Marilynne Robinson's recent piece, "Fear," in The New York Review of Books, carries several obsessions, and it might be helpful to list them and get them out of the way:
- Christianity, and its current status in American life
- A defense of Christianity regarding its current status in American life
- Fear in American life, and why this fear is un-Christian
- Guns and why guns will not alleviate America's fear of losing its religion, i.e., Christianity (to bring R.E.M. into the mix)
Ms. Robinson is a very learned woman, a gifted novelists whose fiction I adore, and a Christian historian who has forgotten more about Christianity than I will ever know. I would suggest that anyone who is remotely interested in visiting that busy intersection where Christianity, guns, gun-violence, and our "Christian patriot militia" are currently congregating read her piece, and read it now.
The essay seems to me, at least, not fully assembled, which is why I listed its component parts. As I read the essay, I mentally supplied a good number of the links between those parts, and it's always dangerous to leave that job to a reader. Still, I read the piece sympathetically, if a bit skeptically.
Still, this much is clear. Ms. Robinson is embarrassed by those who would drag Christianity into the violent corners of American life, and then militarize the faith in an ill-fated, even suicidal, attempt to guard the faith, while ostensibly protecting something or someone else: like Kim Davis, or gender equality, or Cliven Bundy, or whoever has recently misread the Bible and made a public spectacle of their misreading.
She's right. It is embarrassing.
All of which brings me to my point in drawing your attention to this piece. Ms. Robinson is approaching the gun-violence problem in America through her deep sense of Christian history and tradition. She is not quoting statistics; she is not taking on the gun-lobbyists; she is not foaming at the mouth on Twitter with Dana Loesch.
She is bringing a larger, historical context to bear on the problem. It doesn't fit Twitter, it won't play on Facebook, and Instagram has no room for it. You couldn't even read it from a bannered podium at a gunsense rally.
But what she has to say, and what dozens like her are saying about gun-violence in America, are having an impact on the conversation.
And lest we forget: we have scores of gun-violence prevention advocates, the first-responders, who spend their days in the trenches, correcting every false statement from the gun lobbies, organizing the rallies that keep this issue in the headlines, and approaching our elected leaders who have simply looked away toward the gun-lobby dollars as our country continues along its armed and dangerous path.
The work of these advocates is endless, dangerous, and heroic.
I could name names, but if you've spent any time on this blog or read my Twitter feed, you know who they are.
Let me end with an analogy. While climate-change has created many of the natural disasters that have kept our first-responders busy saving lives and property, and while these first-responders are deservedly in the headlines, there are thousands of anonymous scientists and climatologists working on long-term solutions that might one day relieve our first-responders of their increasingly frequent and burdensome obligation to repair the damage that our damaged climate is dealing out to us on a daily basis.
So our firemen and our scientists are working quietly hand-in-hand, buying time, ameliorating disaster, and concocting solutions.
And so it is with gun-violence prevention in America. While the lobbyists and activists work selflessly to restore sanity to America's gun policies by confronting those who would further relax gun laws in our country and militarize our culture, others are quietly teaching classes in gender politics, racial violence, nonviolence, or writing about the world's wisdom traditions—read "world religions"—and how guns and violence have no historical place in them, or designing curricula that foreground love and compassion, and how love and compassion are options that all of us can choose and deploy and, in so doing, win for ourselves and our country a measure of peace and tranquility.
Yes, many people are doing that. And doing it very quietly and very effectively.
Having periodically spent a few months as a first responder when the Arkansas legislature was in session in 2013 and 2015, I know that my heart and my talents lie in the other camp, the camp that's set up just behind the front lines, where all of us back here feel doubly obligated to produce results because of the hard work that's going on up there on those front lines.
But we're working together, and we're fortunate to have each other as allies. And we're getting results too, which is why we each continue in our camps.