“Less Prayers and More Revolutionary Actions:
On Gun Violence, Mass Shootings, and Racially-Motivated Hate Crimes”
As a person of faith, I confess that prayer is a form of human action and a significant aspect of the religious experience. I would argue that human prayers to God could be construed as both radical and revolutionary human reactions to the catastrophes of war, famine, exile, and imperial exploitation and conquest as well as the problems of human suffering, pain, and anguish in the world; we find such textual examples in the book of Psalms of the Hebrew Bible. The book of Psalms is a testament of radical human actions transmitted through the transformative power of human prayers and petitions to the Divine. Nonetheless, this is not the type of human activism and agency I would like to advocate in this essay. By contrast, I am supporting the imposition of the rule of law, another form of radical and revolutionary human actions, which would contribute to improving the existential dilemma of gun violence, mass shootings, and racially-motivated crimes in the American society.
Fundamentally, in this essay, I am suggesting that the American people need to stop praying to God for the end of gun violence and mass shootings in this country; rather, rational and concerning citizens and lawmakers should take radical actions to end mass shootings and racially-motivated crimes in society. Both mass shootings and racially-motivated crimes have now been incorporated into the American experience. Whenever I see the disturbing manifestation of evil in this country, in the form of racially-motivated hate crimes and mass shootings in schools, worship centers (i.e., churches, temples, synagogues, mosques) and public spaces, I refuse to ask the most natural human question where was/is God? As a committed Christian, I also resist to do the most natural Christian response to gun violence—a form of human tragedy and terror—the Christian prayer. I do not believe incessant prayers to God to eradicate deliberate actions committed by volitional agents resulting in mass murder or mass killing of innocent individuals and children have worked effectively in the history of this country. By any means am I discounting the power and role of faith in both civil and political society.
Instead, I would argue that “American prayers” have been a meaningless, ineffectual, even vain endeavor in the history of racial and gun violence. Prayers without human responsibility and action will not change a thing and have no ability on their own to move God to revolutionary action. From this perspective, God is not a magician, and prayer is not a magic or a form of human sorcery to improve the human condition in the world. When American politicians, lawmakers, and gun manufacturers do not act humanly, responsibly, and morally in the urgency of time, they send a clear message to the American pubic: they misconstrue the meaning of life, and through their failure, they make human lives more vulnerable and disposable to internal threats and acts of terror.
The purpose of God is not to fix all human problems that could be easily resolved by human agency and intervention or through the rule of law. Correspondingly, the function of religion in society is not to be a substitute for common sense actions and (human) reason. I would like to put forth the idea that the decision to remove “Christian prayer” in America’s public schools, for example, does not contribute to the spread of gun violence and hate crimes motivated by racism, bigotry, and xenophobia; I counter this long-standing fundamental ideology and Evangelical Christian tradition regarding the relationship between religion and the state or the function of religion in the public sphere. Public piety apart (from moral responsibility and emancipatory human-centered activism) associated with the American model of “secular religion” and “post-postmodern faith” does not impress the Divine.
The aim of human prayer to God without showing intentional human responsibility and (potentially) emancipative actions is like to wish for the light switch to be turned on without proper electricity infrastructure or technological arrangement. As the light switch requires a human hand to turn it on, prayer without human effort and moral agency will not move the hands of God nor will it stop gun violence and hate crimes. Prayers without radical human interventions and legal actions to restrict the easy accessibility and (re-)distribution of guns to private American citizens is akin to this illustration. This is a matter of existential urgency for the American people to campaign for rigorous judicial actions and moral interventions that will center upon the preservation of human life, especially the life of innocent children found in most vulnerable places in society, such as schools, daycares, worship centers, and marginalized communities.
