Friday, March 07, 2008

Getting Schooled? Violence in three movements

In the two and a half years that we've lived here in the United Kingdom, the school system in America has been beset with a rash of gun-related violence - the most obvious (but not most recent) being the shooting at Northern Illinois University. Specifically, in that time, 45 students have been shot and killed, and 72 have been shot and injured.

Guns are generally legal to own in the US, and 48 states have at least some form of legal concealed carry laws - this certainly hasn't dissuaded any of this violence. In fact, it very likely amplified the violence each gunman gives voice to - knife crime, for example, is on the upswing here in the UK, but kids aren't killed in drive-by knifings, and you don't end up with 6, 10, 33 people dead from a knife, unlike in specific instances in school shootings.

So, we've tried one thing and it doesn't work: when will it be time to try something else? We Americans are famously pragmatic that way...

But under the circumstances, how can I allow my daughter to attend school in the US?

Obviously, the UK schools system is not ideal, and the degree to which we have succumbed to the constant pressure to test and quantify and groom students to be useful to business is having (more) negative results. Plus, there are the typical problems with bullying, kids falling through the cracks, and average or less students being neglected; and the gulf between students who go to public (i.e. private) and state (i.e. public) schools is massive and problematic - and a hallowed tradition. But there is no acting out violence on the level that the students in the US have.

The deeper question, of course, is not the means but the ends: why is the American social system - analogous to a 'family system' - giving rise to these people - in systems language, the 'identified patients' who are not themselves sick (although in some cases, yes), but who are the flash point for a sick system. What about our society, our culture, our soul is out of whack? What do we need to change, to genuinely change, to live in the sort of world...well, to live in the sort of world that we all want to live in.

+ + +

I've been haunted this last week especially for some reason by the ever-fresh pools of blood around the world, not least in Gaza and Israel, and the children and other noncombatants who are being routinely slaughtered.

My friend Thunder has an interesting post directly related to this, in which he encourages thinking along the lines of 'an eye for an eye'. His thought about holding to this 'venerable law' is: at least it would be a start. And I think there's something to it - it would at least say that there are limits, something that we are specifically unwilling to admit today. The use of 'Just War' criteria would even be a start, because these also admit of limits not only in going to war, but the amount of force that might be properly used when in war, and the proper targets of such force.

One of the interesting and challenging things about just war criteria is that they take seriously the humanity of one's enemy - perhaps one way of taking seriously Jesus' teaching on the enemy, which is not to deny that he is my enemy but to love him. Of course pacifism also takes seriously, maybe even moreso, the call to love one's enemy. But either one of these arguably loves the enemy in a way which destroying him without limits or consideration - and perhaps even without risk to ourselves - never can.

But embracing either one of these would require some serious rethinking and repentance as a society and while I would never place limits on the work of the Spirit, I'm also not holding my breath.

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It's interesting how often I meet people in the church how say more or less the same thing: 'When I was a child I used to love the story of Noah's Ark, but when I grew up it became really offensive to me.' People react viscerally to the idea that God would wipe (almost) all his creations off the earth and start new. One person in particular voiced that it was monstrous that God would do such a thing, over what were essentially mere pecadilloes.*

Except when you actually look at the story, God does not wipe out humanity because it hasn't put its pinky up whilst drinking its tea: God comes to grief over humanity's violence (Gen. 6.13). And God's response is to meet violence with violence, in order to overcome violence and start anew.

But by the end of the story, something interesting happens. God places a bow in the sky as a promise that he will never again destroy every living creature (Gen. 8.21): he repents of violence.

As of the time of my writing, humanity has not. Indeed, we are stuck on the idea that the only thing that will overcome violence is violence, preferably more of it.

And we think the story of Noah's Ark is monstrous?

* The idea that 'sin' or transgressing the law can only be pecadilloes or shibboleths or 'religious' things seems increasingly common. There is a growing disjunction between the idea of sin and justice, I suppose, and by extension we are coming to see 'religion' or 'faith' as unrelated to life: a real problem, seems to me. I think this is what we reap when we've sown increasingly hybridised versions of the faith as something private, individual or personal, rather than something political, cosmic, or - in the best sense of the term - worldly.

