Guestview: America – a nation in spiritual crisis

December 18, 2012

(A hearse carrying the casket of of six-year-old Jack Pinto passes a makeshift memorial on its way to Newtown Village Cemetery in Newtown, Connecticut December 17, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Thayer)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Elizabeth E. Evans is a freelance writer and columnist in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania

By Elizabeth E. Evans

It seems that times of spiritual agony are not pretty – and sometimes they don’t even seem particularly holy.  But sacred moments they are, nonetheless.

A few weeks ago my son and I went to see, “Lincoln,” Steven Spielberg’s movie about the martyred president and the canny, persistent and sometimes unorthodox methods he used to get the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery through a fractured and exhausted Congress.

From the filmmaker’s perspective , Lincoln’s task of assembling a group of elected officials to pass an amendment to abolish slavery was difficult, circuitous and sometimes borderline ethical. The movie is based in large part on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s influential book “Team of Rivals.”

Praised for its historical accuracy, the film portrays the 16th President as willing to allow, if not endorse some lowlife horse-trading and distracting negotiating tactics to make sure he accomplished his goal –  getting the amendment passed before the surrender of the Confederate forces and the reintegration of North and South.

Like so many other moments during that hideously long and bloody war, this was one in which the nation’s moral standing was at risk. There have been many others since. They include the debate on whether to enter World War One on behalf of our European allies, what to do about Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, when and how to use the power of government against the entrenched voices of segregation in 1950’s and 1960’s America.

Last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut,  according to authorities, twenty-year-old Adam Lanza killed his own mother.  Then he drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School where he butchered 20 first-graders and six of the adults who tried to disarm him and protect their charges.  According to police reports, Lanza had enough ammunition with him to mow down many more children and staff members.

Tucson, Aurora, Oak Creek, Blacksburg, Columbine.  These are just a few of the names of towns that now bear the stigma (or the stigmata) of innocent lives taken because of a gunman’s crazed anger.

Five of the most deadly shootings in American history have occurred on President Barack Obama’s watch.  “Are we prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is the price of our freedom?” “He said in comments delivered during a memorial service for the victims in Newtown on Sunday night.

Perhaps this is a moment of spiritual crisis for our 44th President, a man whose innate caution and instinct for the middle ground probably helped win him reelection.  Judging by the number of Hebrew and Christian scripture references in his comments last Friday and this past Sunday, he appears to be wrestling with his own divine purpose and legacy as well as that of the nation.

Or perhaps he’s just tired of being mourner-in-chief.

Obama is not the most likely candidate for audacity – but neither, perhaps, was Lincoln.

As we move forward, a grief-stricken nation has another moment of choice that may define who we are and how we see ourselves, for generations to come.

Will we accept what we see in the mirror – a country that values the freedom to bear arms without any true limit, and to purchase bullets more suited for a battlefield than a suburb, so much that it is willing to put the lives of its most vulnerable citizens at risk?

Do we dare to imagine the carnage inflicted on these children by these bullets?

Can we envision moving away from iconic, possibly idolatrous individualism and vow to work towards the ideal of a nation dedicated to the common good?

As with a country in disarray and disagreement during the Civil War, contemporary Americans, including religious ones, are not of one mind.

In the wake of the horror of Newtown, there are so many questions for Americans, whether they profess a faith or no faith.

Do we dare to stand up to the forces that have so much invested, not solely in advancing the laissez-faire status quo, but in slackening the laws that we do have?

The past 20 years, as many commentators have noted, have reflected a move away from meaningful control of guns and bullets and towards public support for increasingly unlimited access to weapons of mass destruction.

Freedom and individualism have been engrained in our national character since a bunch of rebels, misfits and explorers found new life on these shores near the beginning of the American experiment.

It has often taken dissent, hard slogging and often — sadly — bloodshed to focus our country’s attention on injustice and cruelty perpetrated in the name of freedom.

We may stand at another crossroads.

To honor the heroism of the adults and the innocence of the children of Newtown, will we find common purpose and rise above our baser selves?

God alone knows.
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