America's ritual of outrage
By Anthea Butler
It is an American ritual, engaged in on almost a monthly basis. A mass shooting. Screaming. Frantic families. Shell-shocked survivors. Carnage. Grim-faced police and emergency responders, and news reporters smelling blood in the air, angling for the right shot of grief-stricken friends and family.
Then, the tweets and statements flow. “Thoughts and prayers” is the most popular. It is used as an absolution, to cleanse lawmakers from the guilt of taking National Rifle Association money, and to placate the small voice inside that says, “This could be me.”
Religious leadership devoid of action is meaningless at times like this. Mass shootings are so frequent that even the leaders of religious groups join the chorus of rote, providing meaningless speechifying. The Catholic bishops pray, the Southern Baptists lament about the failure of society, mainline denominations issue statements and other religious groups express their sorrow. Occasionally, some actually march. But often nothing happens. Even religious leadership has become inured to the suffering. Many are only in the business of burials, and pontificating about sexuality or abortion.
So with the Parkland school shooting, we can quit pretending that thoughts and prayers mean anything when we can't expect action to follow. They certainly don’t when the NRA and gun manufacturers can insure silence by giving hefty contributions to lawmakers.
Pious words mean nothing without action. Faith without works is dead, the Bible teaches. If your local priest or pastor just asks you to pray, and not to resist the evil of gun violence and the sale of assault rifles, you are complicit. If you have an AR-15 in your house for “recreational” purposes, your money has gone to a corporation to make more weapons to murder people.
The founders and framers who spoke of a "well regulated militia" never could conceive of that right imperiling the lives of American children. The greatness they envisioned for America is being destroyed by the NRA and the elected officials they have purchased. We have fallen into a bleak cycle of violence and death, but it is up to us to break the cycle of ritual outrage.
Anthea Butler is a professor of religion and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania.