Addicted to Guns & Violence: America Needs An Intervention

Addiction isn’t about substance – you aren’t addicted to the substance, you are addicted to the alteration of mood that the substance brings.

-Susan Cheever

Guns, rights and regulations. A toxic threesome. With the possible exception of abortion, nothing in the US of A inflames the passions as much as the debate over guns and whether they ought to be controlled. Personally, it’s always been difficult to understand the level of affection many gun owners display for their weapons. I could never comprehend the manic resistance expressed whenever the subject of gun control would arise – that is, until I viewed it through the eyes of a recovering alcoholic.

The panic that can be seen in those who fear the loss of their weapon is like that of an addict who fears being deprived of his drug. Addicts will kick and scream, and do whatever it takes to protect their addiction. We will sacrifice all if need be, including our jobs, our families, our freedom, our sanity, and even our lives. We will lie to our wives, our children, and even our mothers. Woe be unto anyone or anything that comes between us and the object of our dependency.

I came across a recent online forum comment to be revealing:

“Face it, you like or love guns and accessories and make it your hobby and passion by choice. You travel the web and purchase books about firearms and ammunition and take frequent trips to the gun shop, gun smith and shooting range. You open your safe to clean your collection, check humidity, or to just plain show them off to your buds. Then there is the spending. You spend the unused part of your check each week, save up or sometimes dip into your savings for a new gun, accessories, ammo, or gear.”

The behavior depicted here could easily describe any number of addictions. Consider some of the common characteristics:

  • Obsession with an object, activity or substance.
  • A compulsion to engage in an activity, and finding it difficult, even impossible not to do so.
  • Engaging in a behavior even though it causes harm to self and/or others.
  • Denial that the behavior is a problem.
  • Ritualistic behavior involving the object or activity (like the trips to the gun shop and gun cleaning in the forum post).
  • Enabling oneself and others by associating with only those who share and even encourage the behavior.

And of course there’s the desire for the gratification (high) the behavior provides, which becomes an uncontrollable need.

Aside from genetics, two powerful contributors to addiction are the 2-headed dragon of power and control. Typically, we addicts display low self-esteem and suffer great anxiety about not feeling in control of our immediate environment. Guns enable some to feel more powerful; they feed a fantasy where guns are seen to provide an almost magical solution to any problem. In a multitude of ways, popular culture identifies the guy with the gun as the guy with the power.

Then there is the gratification derived from the act of firing a gun. Gun owners often talk about the pleasure and enjoyment they experience when holding and shooting a weapon. Another forum participant describes the activity with a feeling that borders on erotic poetry:

“My Super Blackhawk is not at all unpleasant to shoot. It rolls back in my hand, sort of tries to leave my supporting hand, and climbs near vertical with muzzle uppermost. And the target reacts in the nicest way. And this gun is indeed a pleasure to shoot.”

Like other drugs, possessing a gun provides the addict with an escape from reality and an easing of emotional pain. It may begin with the need for a momentary release from anxiety and fear, but it soon evolves into a dependency on the changes in consciousness and ritualistic behaviors that create a vicious cycle from which it is very difficult to escape.

The truth is, the intensity with which some gun owners protest any change in laws affecting weapons and ammunition, speaks to the depth of their suffering. Indeed, they are suffering in bondage to a need which has taken over their lives. That’s what addiction is. However, as with other addictions, there is a way out. But first, the country as a whole has to recognize that there is a problem and decide to end the denial. Then we have to stop enabling the addiction.

We need an intervention for our country. We need to confront the truth about the culture of fear and violence which allows those addicted to guns to control both the narrative and the legislatures. We need to be honest about profit motives driving the resistance. The gun industry and their affiliated industries spend tens of millions on lobbyists who work to convince members of Congress that effecting policies contrary to the well being of their constituents is a good thing. We need to acknowledge the silent willingness on our part that allows communities to endure domestic terror. We need to face the fact that we’ve created a popular culture in which “the gun” has become an icon, a golden calf, an object of worship.

