Another shooting. More innocent people dead. This time in a place of worship. This tragedy not only shocks us with the tragedy of it, but goes against the grain of our national heritage of freedom of religion.
All of our leaders have responded with appropriate words of compassion and concern, calling people of all faiths or no faith, to be in solidarity with Sikh worshipers who are suffering in the aftermath of this horrendous act of violence. They are correct. If this kind of tragedy can move us to a deeper compassion for, a richer understanding of, and a closer sense of community with people who share different religious beliefs, it will be a very good thing. But as necessary as compassion is, it is not enough.
Gun Laws are Not Enough
These tragedies call for more than compassion. They also call for political action. One online comment in "The New York Times" asked if the American people have simply decided that "periodic mass murder is an acceptable price to pay for the precious right to own guns." Another asked, "When does the nation stop holding itself hostage to its own gross misinterpretation of the second amendment?"
When will we acknowledge that none of our freedoms are absolute? My freedom of speech is balanced with my respect for people who disagree with me. My freedom to worship is bounded by the freedom of others to worship God as they are led or to ignore God entirely. My freedom to own guns (a freedom I've never exercised) is held in balance with our national vision of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
If it's okay to have reasonable laws that put boundaries around my freedom to use prescription drugs or drive a car, why is it unreasonable to have reasonable laws that control our access to assault rifles or armor penetrating bullets? (A hunter friend said he had never seen a deer wearing protective armor.) Why are political leaders of every party scared to death (literally, to the death of movie goers and worshipers) of the political wrath of the NRA?
But gun control laws are not enough. It's true that even reasonable laws cannot control the most determined murderer or terrorist. No law can change the human heart.
Beyond Compassion and Control
Neither compassion for victims or reasonable gun control laws will transform the violence that permeates our culture from the TV shows we watch to the video games we play. No law can turn hate to love. Martin Luther King Jr. was correct when he said:
"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes ... Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
Ultimately, the transformation begins in the human heart, moving us into a deeper life of discipleship in which we love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, and love others - particularly those who we think are our enemies - the way we have been loved by God.
In the end, the only way to deal with the violence in our culture and the bitterness, hatred or prejudice in our lives, is by the inner transformation that comes through the essential spiritual practices that are at the core of our life together.