A Great Moral Problem
Given the long history of gun and racial violence in the American society, it is disingenuous to continue to look for the Divine in the midst of human-made chaos and disorder, especially when the American government, powerful American citizens, and BIG corporations have the power, equipment, and resources to create a more dignified society and an alternative and safe future for American children and students, especially. To ask where God is in the midst of human terror and orchestrated acts of violence and human cruelty—manifested in the form of mass shootings or gun violence—is to shy away from our ethical responsibility as Americans to create an uninjured environment for all people. The future our school children and marginalized and vulnerable communities deserve is one in which they will not be traumatized by another potential act of racial violence or mass shooting. The sacredness and urgency of human life in this moment is an adequate reason to compel those in seat of authority and power to do more than asking for more public prayers, taking a 2-minute pause of reflection, and making good wishes to the families of the victims and those who wish to live peacefully and in safety in both the present and the future. Any type of human prevention to safeguard life is a moral action, and any human attempt to block any potential threat to eradicate life should be a non-negotiable and permanent commitment to sustain all lives in society.
Moreover, I would like to contend that instead of “uncaring politicians,” “lighthearted lawmakers,” and “hurting citizens” asking for more public prayers and petitions and questioning where God was in these recent mass shootings or the ones that transpired in the last fifteen years, I would like us to consider the following ethical and moral questions:
• What is the moral responsibility of this country’s lawmakers and politicians to protect American children and citizens from gun violence, mass shootings, and racially-motivated crimes?
• Where is the moral outrage of BIG corporations (and their networks) that are manufacturing guns and making deadly weapons effortlessly accessible to violent people and those with mental illness?
• Where are they? And where have they been in the midst of national mourning and acts of terror threatening national peace and collective joy?
• Does gun ownership come with certain moral responsibility and rights?
• What is morally right in this country? And what is ethically wrong in this society? Do they have anything to do with or linked to the mass obsession of gun ownership and egocentric individual freedom?
• When will the American people make the distinction between what is morally evil and what is ethically valuable to the promotion of the common good and human flourishing in society?
• At what cost would personal liberty and individual happiness contribute to the possible destruction of the welfare and safety of the collective? In other words, is there an ethical framework that holds individuals accountable for libertarian freedom and actions—in respect to gun ownership and the leniency of gun laws in this country?
Further, I would like to say that this country’s collective impulse concerning national conversations on gun violence and hate crimes grounded in racial ideologies include the following propositions:
- Traditionally, the emotional capacity of the American people is high (or always maximizes) in tragic moments in our (dark) history, and such a moment is akin to this contemporary one: the moment of pain, the moment of despair, the moment of national mourning. When our collective emotions go high in such a moment like this one, they will inevitably decline in strength and public expression. The problem of the American psyche in catastrophic times like this lies in its ability to produce permanent human endurance and robust resistance to cultural productions of evil and to various sources of the American wound. The American indignation or response to the problem of cultural evils does not prevail in times of trouble; to our great despair, it vanishes swiftly before a common solution is found. This shared attitude also lies in the collective reaction to find an “easy way out” of complex American problems; as a people, we prefer to use the Amazon’s Prime model to engage in existential crises that have negatively affected the human experience in this country and lessened human dignity in society.
- The American resistance or response to structural violence and human suffering in society is inadequate and not robust to lead to genuine structural transformation and radical cultural renewal. This is a profound matter rooted in the indeterminacy of the collective will of the American people—the will to power, the will to enact radical change, and the will to sustain the sacredness of human life. In other words, we are resisting our own will to do what is morally good for our families and our neighbor and what is ethically constructive for this country and the common good of all people.
- The American fixation on gun ownership and the triumph of individual freedom transcend any human feelings associating with collective love, group empathy, and national peace.
- The American people’s protest against gun violence and mass shootings is characterized as a “temporary feeling” to change gun law legislations, but it has never been deeply rooted in the collective will and the common purpose toward radical transformation. Unfortunately, the moral indignation and collective drive of the American people toward national safety is too weak, pathetic, even fragile; arguably, it is a shared crisis of (lack of) passion.
- The moral restraint to the production of evil in society shall not be to have “more religion” or to shout for “more public outcry” for rapid divine intervention through prayer and petition. While I believe in the transformative power of faith to effect social change and improve the human condition in the world, I reject the emotional dependency on the potentiality of religion as a substitution for ethical human responsibility, human behavior, and emancipative moral activism.
