In the past few weeks after the sickening tragedy in Newtown, Conn., the national conversation has taken a dramatic turn, as it should, towards our plague of gun violence, particularly mass shootings. However, much of this discussion has been disappointingly disorganized and misdirected.
The first undeserving recipient of uninformed blame is so-called “violent” media. This is already a useless argument considering that the youth of other developed, Western nations consume identical violent video games, movies and television, and yet the number of mass shootings in these countries is negligible. In fact, annual gun-related deaths in nations like Australia, the U.K., and Japan typically range below one hundred; in comparison, the U.S. has roughly a staggering 10,000 gun-related deaths yearly. Even after accounting for population size differences between nations, the difference between ourselves and every other Western nation is astounding. If graphic media was causal for gun violence, then these other countries would meet our own disastrous levels of carnage, but this is not the case.
The next preposterous argument commonly floating out of the mouths of conservative pundits and on editorial pages across the country (including the one for this paper), is that some recent, generational “lack of morality” caused by a decreasing influence of religion (exclusively Christianity) in public life is responsible for these events. Supporters of this view exhibit a paranoid belief of Christian persecution, and reject the notion of a separation between church and state, calling for “God to be put back in schools.” However, religion was never extirpated from the public sphere; only mandated adherence to religious views have been rejected, and rightfully so. In a public school, teachers can teach the Bible in a literary context; they cannot teach the Bible as truth. Teachers and students may pray or practice their faith in any way they see fit, given that it does not interfere with the learning process of the class at large. What teachers cannot do is lead a classroom in prayer, or demand that students follow a particular religious code.
Instead, what proponents of the “Godless schools” viewpoint are espousing is introducing Christian dominance into the public sphere, under the guise of the nebulous phrasing of “God.” To them I ask: If religious indoctrination needs to return to our public schools, what religion should it be? Should Islam be taught to our children? Judaism? Hinduism? Zoroastrianism? What if the principal of the school is a follower of the Babylonian storm-god, Marduk? Would he or she be free to lead students in a worship service around a great idol in the school’s front foyer? If the answer is Christianity, then what sect should be the focus? Lutheran? Southern Baptist? Catholicism? How about Mormonism? Surely we all can agree on what religion our government will officially endorse and teach our children, with taxpayer funding of course.
It should also be noted that nations with low levels of gun violence, particularly Scandinavian countries, are generally non-religious, far more so than the pious U.S. If the “more God” theory was correct, then the streets of atheistic Stockholm would be wrapped in chaos, swarmed by marauding contingents of maniacal shooters. This is very far from reality.
We need to start having a sane, adult, scientific discussion about issues like gun violence. There are only two avenues of importance here, one of which is access to mental health care, and the de-stigmatization of such services; we need to stop referring to violent individuals with mental illnesses as “evil monsters” and recognize that they need professional help. The other is the most obvious of all: gun control. The only appreciable difference between the U.S. and nations with much less gun violence is the near absence of any gun regulation here at home.
Enough. It’s time to grow up and address this problem rationally, not by giving in to superstition and engaging in what is effectively a modern form of extispicy.