Last week in ‘The Age’ I read the best article that I have read so far on Gun culture in America. It was by Aubrey Perry. Toward the end he says. ‘A gun doesn’t make you talk out your issues. It doesn’t ask you hard questions, doesn’t make you take a long, hard look at yourself, and probably costs less than years of therapy. It compensates for what some people may feel they’re lacking: personal power.”
‘How True’ I thought. I was reminded about all those people who voted for Donald Trump who did so because they have felt an increasing sense of loss of personal power.
This to me is one of the most important aspects to life: to be able to say ;’Yes, there are some things that I can make happen.’
But it also occurs to me that the ‘American Dream’ tells people that they have unlimited personal power. “Anyone can become President of the United States” is a mantra that US citizens often tell themselves. At a personal level they say “If you work hard, you, an individual can achieve whatever you want’
These two mantas operate at the extremes of the polarity. No one can have total personal power, but no one is totally dis-empowered either. That is why we have negotiation, sharing and compromise. I wonder if there is a relationship between the gun culture of the US in which guns replace the need for negotiation and the extreme form of the American Dream which promises that ‘You can do anything’.
I saw another version of this one sided view of life which was posted by a Facebook Friend of mine. The person whom they were quoting was a ’New Age’ teacher, Teal Swan, who teaches the ‘law of attraction’ . Teal Swan says “ The primary law governing this universe is the Law of Attraction….it is the state whereby things that are of a like frequency are drawn together like a magnet. She says that people with low self esteem vibrate a frequency that ‘attracts people, places, and events which encourage low self esteem. Another New Age teacher Jordan Pearce says ‘Everything is purposeful and happens for a reason. Whatever happens to a person is ‘their fault’ so that the source of a vibration that ‘attracts rape’ is the rape victim themselves.
Now it is true that attackers will look for people who are no confident, and that walking purposefully and expressing confidence’ is one way to avoid being attacked. But it is also true that much of the time this does not happen. As my Facebook Friend, Brett says on his post “There are also independent beings making their own choices that we have no control over and who are responsible for their own actions.’
So Christians have some concrete things to say about this.
First of all the basic law of the universe is that God loves us, and gave himself to us in Jesus. God’s main concern is not with the righteous but with the unrighteous. The aim of the game is not to try to ‘be’ anything, but to bring ourselves into the sphere of God’s love for us, and let that love be poured into our hearts.
The next thing is that Christians say that ‘Yes, the universe does have a purpose’. But, that does not mean that as babies who do not know better think ‘that we make up our purposes, and are the cause of everything that happens.’ Christians say that there are other powers in the world which are not loving, and that these powers (like being distracted in a car) may mean that some of us just die on the roads. Not because we cause it, but because we are part of a world system that is not yet brought under the gentle rule of God’s love.
But we do believe that ‘all things work together for good for those who love God.’ This ‘working together for good may not be evident, and may transcend our own lifetimes, as the martyrs knew. But it does meal that ‘whether we live we live to the Lord, and whether we die we die to the Lord, so then, whether we live or whether we die we are the Lord’s.” So that we cannot ever be prised away from God’s love for us. I find this much more ‘Good News’ than the ‘Law of Attraction’ which sounds like a very difficult yoke to bear and a heavy burden.
The third thing is this. The Christian view of the universe is encapsulated in the image of God as Trinity.
This image contains within it both the exercise of power (ability, capability) in love, but also mutual submission and accountability in love. This is how the universe negotiates its way between the needs of the one and the needs of the many.
Another model that we have which is dawn from this image is the metaphor of the Church as the ‘Body of Christ’. We all have potentialities as we participate in the life of God, which we exercise in love. But one capacity is not the same or as much as another. Love may men the curtailing of my freedom to ‘be me’ for the sake of another. The whole image takes my ‘self assertion’ out of the equation, and replaces it with ‘my participation in the life of God, and what that looks like in daily life.
Christian thinking is much more sensible I find than either the New Age ‘you make everything happen’ style of thinking, or the ‘guns replace my sense of powerlessness’ combined with ‘You can be president’ style of thinking. Its time we started to put this into the public space as a sensible alternative.