Thursday, March 14, 2013

Spiritually confused

I heard a man testify today that he feels naked when he goes to church because he can't bring his gun there.

It's called being in the presence of God.

I heard a man describe a simulation he had carried out to prove that concealed handgun licensees were effective 100% of the time in preventing campus shootings, and security guards weren't effective at all.

It's nice to know that you can design an experiment to prove your pre-determined beliefs.

I heard a young woman fiercely describe her "God-given" right to defend herself with a gun and assert it in terms that easily lapsed into self-parody.

I sure wouldn't want to run into you on a dark street at night. Oh, and I've said it before, but describing violent self-defense as a God-given right is the clearest example of blasphemy that I've ever heard.

I heard a young man say that *I* am suppressing the free expression of ideas by arguing against guns in classrooms.

A gun is not an idea. You can come to my class and argue for gun rights all you want. Bring a gun to my class and I will personally see you expelled.

And so it went for nearly five solid hours. Arguments both for and against campus concealed carry were made before the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee of the Texas House of Representatives. I said my piece and it went well. John Woods, whose girlfriend was killed at Virginia Tech, gave an amazing speech. Articulate people from colleges, schools and police forces spoke against the four bills under consideration, as did three survivors of the 1966 shootings on the University of Texas campus that are the unfortunate archetype for all subsequent such events.

What I mostly felt during the testimony, though, was a constant low-grade horror at the mentality of so many of my fellow citizens. Not because the people who testified for campus concealed carry were fools, but because so many of them were not. A lot of them, I have to say, appear to be good people who honestly think that they need to carry a gun everywhere they go to be safe, and that everybody else does as well.

And here's the sad truth: A society in which a few extremists hold that view is par for the course. A society in which good and decent people hold it is sick unto death spiritually.

I hope against hope that what I saw today in a Texas hearing room is not typical of my state, let alone of the country. Recent news stories suggest that despite escalating gun sales, fewer and fewer people actually own guns, and violent crime is on the decline. After hearing that testimony all afternoon, though, I am very confused spiritually. I have rarely felt so certain that I was speaking for the side of the angels, and I have rarely felt so appalled at the arguments used by the other side: appalled not so much by the arguments themselves but at the casual ease with which they are assumed to be unanswerable.

Nevertheless, they can be answered. The inability to think outside of the box of violent self-defense is a sickness, and it cannot possibly be cured by more and more guns. The only way to deal with it is by removing the cause, and that cause is the ridiculous availability of deadly firepower in this country. Reasonable restrictions need to be adopted, because there is no other solution. I made that case today as best I could, by speaking up for the culture of the academic world to which I have dedicated my life, and to which campus concealed carry poses an unimaginable threat. I will keep making it in as many ways as I can, because my conscience will accuse me if I do not, and then I will have no answer to make.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Perfect love casteth out fear"

I have had my attention drawn to I John 4:18 repeatedly in the past few weeks, and as I prepare once again to testify in the Texas State Capitol against campus concealed carry this Thursday, I feel drawn to record a few thoughts about the resonance of those words in my life.

I am not a Greek scholar, but I understand that the love of which the apostle speaks is "teleia," and that this word refers to something that has been brought to completion, not something that is immutably, inhumanly perfect. It is a love to be aspired to, and perhaps to be glimpsed in moments of our full humanity. It is not a pill, a formula, or a magic spell, and it doesn't mean that a life without fear is the normal state for somebody who loves, any more than it is the normal state for anybody else. You cannot have love that is perfect in this sense unless you have known and experienced fear as an everyday companion, and have discovered the inadequacy of any other means of taming it.

Two very different circumstances these past two years have reminded me that many people are afraid to live in fear. It is very natural and very human to seek a way out that is neater and easier than this messy business of perfecting our love for each other. Thus, I have heard repeatedly since Barbara died that "there is a reason for everything that happens, and you have to believe that, even if you can't understand right now why this terrible thing has happened to you." I struggle with this statement, because I know those who make it mean well and honestly believe they give comfort by saying those words. If you are reading this now and are one of those people, please know that I understand.

I can state from hard experience, though, that there is probably nothing worse you can say to a bereaved person. That statement tells us that God is responsible for the death of our loved one: that God took him or her for reasons that are clear to God but that make no sense to the rest of us. If God is in full control of everything that happens in the universe, then fear is unnecessary and grief is insufficient. What this means, though, is that in order to cast out the fear of the random, unfathomable nature of everyday life, you have to make God a monster and then suggest that we conquer our own fear and grief by making our peace with that monstrosity. Such thinking cuts like daggers into the hearts of the bereaved. In it I hear the voice of fear, not that of faith.

I also hear the voice of fear in repeated statements that "the world [including college campuses] is a dangerous place, so I need a gun to protect myself." If this is your belief, then I would suggest that you are also yielding to fear and seeking an easy way out. You are seeking - and again, I understand, because this is human nature - to take control when reality counsels that you should learn to live with some degree of uncertainty instead.

If the Gospel teaches anything, it is that achieving such control is beyond our ability, but that with faith we can live in uncertainty, knowing that behind the randomness is a powerful force of love that alone deserves our trust and allegiance. Turning to anything else - either to the false god of total control or to the equally false god of violent self-defense - only serves to make our love less perfect than ever, and to move us further from the one God.

When I walk into the capitol building on Thursday, I will be wearing my love as conspicuously and as vulnerably as possible: not in a concealed holster or with any kind of assurance that my actions will achieve the desired results. If guns come to be openly allowed on college campuses - one of the safest and least fearsome places in our country - fear will have won an important victory and love will be correspondingly diminished. On Thursday I will be taking a step not just to try to prevent that disaster from happening, but to perfect my own love as well, in the knowledge that by so doing I am casting out fear from the world. I would appreciate your prayers.