Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How to feel safe after Newtown


January 14, 2013, marked exactly thirty-one days after the Newtown massacre. The days are counting and the bodies are mounting since that tragic event; the death toll does not seem to end. The following chart from Slate shows how many Americans were killed by firearms since the Newtown. 

It starts with the deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, and finishes on January 14.

The body count includes suicides, which account for 60% of all gun deaths, but the final tally of deaths for this period is probably incomplete, since many of these death may not have been reported.

How should Americans react to this report? Fear? Despair? Anger? Disgust? Resignation? Sorrow?

Many more questions immediately arise: How do we stop this carnage? How do we protect our children and ourselves? Is the NRA right in urging that armed guards be assigned to schools? Should we buy more guns?

Today President Obama introduced tough new measures to curb gun violence in the US, including ways to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. For obvious reasons, he does not call these measures gun control, but that is what it is. Such measure are urgently needed. They will not be enough, but they are a start.

When I saw this chart my first response was disgust mixed with anger. My disgust is aimed at a society that seems to worship guns. My anger is directed at the NRA and those who do not want to limit the use of guns. I see this as a form of idolatry.

Let me explain. The NRA is totally wrong in its proposal about armed guards in schools. The way to stop this carnage is not to buy more guns and turns our homes, schools, shopping malls, and even churches into armed fortresses.

How can we feel safe? Alex Jones, with all his raving and ranting on CNN about how the government wants to take all guns away, does not have the solution. More guns is not the answer.

There is only one solution. It may sound naive, but the only way to feel safe involves faith in God.

I suspect that some people will call this comment crazy and dismiss me as a nut case. But I ask you to be patient and hear me out.

After 9/11, many people were similarly fearful. The government took many measures, including establishing the Department of Homeland Security, although that did not eliminate their fears.

For Americans it was difficult to accept that terrorism had been brought to their shores. Now their safety was gone forever. American parents too, like parents everywhere, had to struggle how to make their children feel safe.

This poster distorts the message of the Qur'an by taking it out of context

A Muslim woman in the US was challenged to explain to her five-year-old daughter, Zaynab, the posters that appeared in subways in Washington, DC, that depicted the World Trade Center in flames on 9/11. These posters were intended to depict all Muslims as terrorists. They did succeed in making Muslims feel afraid.

She had to reassure her daughter that she was safe. The mother did so by teaching her about her faith in God -- a God who is always present. Indeed, God is present; he is with us all the time, and he is all around us.

She explains that she had learned this lesson already as a teenager. Later, soon after 9/11, the certainty of God's presence helped her feel safe and kept her from succumbing to the despair of other Muslims at the time. She was confident even when people stared at her because of her headdress. Now she imparted that lesson to her daughter.

This is a valuable lesson that we all have to learn. Many of us already know that, but we may have forgotten it, and thus we need to be reminded of it again.

After Newtown, many American parents again struggle how to reassure their children and make them feel safe. Some perhaps went out and bought guns, but that only compounds the problem. It increases the size of the arsenal, but that only provides a false sense of security.

The prophet Isaiah in the eighth century BC warned the people of Judah, who were threatened by Assyria, their powerful neighbor, about putting their trust in Egypt. Egypt could not save them, he said, nor could all their weapons; only God could:

"Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord."

This warning is appropriate for us today as well. The carnage caused in the US ever day by guns will not end until all these weapons are removed. Other countries, such as Britain, have done that and watched the death rate plummet.

Unfortunately, Americans are not ready yet to give their guns -- not even semi-automatic weapons, it seems, even though these can hardly be justified as necessary for hunting.

Handguns, which are most commonly used for killing people, are responsible for more deaths in the US than in any other wealthy country of the world. That should not be necessary.

There are many legitimate uses for guns, such as for hunting. No one, not even the parents in Newtown who lost twenty children in December, is suggesting banning all guns, but change is urgently needed before more tragedies like Newtown occur. This carnage must stop.

How will Americans ever feel safe? Not by buying more guns. That is idolatry, which means putting one's trust in someone or something other than God. All three of the Abrahamic faiths roundly condemn idolatry.

All people of faith must put their trust in God alone. In order to feel safe, they do not need to resort to guns. They only need to believe that God is present everywhere. They must trust him to protect them. And thus they should reject the idolatrous cries of the NRA and other gun groups to buy even more guns for self-protection.

Trusting in God means that people stop resorting to self-protective actions and utilize the communal forces that are available in every society. While police cannot be everywhere, they do act as a deterrent.

What is happening is the US is an expression of individualism run amok. People feel the need to protect themselves and their loved ones through their own individual actions. They only trust themselves.

Some Americans, it seems, have carried their distrust of government to an extreme, so that they no longer trust law enforcement agencies. Their only recourse is to arm themselves and turn their homes into fortresses.
In Canada, where I live, I do not feel anxious when I go out on the streets. Nor do I worry that someone will break into my home and try to kill me. There is a very simple reason for this.

I believe that God is present everywhere. Thus I place my trust in him, and in him alone. I do not own a gun, nor will I ever purchase one. My family shares my belief. My youngest daughter, who lives in the US, has told her husband in no uncertain terms that he is not allowed to bring a gun into their house. He has not.

How about you? Where do you place your trust? If you truly believe that God is present everywhere, how can you buy a gun for self-protection? I just don't get it. If you do, please explain how you can call yourself a believer and yet want to arm yourself. That is a false and distorted faith. It is idolatry.

How can Americans feel safe after Newtown? The answer is the same as the one that this Muslim mother gave to her daughter: God is everywhere and he will keep you safe. That is true faith.

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