America the Brave?

Monday 26th February

Another month, another school shooting.  But this time it may just be different.

We do have to wonder though just why there seem to be so many Americans, some young and some older, who are prepared to massacre innocents.  Is it just the availability of guns?  If it were just that, then there would surely be school massacres by people with knives or machetes in other countries.   Or, is there something else going on in America?  Leonard Cohen once described America as ‘the cradle of the best and the worst, it’s here they’ve got the range, the machinery for change, and it’s here they got the spiritual thirst.’  And maybe it is just that last fact – the spiritual thirst, which defines just why America is the way it is.

And Leonard was, as usual, spot on about the best and the worst.  America has given us many wonderful things, and many individual Americans are inspiring and amazing people.  But what is it about America that is so violent.  There seems to be a strange dichotomy in American attitudes to ‘life’.  I cannot imagine ever killing someone; I think It would be the worst thing I could ever do.  America is the home of the most vociferous anti-Abortion movement in the world.  Pro-life groups often picket Family Planning clinics, screaming abuse at women, who, for whatever reason choose to have an abortion.  If only their ‘concern’ for the sanctity and preciousness of life for the unborn child could include all people.  But amazingly it is often the very same people who still believe in Capital Punishment and hate the very idea of any form of gun control.

For America is an extremely violent society.  And I believe it is mostly down to Religion.  America is maybe the most religious country in the World; definitely in the West as a whole.  Europe has pockets of Religion, but generally this is a private matter, people quietly go about their lives and do not particularly advertise their beliefs.  Not so in America.  Being seen to be Religious, and that is almost exclusively Judeo-Christian, is far more important.  Politicians usually end their speeches with “God Bless America”.  It is unthinkable for an Atheist, or even a non-practising Christian to be elected to Congress or the Senate or the Presidency.

But if they are so religious, why are they so violent?  Because the versions of Christianity in America are mostly based on the ‘Old Testament’ with a vengeful God, an ‘eye for an eye’, and even in Donald Trumps preferred belief – that God rewards good people by making them rich.   America has the largest prison population, both by size and by ‘per thousand’ in the world; many serving life sentences, where they will never be released – some with sentences exceeding 100 years.  How the judges can keep a serious face handing down this nonsense is beyond me.  But the whole point of prison in America is punishment, not correction – forget entirely the idea of redemption.

And the American love of weaponry is symptomatic of a deeper malaise.  Many Hollywood films are full of gratuitous violence, death is everywhere.  America is the only country to have exploded an Atomic weapon – not once, but twice.  And if the Japanese had not surrendered I am pretty sure they would have continued dropping these awful bombs until the Japanese were completely annihilated.

Americans grow up with guns and death as commonplace occurrences, along with the belief that poverty is largely self-inflicted; that gaining wealth is the path to happiness.

And yet….and yet there is a growing revulsion, led largely by women and children to stop the carnage, to try to slowly turn back the tide of killing.  I really hope that this is the best side of America, of America the brave, and that things are beginning to change.  And they will have to be brave to face down all the American cowards brandishing guns