- Religion as a social construct was never designed to broadcast good news, promote human flourishing, and effect peace and unity between peoples of different religious expressions or those of no religious affiliation or identity. What we need at this existential moment in our dark (American) history is less religion in public, but more national moral outrage that would lead to robust legal restraints and human-centered judicial interventions against all forms of public productions of evil (gun violence, white supremacist ideologies) and the potential production of social evils (hate crimes, mass shootings) in society. Arguably, the rights to own a gun has been abused the same way the performative function of religion and prayer in public in moments of gun violence and mass shootings have been misdirected and exploited.
Substituting Public Prayers and Good Wishes
with Radical Collective Actions and Judicial Interventions
I must admit that I do not have the best solution to the existential catastrophe of gun violence, mass shootings, and racial-based crimes in this society. Also, I have yet to devise a plan or the most radical actions politicians, lawmakers, gun-manufacturers (and their networks) should take to get us out of this national dilemma, an American crisis. Nonetheless, what I am suggesting in this piece is to substitute public prayers and good wishes with radical collective actions and judicial restrictions against the easy access and distribution of guns. I refuse to believe there is not a national solution to the enduring problem of gun violence and mass shootings in this country. For example, the question is not the lack of (government or private) funding, human resources, intelligent people, mass support, adequate policing, etc. Perhaps, it is matter of strategic plans and human-centered intelligent thinking or design from the highest offices to the lowest governmental offices.
The intervention we need to preserve life in the most ethical, legal, and moral sense must be a collective solution and national action. To get us started, I would like to make the following two suggestions to help reduce popular violence through individual gun ownership:
- Public Schools and the Safety of school children: since school children have been of the most vulnerable groups and victims of gun violence and mass shootings in this country, American parents should demand the state government and local school authorities to close schools until (local) politicians and (federal) lawmakers take drastic measures to make American schools and educational centers a safer environment for school children. For example, parents should keep their children at home until stricter gun control laws are passed both at the national and federal level. Parental protests should also include the following: 1) keeping children at home for 30 to 60 days, even an academic semester; 2) collective street peaceful protests at the national level; and 3) and giving lawmakers and local politicians a deadline to produce measurable goals and learning outcomes associating with gun safety at schools and gun ownership.
- Centers of Worship & the Safety of religious people: (churches, temples, synagogues, mosques): people in sacred places or places of worship should be able to gather together in safety and to worship in peace without having to worry about getting shot or being slaughtered. Recently, religious centers have become the second most target places by internal terrorists and white supremacists. Religious people should also use the power of non-violent protest to campaign for stricter gun regulations and gun ownership, both at the national and federal level. Another way religious people could use protest as a human force is to close the places of worship; for example, instead of gathering on Sundays or Wednesdays for spiritual meetings, religious leaders, and ministers (rabbi, pastors, imam, priests) should use designated times for street protests.
I must admit that what might be considered a “radical” action for some individuals may not be interpreted as so for others. The radical actions and judicial interventions that must be taken nationally and federally must be truly “radical” and genuinely “revolutionary.” Whenever something radical occurs in a society, the people will interpret it as a radical shift—in the form of a consensus; correspondingly, whenever something revolutionary happens in a culture, the citizens will construe it as a revolutionary shift that gives birth to a new age, a new era in the human experience. Those examples are voluminous in the American experience. For example, in our (American) history, we talk about the radical nature of the American Revolution (1774-1783); the Declaration of Independence (1776); the revolutionary nature of the American civil war (1861-1865); the radical nature of the Emancipation Proclamation (1863); the radical nature of Women’s suffrage (1919); the revolutionary sense of World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945); the Cold War (1946-1991); the Vietnam Wars (1954-1975); the radical nature of Legal Abortion (1973); the revolutionary sense of the Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968); the Feminist Movement of the 1960s; the radical nature of the end of Racial Segregation (1964); and the legalization of Same-Sex Marriage (2015).
Truly, these historical antecedents should serve as models to put an end to mass shootings, gun violence, and racially-driven hate crimes in society while maintaining spiritual passion and religious fervency.