neighbor.
A wise sage I once knew said this: “The justice of the kingdom of heaven is not that we each have what is rightfully ours, but that we each prefer that our neighbor has what is rightfully ours.”