I was stunned when I read the meme. I found it mind boggling. It read: “If Jesus had a gun, he’d still be alive today.”
I did a little research and found that the quote is originally from the Simpsons, the animated TV comedy show. As I searched online about this statement, I found a range of merchandise with this saying. It didn’t appear like those wearing the t-shirts, hats, and other items were joking. Instead, it seemed almost like a rallying cry among some groups of gun advocates.
While Jesus didn’t have a gun, the Gospel attributed to John conveys that when Jesus was arrested, Peter drew a sword and cut off the ear of a member of the crowd named Malchus. Jesus told Peter to put the sword away. In a similar passage from the Gospel attributed to Matthew, Jesus says, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” Guns or no guns, Jesus was clear: violence was not compatible with his way of life.
It’s not my intention to write about gun control or gun rights. Instead, seeing the meme caused me to think more about violence in society. I understood the meme as conveying a defensive posture that is fundamentally aggressive: if someone comes at you, then shoot. Plan for it. Don’t let them mess with you.
To understand violence in the world, I think we need to look deeper than issues in the United States related to gun ownership and consider our own values and outlook on life. For example, the rate of gun ownership in Canada is higher than in the United States, but the levels of violence are quite low. In other words, the problem of violence is not whether or not one has a gun. Nor is the problem of violence whether or not one actually shoots another person. Rather, it is the defensive posture that leads to aggression, which sets the context for violence. This defensive posture is often rooted in fear of the other and a belief that one needs to protect oneself from the other. This, I suggest, is the foundation for the conviction that we need to get the other person before the other person gets us. This conviction is what drives the senseless violence we see in the world, ranging in scale from an accidental shooting at home to multigenerational violence in places like the Middle East or Central Asia.
As with most problems, our tendency is to view the problem as something that’s wrong with another person. We blame gang members, police, terrorist, dictators, and people we label as crazy for the problem of violence in society. To this end, we view the problem of violence in society as a problem caused by somebody else. Instead, I believe that the truth is that violence resides in each of us. It’s as though we are poised to respond violently.
Violence often begins as a feeling. We want to fight back. We want to stop the other, correct the other, and impose our way on others. Violence erupts when drivers cut us off. We want to make sure they know they did wrong, so we honk the horn, yell, and salute with a middle finger. Violence erupts when an employee at the drive-thru doesn’t provide enough ketchup for our fries, when the clerk askes that a form be filled out another time, or when someone blocks our way in the aisle of the grocery. Yes, we’re angry. But more than anger, we want to lash out. We want the other to feel the frustration we feel. We want to hurt the other who inconvenienced us by erupting with raw emotion.
Wanting to hurt the other, to make the other feel what we feel, is an essential part of the cycle of violence. Often, this cycle begins because we ourselves have been treated violently in life, even if in some smaller way. Not being able to express the hurt, it builds over time. It builds and is released on another. It is this cycle of violence has led to senseless harm around the world.
How does the cycle end? Simply, when we decide to end the cycle of violence in our own lives, then the cycle of violence begins to end. The best way that I know to end the cycle of violence in our lives is to admit that it is present. Then, in order to root it out, we can use deep practices like meditation. In meditation, we delve deeply into our inner experience where the root of fear, defensiveness, and violence resides. In meditation, when we hold our very selves with compassion, these darker aspects of our lives begin to melt away. That is how we learn to view others with compassion rather than as aggressors from whom we need protection.
Yes, in the end, the cycle of violence isn’t about extremists, gang members, police, or anyone else. It’s about ourselves. To end the cycle of violence requires that we heal the violence in ourselves with compassion. Bringing change to a violent world requires that the change begin in each one of us.
© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.