Thursday, March 30, 2023

Of Rocks & Memes & Being Biblical

Our social media-drenched society loves reducing complicated and difficult political, ethical, and moral issues down to a meme. Which, in the wake of yet another school shooting here in my adopted home of Nashville, leads once again to stuff like this:

Here's the first problem with this meme - it may use Bible characters but it's not Biblical. 

I've done a deep dive on Genesis 4:8 to make sure I didn't miss something... and regardless of which translation I look at, Cain's method for killing his brother is not specified.
  • "...Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him." KJV
  • "...Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. NAS
  • "...Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him." HCSB
  • "...Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him." ESV
  • "...Cain turned on his brother and killed him." GNT
No rock. Zip. Nada. Zero.

Rajesh Gandhi says it well:
Saying that “a rock in bad hands killed Abel” puts us in the position of possibly bearing false witness because we simply do not know that is what happened.

It could have happened that way, but we should not make statements that it did happen that way when we do not have any way of knowing what actually happened.

There's a second problem... again, from Genesis 4. Let's pick up the story in the next verse (v. 9-10, ESV):

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” 

He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” 

And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground."

The answer to Cain's question is an emphatic "yes" - and the praise for the swift action of the officers of the Nashville Police Department underlines that yes. We are, as a society and as individuals, immensely thankful when people act in responsible ways that protect people - when they are their brother's keeper.

That brings me to the thoughtful musings of Jeanne Raney on being your brother's keeper.
The phrase “my brother’s keeper” is understood to mean being responsible for the well-being of others. So let’s look at this from the perspective of the “brother’s keeper.” I am Cain’s friend, or mother, or sibling, and I know Cain has issues — depression, lost his job, broke up, bullied. I see Cain one day and he looks off — angry, detached, violent — and he’s heading for a pile of rocks. I know he could smash someone’s head in or smash his own. Do I let him go get a rock because it’s his right, or do I stop him, so he won’t hurt himself or others? I hope I stop him. That is not to say I intend to pass legislation on confiscating rocks, banning rocks, or outlawing rock purchases.

Subsequently, a while later, when I see him heading for the rock pile again, I notice he’s using the rocks to build something, so I let him grab the rock. The meme is right. It’s not about rocks or guns, it’s about having the ability to intervene so the rocks and guns can’t be used to kill innocent children. It’s about actually being your brother’s keeper.
So, what is it going to look like to be the Good Samaritan, our brother's keeper, to stand in the gap? What is it going to look like to take Isaiah 1:17 (VOICE) seriously?
Learn to do good; commit yourselves to seeking justice. Make right for the world’s most vulnerable— the oppressed, the orphaned, the widow.
Again, Ms. Raney says it well:
Gun ownership is a choice, and a right, but it is also a responsibility. Every responsible gun owner knows they need to lock their weapons up, and handle them safely. As we are a gun owning society, we collectively bear the same responsibility. We must do all we can to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of those prone to abusing them so that innocent lives will not be taken, and responsible gun owners will not be tainted. 

We must stop imbuing guns with the same value as the lives of our children...

I am not asking for our legislators to deny appropriate gun use. I am asking that they stop choosing guns over children. That they stop choosing the right to bear arms over the right for a student to not go home in a body bag. That they choose the right to go to school safely over the right for one person to kill others. 

This wouldn’t require draconian measures like bans, mass confiscations or registries. The majority of Americans support common-sense regulations like red-flag laws for a reason — they work, and don’t punish responsible ownership. In fact, I would argue that such regulations support it.

The definition of integrity is doing the right thing over doing the easy thing. I wish I could say our legislators will act with integrity, but I am not holding my breath.
I believe that moving to universal background checks and well-supported & publicized red-flag laws would be a great step forward... and you may disagree. That is your right - but whatever action you support, please don't resort to foolish memes that use the trappings of faith to support your position.

In writing this blog post, I am indebted to the thoughts of Rajesh Gandhi and Jeanne Raney... weirdly enough, a graduate of Bob Jones University and an expert in speech pathology with students - but both raising clear Biblical issues.