In Reason We Trust – Nov 2017
In times of gun violence politicians use religion to calm the nation’s fears or – “How to look good without doing anything”
According to an article in the Portland Press Herald by Eugene Scott of the Washington Post “In times of tragedy, government turns to Christianity” (Oct 6), Trump used biblical language to comfort Americans after the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The article also claimed that many US Presidents used biblical language to comfort Americans trying to make sense of a tragedy.
Most often these presidents, or their speech writers, quote relevant passages from the Bible or otherwise give “remarks marked by religious language and tenets of the Christian faith”. Apparently, as Scott claims, Trump looked to the language of the Christian faith to step into his role as “comforter in chief”.
As an example Scott reports that Trump offered these words to those who were directly affected by the Las Vegas shooting; “May God bless the souls of the lives that are lost. May God give us the grace of healing. And may God provide the grieving families with strength to carry on.” What was not reported was that Trump, while visiting the University Medical Center in Las Vegas, was asked by a reporter if America has a “gun violence problem”. Trump replied “We are not going to talk about that today. We won’t talk about that”.
Scott’s article also reported President Obama as saying, in response to the 2011 shooting of (then) Rep. Gabby Giffords in Tucson, “Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding,”
For a sitting US President to use Christian religious language to make sense of a tragedy, where no sense exists, to a religiously pluralistic society completely ignores those of us who are not Christian or who don’t believe in the supernatural. Even worse is to refer to text from one particular religion’s book that expresses the opinion that horrific tragedies, such as the shooting of Gabby Giffords or the more recent shooting in Las Vegas, “happen for a reason” is beyond absurd.
Scott’s article refers to accurate surveys that show “the percentage of Americans who are Christian is declining: In 1990, the number of Christians in America was 86 percent, according to the American Religious Identification Survey. That number is now 70 percent. And since the early 1990s, the percentage of Americans identifying as “atheist,” “agnostic” or “nothing in particular” has roughly tripled in size.”
These accurate figures are all the more reason for presidents to stay in the real world when offering comfort to those who are grieving over senseless mass murder. As one person commented, “Not all of us find superstition comforting”. In my opinion the best “comfort” a president can offer is an action plan to reduce the ever increasing incidents of mass murder.
One action plan could be the repeal of the 1996 Dickey Amendment. In 1996 the federal budget included an amendment, at the behest of the NRA that made it very difficult for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to research gun violence. Technically the amendment just prevents the CDC from advocating for any gun control measures, no matter what the CDC’s prior research into the areas of youth violence, domestic violence, sexual violence, and suicide discovered. To ensure that the CDC was not able to continue researching gun violence, Congress mandated that any funds that had been previously allocated for gun safety research was to be spent on traumatic brain injury (TBI) research instead.
If any president wanted to truly assuage the fears of the nation about the ever increasing incidents of mass shooting they would adequately fund research to study both gun violence and TBI’s. Researching the effects of gun violence, discovering its causes and implementing policies that will reduce it will be far more productive than offering prayers after the next senseless mass murder is committed. Remember that 2 hands engaged in work will be far more productive than 1,000 hands clasped in prayer.