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Blogger Pamela said...

Yes, you knew this was coming. It's not because I want to beat on the same drum, but because we've already engaged in a conversation over this issue.

You need to be more thorough in your analysis of the gun laws in the United States. It's simply not sufficient to say that 48 states have at least some form of legal concealed carry laws, and then say that it's not working.

For instance, llinois does not permit any private citizen to carry a handgun, concealed or otherwise. And you probably couldn't find a school campus that isn't a gun-free zone under an "opt-out statute" from that state's law, however liberal that law may be.

This means that anyone with criminal intent can count on the fact that no one will be able to get between him and his evil end.

In short, places such as these become a focus of easy targets, vulnerable to great loss for many people.

On the other hand, crime goes down where guns are being carried, and the statistics bear this out. For instance, Florida has recently found that by training women to carry and conceal, sexual assaults dropped 88%, burglaries by 25%, and not one of these 2,500 women fired a single shot.

The December church shooting in Colorado was aborted when an off-duty security guard confronted a larger and much more heavily armed man before he could get to assembly of 7,000 worshippers. He had killed 2 people, but the lives of an estimated 50-100 were saved because someone was strong enough to confront him. The off-duty security guard did shoot at him, but the autopsy showed that he died from a self-inflicted shot.

If someone at the Youth With A Mission office had been similarly equipped, even more lives might have been spared, and he wouldn't have made it to the church to begin with.

I completely agree with your question of allowing your daughter to attend school in the U.S. Homeschooling is great. But while I don't need (and I don't want!) horrific events like school shootings to affirm our decision to homeschool, I am gratified in the confidence that my kids are safe from that threat.

For now ~


Saturday, March 08, 2008 4:01:00 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Of course I knew it was coming; I could hardly have expected otherwise.

The larger claim I was making, the one which brackets the gun talk, is that America is a violent nation and seems to have become moreso in the last few years. I was ruminating on that and wondering where we’ve gone wrong, how is our soul deformed so as to work out this way? (So the risk is more a matter of being in the society than being in its schools – homeschooling in itself doesn’t get around this.)

It is noteworthy that this is an American problem, not a problem for humans per se – other developed nations have nothing like the gun crime rates, nor overall violent crime rates that we do.

And my ruminations on Noah’s Ark suggest that, perhaps, at least theologically, violence is not the solution to violence.

So I am left wondering what can be done earlier in the process so we don’t get to the point of violence. Since neither one of us are ‘for’ violence, I imagine we are at least united in this wonderment.

Naturally, the answer on some level is that the problem is sin, and the response needs to be repentance, reconciliation and healing. But sin is particular to systems and individuals, and the form of repentance, reconciliation and healing are just as particular. Given that violent crime – much of it between strangers, according to statistics – is so widespread in America, what particular form would these take for us?

Or to put it only slightly differently, what is broken and deformed in our system which prompts people to act out in this way? How might we even be complicit in this? After all, the ‘problems’ are not just those who act out, but also the extended social network by which they are formed and of which they are a part – and which they contribute to forming. The sin is not just the violent acting out, but also the sin done to a person to prompt them to act out, and the broader, systemic sins committed against a person. Sin begets sin.

N.B. This is not in any way saying that someone who acts out is merely a victim and not responsible – on the contrary, we are all victims and simultaneously we are all responsible. We are all sinned against, and we all sin.

So that’s the set of questions I am sitting with: what are the specific conditions of sin – and the specific shape of redemption and healing needed – in America today? At this point, I see the effects (violence) but am only beginning to grope towards an analysis of the causes in greater detail than ‘sin’ (which is universal, yet takes different characteristic shapes). I suppose in some sense, this has been an ongoing preoccupation of this blog ever since I began it.

Saturday, March 08, 2008 12:04:00 PM  

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