Once again in America, a gunman has senselessly murdered several innocent human beings. This time, they were observing the Sabbath, saying their prayers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. Also, once again, prayers are being offered for the victims and their families. Of course, prayer is a good beginning to addressing the problem of mass murder in the United States. However, there comes a time when prayer is simply not enough. For example, in the Scriptures of the Christian tradition, James writes, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17, NIV).
“Faith” pertains to saying prayers, mentally assenting to God’s existence, reciting creeds and even knowing the Scriptures. “Action” refers to applying one’s faith to real-life situations and problems. For James, a do-nothing kind of faith is empty, useless, not relevant to life. Such faith is, as cliche as it may be, “all talk and no action.” After all, when has the world ever been changed for the better by good people doing nothing about its problems?
While the debates over gun control have been continuing in Washington for decades, American citizens, simply by going about their daily activities, say, enjoying their lives at a concert, are gunned down in cold blood. Others, simply by attending primary and secondary schools of education, are senselessly and systematically murdered. No place, it seems, is off limits, including the workplace, universities, movie theaters, night clubs, restaurants, stores, malls, synagogues, churches and mosques. It is “open season” on the American people themselves. Politicians talk incessantly about the epidemic, but more, much more, needs to be done to stop it.
Good ideas are just that – ideas. They remain as such until they are implemented, brought to bear on the real world of flesh-and-blood human beings. Similarly, talking about the epidemic, bringing it to consciousness in the American people, is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition, to addressing America’s epidemic, because something concrete, something practical, must done about the problem. Likewise, in addressing the moral issue, praying about it is only half the equation. The other half is work, a relentless effort by both Republicans and Democrats in Washington to implement practical steps to curtail, if not virtually eliminate, the scourge of senseless killings sweeping across the nation.
I am an American and, therefore, I respect the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which grants to American citizens the right to bear arms. In the words of a Latin principle, Usum non tollit abusus, which may be translated “Abuse does not remove use.” That is to say, misusing rights, which are guaranteed by the Second Amendment, is not a legitimate reason for abolishing the right itself to bear arms. However, more, much more, can and should be done to disarm those who, due to their criminal history or emotional disorders, should not bear arms.
Those who hold positions of authority in the federal, state and local branches of government have a moral obligation to keep Americans safe. Even more than that, government officials owe it not only to the living, but also to the dead, to prevent tragedies like the senseless murders in Pittsburgh from occurring. Such officials, then, have an obligation to every mother and father, son and daughter, husband and wife, to improve America’s gun laws, so that the dead will not have died in vain, that their senseless killings will, ultimately, make sense, bringing about a more humane, civilized society.
Prayer needs to be supplemented by action or, as the Rule of St. Benedict has it, ora et labora, “pray and work.” America is an on-going, not a finished, project! That is why American citizens strive to do better. It is, then, possible – without denying the right to bear arms – to have “tighter” restrictions, so that guns are not sold to the wrong people.
Therefore, by all means, let us Americans pray for the victims and their families at the Tree of Life Synagogue. But also let us work toward a better, safer America; one in which citizens may live in peace, without the fear of being gunned down in public, including places of worship.