Feb  2018 19
The Hole in America’s Soul

There is a hole in America’s soul. The hole is as old as the founding of the nation. Every school shooting widens the hole and reveals who America’s god is.

There is a hole in America’s soul. We were founded in violence and constitutionalized the provision for a well-armed citizen militia in case we needed to throw off the overlords again. Citizens armed against each other is not a well-armed militia but an opportunity to widen the hole in the nation’s soul.

We were founded in violence against Africans, stolen from their homelands, de-humanized, violated in every way. The South and the North both benefited from the American slave system. We constitutionalized that violence in the 3/5ths designation of African persons.

From 1860-65 the nation fought a war against the interests that wanted to preserve the slave system, with 600,000 soldiers and civilians killed, mostly with cannons or guns (in addition to almost that many again who died of war-related diseases and injuries).

Then Jim Crow was invented to re-institutionalize violence against African-Americans. When Civil Rights legislation was signed in the 1960s, the response by the Republican leaders who won envisioned their party’s path was the so-called Southern Strategy, which mixed the violent, race-and-class-based cocktail from which some still sip.

We were founded in violence against the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Combining the late medieval Catholic Doctrine of Discovery with biblical references to being the New Israel, with the idea of Manifest Destiny, with racism, and with naked greed, white authorities attempted to exterminate Native Americans and removed survivors of the genocide to far-away places like Oklahoma.

There is a hole in America’s soul.

We continued a tradition of violence against any persons the Anglo-elite considered to be persons of color. In the late 1800s and through the opening decades of the 1900s, such persons included the Irish and the Italians, both of which were eventually thought to be among the “acceptable” races.

Not so for immigrants from Mexico, China, and Japan. They and a host of other nationalities from brown or yellow-skinned or Muslim countries were not accepted as “real Americans.” Many of these immigrants suffered violence in coal mines, clothing factories, machine shops, and railroad construction.

We Americans are a violent people. And, besides creating systems of violence that benefit some people and disadvantage or denigrate others, America’s weapon of choice in our worship of violence is the gun.

Picture the multiple kinds of violence I name above. No one can tell the story of America without including guns as a prominent character. A citizen militiaman with a gun. Slave overseer with a gun. Land speculators, soldiers, and settlers killing or removing Native persons with guns. Blue versus Grey with bayonetted guns. Railroad bosses with guns. Warring against Mexico with guns. KKK terrorists with guns. Union-busters with guns.

There is a hole in America’s soul.

And, surely, America’s weapon of choice is also the choice of “the bad guys.” Train and bank robbers with guns. Bootleggers with guns. Gangs with guns. Persons intent on harming as many people as possible as quickly as possible with guns created for no other reason than to do just that.

Guns are so synonymous with America, one could imagine our National Anthem might extoll the virtue of a battle with big guns. Oh, right, it does that.

Theologian Paul Tillich asserted that, whatever or whomever we treat as our “ultimate concern,” that thing or person is our god. That for which we would sacrifice any right, any person—that is our god.

In America, the evidence of who our god really is, is clear. Our god is revealed in the way we were founded, in the way we settle disputes, in the way we fight for control and superiority, in deciding on which altar it is fitting to bind and lay our children to be sacrificed. Only we are not like Abraham with a knife, whose hand the angels restrain. No, we use a gun and fire it before an angel can intervene. Repeatedly.

To switch images: guns are America’s Golden Calf. You may recall that Moses queried Aaron as to how mayhem and the Calf came about in his absence while on the mountain receiving the commandments.

Aaron’s response was, “I don’t know. The people gave me gold, I tossed it in the fire, and out came this calf!” Aaron claimed no responsibility. It just happened. Sound familiar? “Thoughts and prayers” is today’s dodge from responsibility.

There is nothing so American as a gun. With that (un)godly gun, we blast away at our soul. And we have the hole and our children’s deaths to prove it. Blessed be the gun.

America does not have to be this way. It is a choice. We can and must make a better choice.

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips Faculty
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