Perfect love casts out fear: Christianity and the American culture of violence–updated

Another act of mass violence today. The media went wacko. Meanwhile, yesterday in Chicago, nineteen people were shot, including eight in a drive-by shooting. Roger Ebert pointed out the parallel.

A story on inner-city Philadelphia examines the effects of gun violence on the community and on individuals, focusing on the trauma caused by the level of violence:

Between January 1, 2001, and May 29th of this year, 18,043 people were shot in Philadelphia. That equates to about one shooting every six hours. In that same time period, there were 3,852 murders—a new body yielded up for disposal nearly every day. The entire length of the conflict in Afghanistan hasn’t produced as many dead Americans as we’ve picked up off our city’s streets.

As others have pointed out, media coverage of mass shootings conforms to our own fears. Random shootings seem to receive more attention than targeted ones (does this explain the relative lack of attention to the Oak Creek shootings?) We’ve become inured to certain kinds of violence–the shootings in Chicago being an excellent example, and our own ongoing participation in wars abroad. It’s only when that violence affects us, or people like us, that we seem to take notice.

There have been many attempts to make sense of the recent epidemic of shootings. Of course each shooter had his own set of fears and disappointments, his own set of demons, to make generalization dangerous.

What strikes me about our national mood is our level of fear. We are afraid of the future and afraid of the future direction of our country and world. We worry about the economy, about our jobs and families. We worry whether we will be able to make ends meet, or whether we will have adequate resources or medical care in our retirement. That fear percolates under the surface all of the time and is given voice in our degraded political culture.

One thing that unites these recent shootings is that the perpetrators are all white men. Elizabeth Drescher has pointed to the significance of this:

Whatever the unique complex of psychosocial, religious, financial, moral, political, or other issues that tormented the mass killers recently populating Twitter feeds and news headlines, they all sought to solve their problems with a particular expression of gun violence that maps easily to particular configurations of masculinity—apparently across classes and political ideologies. Those of us concerned with how religious ideologies participate in narratives of domination and violence, then, would do well to explore the masculinist roots of Christianity or other religious traditions, particularly as male authority and normativity are emphasized in more conservative expressions.

How do we as communities of faith respond the shootings as well as the underlying fears, the very notion of “redemptive violence” that permeate our culture? How can we offer hope and life in this culture of fear and death?  How can we proclaim a gospel that might work toward the transformation of our society? How can we name and combat the evil in our midst and offer life-giving alternatives?

That phrase from I John 4, “but perfect love casts out fear,” has been running through my head the past several weeks. If we can experience that sort of love in our hearts. If we can experience that sort of love in our congregations, if we can invite and express that sort of love with those we encounter in our neighborhoods and communities, we will go a long way toward overcoming our national culture of fear and violence.

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One thought on “Perfect love casts out fear: Christianity and the American culture of violence–updated

  1. Well said. I think we have a violence problem alright, but really, underneath, it is a spiritual problem as you say, and many wisdom traditions teach, between Love and Fear. I like to simplify, and suggest, that we’ll do well to improve our relationship to fear and love will be there. A good recent article from a Christian perspective on the “culture of fear” problem (and a section in it is from an interview I did with the journalist) go to:
    http://www.ucobserver.org/features/2013/01/scared_senseless/

    For further free articles on the human Fear Problem go to http://csiie.org/mod/page/view.php?id=3

    I look forward to more dialogue on religious and spiritual education in this context.
    -R. Michael Fisher, Ph.D.
    Fearologist

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