We all share responsibility for the problem. Even if we don’t exhibit the addictive behavior, or even own a gun, we are all complicit in the culture of violence that perpetuates it. If we watch violent TV shows, we’re complicit. If we see movies depicting violent behavior, we’re complicit. If we read material which glorifies gun violence, we’re complicit. In short, we’re complicit just by being consumers.

Recovering addicts know that healing begins with a shift in consciousness. That shift is what enables the ability to see the truth about their dependency and what needs to change. This is what we need as a country. While changes in the present laws are needed, we know only too well that such actions alone will not prevent addiction. What we need is a new mind with a new awareness, allowing us to see the truth about our collective dependency, and how much it controls our cultural values. Those values, and the behavior they condone, are a constant threat to the physical and psychological well being of everyone. If we refuse to face this fact, it can only become worse.

Such a shift doesn’t come quickly, but history proves how it’s possible. Shifts in consciousness brought about the democratic form of government, the end of slavery, and the Equal Rights Amendment.

The shift that ends our cultural dependency on guns will be monumental. It will mean having a willingness to release fear and the never ending need for self-protection. The common belief is that fear is caused by crime and violence, and not living in fear is the result of eliminating the cause. Bu,t in fact, it is fear that causes the crime and violence. Fear is a choice. Few would accept that truth. As long as we believe fear is the natural reaction to a fear-filled world, we can’t be free. When we become able to understood that fear is nothing more that a hold-over from our primitive brain and its instinctive fear response, we are free to chose another way to respond.

How can such a shift happen? In 12-step programs, the second step is key. It involves turning our lives over to a higher power. That higher power is never narrowly defined. It can be God, Allah, Spirit, Higher Self, the universe, or whatever force greater than oneself can be drawn on for help to make it through, one day at a time.

But how can the 12-step concept be applied to a culture or an entire country?

In addition to the higher power options already mentioned, there’s yet one more. Addicts who can’t relate to amorphous forms are told they can consider the group of which they are a member to be their higher power. In order to apply that to America’s addiction to guns, we would first have to admit that we’re all addicted.

Even if we don’t exhibit addictive behavior, or even own a gun, we are all complicit in the culture of violence that perpetuates it. If we watch violent TV shows, we’re complicit. If we see movies depicting violent behavior, we’re complicit. If we read material which glorifies gun violence, we’re complicit.

Here’s the inconvenient truth: we’re complicit just by being consumers of popular entertainment. My drug of choice is TV’s Law & Order, what’s yours?

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The Christian Church In America is Dead – Donald Trump’s Election Proves It!

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Christianity is, I believe, about expanded life, heightened consciousness and achieving a new humanity. –John Shelby Spong

Christian churches in America are social clubs. We do a nice job of providing excuses for people to exercise their instincts as a social animals. There are bowling teams, softball teams, basketball teams, ladies auxiliaries, youth groups and various boards on which to serve. We put on nice pot-luck dinners and serve coffee after worship services where members gather to discuss everything, except the content of the holy ritual they just attended. We discuss the sermon by noting it wasn’t too boring, but the delivery could still use some work. We do a good job administering the rites of passage. Baptisms, confirmations, marriages and funerals legitimize our existence as religious institutions.

Indeed, the church should be a comfortable place where the soul can find rest and a sense of belonging. But it should also be a place where our human foibles are constantly challenged, where spiritual growth is actively encouraged, where comfort does not become complacency, where the status quo is continually examined and questioned. Are we transformed by our church experience to deal with these issues as the “New Beings” we’re supposed to be? Does the Gospel message really speak to the human soul? Or, is it just platitude – without any real practical application.

The Christian church in America is not what it confesses to be. It’s like a shell washed up on the shore. It displays a solid exterior, but internally it is devoid of the material needed to sustain viability. In other words, it’s dead.

