The Sacredness of Human Life

The Sacredness of Human Life

David P. Gushee is distinguished university professor of Christian ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University. He is author of the new book The Sacredness of Human Life: Why an Ancient Biblical Vision Is Key to the World’s Future.

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There was something about this latest, most dreadful American massacre that penetrated my defenses, and those of many other Americans. Perhaps it was the fact that these were two roomfuls of 6-year-olds, together with their almost equally defenseless teachers. I simply could not shake the mental images. They invaded my dreams, interrupted my sleep. And they demand action that goes far beyond fruitless hand wringing or complacent silence.

I have become convinced that we need to treat this steady downpour of gun massacres as a form of domestic terrorism that must be deterred, prevented, and punished through every possible effort of government, civil society, families, and individuals. Everyone has a responsibility to do what they can to end these increasingly regular massacres of children in school, mall shoppers, churchgoers, movie watchers. Human life is sacred. This conviction is one of the most precious legacies of Christian faith to the world, as I argue in my brand new book, The Sacredness of Human Life. But that sacredness must not merely be asserted. It must also be demonstrated, by all of us.

Only a comprehensive solution will do. Every aspect of this problem needs to be considered with the best and most creative thinking available. As one list of possible steps, and as an invitation to others, I propose the following action-steps that are indeed possible for us if we but have the national will:

  1. Gun massacres by alienated, sick, or angry American young men represent a mental health problem of the first order. We need improved mental health services and universal, affordable access to such services for all who need them.
  2. These terror attacks are exploiting soft, unprotected targets such as schools, malls, and theaters. At last we need to recognize the need, as they say in security circles, to “harden” these targets so that killers have more difficulty penetrating them and perpetrating mass murder if they do get inside them. We need a “best practices” summit on how to harden these soft targets and provide fewer victims to those who seek to do mayhem there. A place to begin is with the level of security now attempted at our airports.
  3. Gun owners should be encouraged or mandated to lock up their guns when not in use and to triple-check the security of their gun storage sites, including within their own homes.
  4. It is past time to renew a ban on assault weapons.
  5. It is past time to ban high capacity magazines or clips that contain 30 rounds or more.
  6. All gun purchasers from any gun seller must pass criminal and mental health background checks, without exception.
  7. Gun sellers should be challenged to take greater moral responsibility for refusing gun sales to suspicious persons.
  8. We need to attend to our loners; all of us, but especially parents, clergy, teachers, etc. need to be in meaningful caring touch especially with our high-risk young adults.
  9. Federal law should limit gun purchases to one per month.
  10. Gun sale statistics and buyers’ names should be transmitted to state or federal law enforcement officials so that they can monitor suspicious patterns and better anticipate and prevent lethal domestic terrorist acts.
  11. The gaming and film industries must be challenged to stop producing and selling so many products that train young men in the art of paramilitary mass killing; parents and teenagers also need to take responsibility to block or refuse to use such products.
  12. And finally, as a Christian speaking to other religious folks: I urge the religious to stop retreating to religious slogans like “let’s just pray” or “we need God” or “no law can change the human heart” as a substitute for human action to save human lives. Psalm 115:16 reads: “The heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to human beings.” This is a way of saying that we — all of us — are responsible for what happens here. We all are responsible for protecting precious human lives. Yes, we need to pray. Yes, we need God. Yes, it may be true that no law can change the human heart — yet good laws can and do save human lives. So let’s get on with it, immediately.

This article is adapted from my piece “After Newtown,” originally published at Huffington Post, December 18, 2012.

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