The concept of scapegoating originates in our culture from Judaism and its more popular child: Christianity (which apparently isn’t a religion). The Israelites would transfer their sins onto a goat and send it into wilderness, cleansing themselves of these sins, which is a furtively immoral idea. It appears, when one looks at the coverage of any mass shootings in the country, that this tradition is very much alive, outside of the religious rituals as well as within them. The usual flock of goats consists of the NRA (crazy, but usually not to blame in any direct manner), the gun laws (highly liberal, and probably in need of revisions, but usually not directly guilty either) and insanity (closer, but still not there). Apparently this time, according to Ray Comfort of Living Water Ministries, Christopher Hitchens miraculously rose from the dead to haunt good citizens and turn them into lunatics.
What he says in a video is this:
“Something radically wrong is happening to our nation and I think the Bible puts its finger on it very clearly. As a nation we’ve lost the fear of God. And America in 1950 was called a God-fearing nation. But nowadays, if you talk about the fear of God, you’re a fundamentalist Bible-bashing, narrow minded bigot full of hate speech, but the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, that’s all it is, the beginning of wisdom. And someone who fears God looks upon God for their moral guidance. They don’t go out and commit adultery, they don’t lie, they don’t steal, and they definitely don’t go around killing people. When we interviewed those 15 people in “Genius,” the whole 15 of them had no fear of God before their eyes. And what’s happened is that we’ve had British redcoats invading our nation and shoot our youth through the heart. Men like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who now went to meet his maker, have come in with their smooth English accents, have convinced millions of young people that they’re nothing but primates. There’s no ultimate right. There’s no ultimate wrong. And when that happens to a nation, when they make them into God haters, something dies within a nation and that’s what’s happened in America. When a man can go to an elementary school and shoot people, including children, to death and then shoot himself, he doesn’t fear God in the slightest.”
Now this, compared with the usual arguments blaming gun laws or insanity of the perpetrator, is a truly moronic point. I will not be arguing with the specific points he’s making, as not to lower the discourse to his calamitous level. I only quote this because it shows the same idea every other opinion page presents, in a very vivid manner indeed. The American public cannot, for some reason, face the reality, and appears to prefer to find a goat and get on with their lives. To show that it’s not just a quirk on the far right let us look at the mainstream media.
Kristof is right in his recent New York Times column where he says that we ‘could limit gun purchases to one a month to impede traffickers, make serial numbers harder to file off, ban high-capacity magazines, finance gun buybacks, require solid background checks even for private gun sales, require microstamping so that bullet casings can be traced back to a particular gun and mandate that guns be stored in gun safes or with trigger locks.’ On its own this is a good point, worthy of discussion and perhaps legal initiatives, but unrelated to what he claims it to be a response to: the cause of the shooting in Newtown. Therefore it is missing the point; law was not the problem in Newtown case, as it rarely is. I agree that the gun laws could be better but the discussion arond Newtown shooting should be around the real issue: parent’s responsibility. Kristof says that he hopes ‘we don’t do the same and blind ourselves to the lessons of this tragedy,’ but that’s precisely what he’s doing.
In Newtown case, as in other cases (perhaps the case in Florida where an aligator killed a child better makes the point as it leaves the irritable NRA out of the equation), the main problem is the responsibility of the parents to keep their children safe and sound. Far from being judgemental in the particular case of the latest shooting (not everything is clear, even though perhaps too much attention is paid to the shooter), the problem is with the American culture completely ignoring the responsibility of the parents. Instead of asking what gun laws should be changed the pundits should be asking what can be done to change the attitudes of parents so that they don’t let their children play near the rivers full of aligators and so that they secure the weapons they have at home, whether their kids have mental problems or not. Scapegoating involving Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins is ostensibly laughable, but other kinds of scapegoating involving (i.a.) the NRA constitute the mainstream discussion. The discussion culture has to change to see the real issues, otherwise there will not be any real solutions either.
This essay first appeared in The Firebrand Magazine.