Missing The Mark
The ultimate proof of this moribund condition is the election of a President who fervently embodies anti-Christian beliefs and attitudes. His “Two Corinthians” comment aside, as president-elect, he didn’t even bother to feign a religious life or knowledge of Christian principles. His expressed values and attitudes embody the concept of missing the mark, which is the original meaning of the word, sin. We won’t attempt to enumerate his transgressions here, since nearly every word and action bears witness. His contempt for Christian values is palpable.

If churches were truly alive with the Holy Spirit, they’d have mounted a response so loud and vehement, the candidate would have been quickly dismissed. If Pastors took seriously their prophetic responsibility to speak for truth, their voices would have shaken churches from Spokane to Cape Cod. If individuals and congregations were actually infused with Christ consciousness, they would have reached out to enlightened the better angels of all Americans.

So where then was The Conference of Catholic Bishops – the same Bishops who otherwise never hesitate to declare positions on doctrine? Pope Francis was clear about his misgivings concerning the candidate, but aside from criticizing Trump’s comments on immigration, the Conference was shamefully silent.

And where were the family values-centric Evangelicals? Why were they silent about the President elect’s adultery and his amenability to sexual assault? Is the fear of changing cultural norms so great these Christian leaders would subvert their basic principles to the point of enabling one they would normally dismiss without a second thought? Does bondage to their doctrine, which prohibits abortion and denounces homosexuality, override reacting a greater danger? If so, it is a shameless betrayal of the one whose example they profess to follow.

A Symptom
That being said, the Church’s failure of conscience and responsibility in the recent election, is merely a symptom of deeper dis-ease. The real issue festers below the surface. It is a systemic dysfunction that dooms any effort to positively transform the human heart. With the exception of a few little known protestant denominations, Christian churches remain enmeshed in a world view, theology and religious language that has not changed in five-hundred years.

It is precisely this cultural dislocation that is responsible for the church’s present state of impotence. The election of Donald Trump is symptomatic of that impotence – the inability to confront fear and intolerance with a theology (language & symbols) that effectively expresses the ideals of love and compassion. Even if good intentions were present, the means to effectively act on them is not. It’s like trying to power a modern high-speed train with steam. No matter how much is generated, the train simply will not move.

The Church needs to find a new voice – a new theology – one that speaks to the spiritual and emotional needs of people in their present context. Musty vocabularies and dust-covered symbols can’t meet the need. The hierarchical model, on which churches were structured for centuries, may have provided an effective way to exert control over clergy and congregants, but it is not consistent with Gospel teachings. Monolithic organizational structures are antithetical to the new understanding of the God/human relationship that Jesus brought to the world. Instead of following the corporate concept of bigger is better, churches need to become smaller, with as little bureaucracy and paid staff as possible. Using 12-step groups as a model would be a good start. The minimalist self-supporting structure has worked well to keep groups focused and effective in their mission to aid the spiritual growth of recovering addicts.

Either Or
And so, the Church is left with a choice. It can either upgrade its software (theology) to become more user-friendly (relevant), or stay with a comfortably familiar but no longer effective way of doing ministry. Choosing the later means running the risk of empowering more like Donald Trump – or worse.

The spiritual needs of mankind haven’t changed in two-thousand years, but the way to nurture those needs has to evolve. It’s impossible to say whether or not the Church’s having a voice that speaks to the spirit of the present day would have made a difference in the election. Nevertheless, it can be assumed that a Church which is more fully engaged in its mission to live out the Gospel would have responded in a way that was more attuned to its core principles.

The Gospel message calls for living at a higher level of consciousness, in a state of grace, with unconditional love, forgiveness, charity and peace that passes normal human understanding. We need every bit of that right here and now.

So everyone who proclaims love and forgiveness to the world, is one with the Spirit and holds the peace of eternity in their heart. –Matthew 10:32 (RNV)