Way Past Thoughts And Prayers
As of the writing of this column, there have been more mass shootings in the United States than days in the current year. Over 250 mass shootings have occurred so far in 2019. Recently, two shootings occurred within the same 24-hour period -- in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. The Three Wise Guys suggest that thoughts and prayers are not what we need going forward.
Rabbi: At least 31 people were murdered and more than 50 wounded in the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. There is no broadly accepted definition of a mass shooting. The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as a single incident in which four or more people, not including the shooter, are "shot and/or killed" at "the same general time and location."
Imam: By that definition, there have been 275 deaths from mass shootings alone since January of 2019, and 1,065 injuries, according to the GVA. Somehow this nation has to get past its inability to discuss gun violence -- and the remedies for it -- in a meaningful way.
Rev: Because I know both of you very well, I know that you are both people of prayer and you believe in the importance and power of prayer. But I really don't want to hear the phrase "thoughts and prayers" uttered ever again by a politician referring to the victims of a mass shooting. Those words ring sadly hollow today after so many shootings in this country and a death toll of hundreds, with thousands wounded and maimed.
Rabbi: I agree with you, Rev, that using the phrase "Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have been affected by this tragedy" has become a way for many to sidestep the fact that we need to have an honest and forthright conversation about guns and gun violence in this country.
Imam: And standing in the way of that honest conversation is the National Rifle Association. Not only is it one of the most powerful gun lobby groups in this country, it also controls much of the political agenda in regard to guns in the United States. Far too many politicians are beholden to this group because they don't want to lose the lucrative campaign contributions given to them by the NRA.
Rev: That, Imam, is the moral quandary in which we now find ourselves regarding this issue of dealing with guns and gun violence in America. But let's not forget, it is also bolstered by some very rigid and conservative Christian groups that seem to believe the Second Amendment of the Constitution is on par with the Beatitudes or the "Judgment of the Nations" in Matthew 25.
Rabbi: At the heart of this is the problem of runaway violence in our society. We have become so accustomed to hearing about violence that in many ways we have become desensitized to it. We have to be honest that there is a constant barrage of messages coming to us from elected leaders and others that serve primarily to dehumanize and demonize some people based on prejudice and bias.
Imam: Also, there are many video games and films that promote violence, not to mention social media. These things can also desensitize people to harmful, hurtful and destructive behaviors against others.
Rev: We do have to look at the external issues of violence in our society. There are studies that would counter the idea that video games and movies inevitably create a culture of violence. However, a constant diet of violent input into our souls, along with dehumanizing statements about others and outright hate speech at times, contributes to our problem of the prevalence of violence in our society, I believe.
Rabbi: We have to be honest, as was raised earlier, that religious people are not blameless at times. There is -- as we have talked about a number of times -- the problem with "Bad Religion." In this case, it is a religion that protects or allows for violence if it serves the bias or prejudice of that particular religious group.
Rev: Indeed. For instance, in some fundamentalist religious groups, there is a belief and teaching that women are inferior and that they are to be subservient to men. In those groups, domestic violence is too often tolerated and accepted. I was told by one woman who had escaped one of these communities that she was told that "if she had been a more subservient wife, her husband would not have to beat her." That is religion gone bad and justifying violence, pure and simple. And it's horrible!
Imam: In regard to our current problem with unbridled gun violence, it's time to get past thoughts and prayers! It's time to demand an honest conversation about the problem of gun violence in our culture. It's time to make some changes. And people of faith should be demanding the conversation, not contributing to the problem.
The Rev. Bryan Fulwider, Rabbi Steven Engel and Imam Muhammad Musri are The Three Wise Guys. Their website is at http://twgradio.com/. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2019 Rabbi Steven Engel, Imam Muhammad Musri and Rev. Bryan Fulwider
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