As we mourn the loss of those who were killed and wounded in that Orlando night club just a few days ago I am pressed by a nagging thought. These mass shootings don’t seem to be letting up, in fact, they seem to be getting worse. After what happened in Paris and then San Bernadino, the prospect of a mass shooting at any public event I attend is ever on my mind. Understandably, I shake such thoughts off, what good will it do to obsess about, if it happens it happens. That’s where things are at now. But then, again, as a New Yorker, it’s been that way for awhile.
The nagging thought that I have been having is the idea that we are a culture of death. Those such as William Stringfellow have argued that we always have been, just now it’s finally becoming apparent on our own soil. Or as Malcolm X once said in response to the assassination of JFK that our “chickens are coming home to roost”. The stories and the mythologies that we tell ourselves are beginning to crumble or at least have little holes poked in them. Our sense of safety and blessedness are being called into question more and more. In fact, it seems that we are finally beginning to get a taste of what we’ve been dishing out.
Invariably, there will be those calling for stricter gun laws and those ready to defend their 2nd amendments rights from being infringed upon in any way. There will be those like Donald Trump calling for a harder stance on radical Islam. There will be the desire to bomb ISIS even more because our anger has to go somewhere. Unfortunately, we will fail to make the connections needed and will continue the spiral of violence. With Trump at the helm it may only get worse. Though, to be fair, Hillary won’t be much better and we all know she’ll continue President Obama’s drone strikes.
As someone called out of Babylon I am inclined to agree with Stringfellow that we are a culture of death and always have been. Though, to be fair, we really upped the ante in the 20th century. I was reminded of our selective history just yesterday when someone posted a picture of the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. There, the US Calvary killed upwards of 200 Native Americans, half of whom were innocent women and children. This massacre signaled the last cry of the Native Americans who we had treated poorly by continually breaking treaties and taking their lands. We tend not to spend much time on this aspect of our history and for good reason. But it’s there, whether we like it or not.
When we look at the 20th century, we witness our investment in this culture of death. Those on the right will immediately go to the legalization of abortion in 1973, but they fail to note that it goes back before then. Along those same lines, there will be those who will claim that such shootings are the product of a people and culture that have turned from God but that too is problematic and too simple. All of this reveals the inability of many Christians to notice the interconnectedness of sin and the power of the powers and principalities. It was right after WW2 that we as a nation began to build our national defense at a ridiculous rate. It’s also fascinating to note that during this time the church in America witnessed the greatest growth it has ever seen. President Eisenhower even warned the American people of what he called the Military Industrial Complex right before he left office. Since then we have continually increased our national defense to the point in which we now spend more on defense than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the United Kingdom, India and Germany combined. As Martin Luther King Jr. said so succinctly in April of 1967, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Bear in mind that this was 6 years before the legalization of abortion.
It’s death combined with fear that keeps the engine of American culture running. War makes for a good economy, for jobs, for prosperity. There were four million civilian deaths in Vietnam, 58,000 American soldiers. After the 1960s it only made sense that we would legalize abortion. First, we would sacrifice the lives of civilians and the lives of our own young men to the gods of war and security and then we would sacrifice our unborn to the god of self. And quite frankly, it hasn’t stopped. A whole industry and economy is bound up with the war on drugs from weapons manufacturers, to prison companies, to politicians. Many are quick to point out abortion statistics, that we have lost 54 million to abortion. What we often fail to note, due to our own ignorance perpetuated by our cultural narratives, is that our domestic and foreign policies have resulted in the destruction and death of millions of innocents. There are people who live in the midst of repressive regimes that were sponsored by us. In places like the Middle East, terrorist attacks like those we are now witnessing on our soil, have simply been the norm. In large part, this has to do with results of US foreign policy. Our meddling has created the monsters we now face. In large part, we are reaping what we’ve sown. It’s just taken some time to catch up with us. We are in a never-ending spiral of death and it’s all connected. As William Stringfellow once wrote, “Corporations and nations and other demonic powers restrict, control, and consume human life in order to sustain and extend and prosper their own survival.”
And here we are, in the midst of mourning yet again. The tears, the what-ifs, the heartache all pile on. We’ll look for a solution but I’m afraid it’ll evade us in the cross section of media pundits, political rhetoric, American triumphalism, and theological hard-heartedness that often oversimplifies evil. We’ll fail to connect the dots like prophets such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. so succinctly did. Instead, we’ll become more tense, more scared, more uneasy. Death will continue to be victorious.
And so I find myself pondering the words of Revelation 18:2, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” There is my comfort. Babylon fell when Christ rose from the dead. But I yearn for its final fall and I continually find myself repentantly hearkening to the words of the voice from heaven, “Come out of her my people, lest you take part in her sins.”
May the blood of the Lamb wash the blood on these hands. And may the God of all comfort be with the victims in Orlando and all victims of needless violence everywhere.