Can we be friends with hateful people?

It’s been a lingering question for us at 606: How do you engage with people who are hateful?

Like, not hateful to you personally (Presumably, we let those people go, unless they are related to us, when we may still let them go or may choose a variety of other tactics to avoid them or minimize their impact on our lives.)

But the grandpa who says racist stuff, but only in private. The friend from high school who makes sexist jokes when it’s just among friends. The people who voted Trump proudly–or the ones who voted for him quietly, denying it was racism that drove them, even though his policies are incredibly racist.

What about them?

I’m returning to that question now for a personal reason: I’ve recently lost a number of relationships to people who are hateful in this way.

Data point: All the Trump voters I know in a personal way I also know are racist. I mean, if I’ve been in a position to hear a Trump voter use a racial epithet (assuming, for example, that the Trump voter I know at work isn’t going to use one there), I’ve heard them say it. (I’m outing some folks here, I know.) For this reason alone, I cannot call these relationships friendships or these people friends. People who are hateful cannot really have friendship like I understand it, because they do not have respect like I understand it.

Those people are gone from my life now. I didn’t make that choice; they did. And it wasn’t politics that drove us apart, at least not directly. It was broken relationships in other ways.

I didn’t hang on to them because I enjoyed these relationships or because they were useful to me in some way. I hung on to them, in the limited way we had a relationship, because I think it’s the work of white people to stay in relationship, as much as they safely can, with other white people–and men especially and straight men especially and Christian men especially–, to push them to better ways of being in the world. It’s not the job of vulnerable people to do this. It’s the job of people with privilege. And even as we do it, we cannot allow it to take one bit of energy from our other work: changing structures so that, regardless of the hate people feel in their hearts, they cannot act on it in society.

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They hung on with me for their own reasons. We were both bothered by the others’ politics. I was disgusted by how they cheered on conspiracy theories of migrant caravans; they don’t like that I support health-care-for-all. Their genocidal politics were always a sufficient reason for me to quit our relationship. That they were never that upset about my politics (I mean, they treated me with disrespect, but they wouldn’t have stopped talking to me over politics.) doesn’t mean that they were more open-minded, only that my politics are pretty inoffensive to to them compared to how horrendous their white supremacy is to me.

We keep these relationships in part because these people can do tremendous damage. We–or, at least, some of us–have to keep trying with these people, even if just to moderate their hate if it won’t be eradicated.

Sometimes it works. For example, when white men making racist comments on Twitter are confronted by a bot posing as another white men, they are more likely to change their behavior than when they are confronted by a bot that appears to be a man of color. And the more followers the white man (bot) has, the more likely they are to stop. Peer pressure–especially from someone seen as popular–works.

And sometimes people don’t change. The wages of sin are death, and some white people will hang on to white supremacy even as it kills them.

For the most part, people don’t leave hate because they have a sudden epiphany that hate is wrong or because they now understand that their former targets are inherently dignified and deserving of respect. When they do leave, they do it slowly, turning away a little at a time. They seek an exit ramp rather than executing a U-turn. And their reasons are personal and generally selfish: they don’t like the social costs of hate. Or they themselves are finding their hate groups participation to be too burdensome. It’s limiting who they can date, what they can wear, or their chances to earn a decent living. That’s not a change of heart.  Sometimes, though, a change of heart follows. But it’s generally not where stories of leaving hate behind start.

We hear inspiring stories of how friendship brings people out of hate. They are true, I don’t doubt. But they are atypical.

Even now, when there is a sense of relief that I don’t have to do these relationships any more, there are mixed feelings, a little like, I think, you feel when you end a relationship with a person with an addiction. You can’t help them anymore, but you are still worried about the damage they will do to others. You wonder if you could have done more even as you know that this isn’t your responsibility.


The Comforting Face of God

I was digging through old writing this week and came across a sermon I shared at Peace Mennonite Church many (like, 12?) years ago, before the internet was invented.

Oh, wait, I just fact checked it and turns out that’s not true. But before I used the internet to share such things.

So, I’m sharing it now, in case you missed a sermon this morning or just need another. The texts are Isaiah 40: 1-11, Psalm 85: 1-2 and 8-13, and 2 Peter 3:8-15a.


Each weekday at 5:30, I rush into the childcare center where G– and M– enjoy their days. Usually, I am one of the last two parents picking up their preschoolers. I usually rush in, full of apologies to everyone for being the last, still thinking about the problems of the day and already worrying about dinner, bathtime, and bedtime and wondering if it’s okay to put your kids to bed at 6:00.  The other parent is Chris, who has two daughters roughly the same age as my children.  Though C–, like me, comes in at the last minute, he is calm and happy, always smiling and looking ready to enjoy his family time in the evening.

I am especially impressed with this because C–’s older daughter, Isabelle, hasn’t been in daycare since August.  Instead, she’s been in the hospital. You see, Isabelle was born with a severe heart defect.  We met at daycare when she was not quite two years old, so now she and G–, who lovingly calls her “Isabelly”, have known each other for half their young lives.

In August, Isabelle had the third of three scheduled heart operations, but something went wrong, and, shortly after the operation, the procedure had to be reversed.  Her health deteriorated quickly, and, since August, she has remained in the hospital. In October, she was moved from Children’s Mercy in Kansas City to St. Louis Children’s Hospital in part to increase her chances of receiving a heart transplant.   Her mother, a middle school teacher on a long term leave of absence, remains with her, while C–, her father, stays in Lawrence with the younger daughter, working to pay the medical bills, which they estimate may be more than $100,000.  After having spent months lying on her back with a tube in her throat, Isabelle is now able to spend about half her time off the tube, but she has lost use of her core muscles and so can’t sit up, and she has, because of the tube, lost her ability to speak.  Her time awake is filled with speech and occupational therapy and videos involving Disney princesses.  Her mother, who is staying at the hospital with her, gets a lot of time to read novels but is lonely, while her father is single-parenting a toddler who hasn’t seen her big sister in four months.

So when I run into C– at the end of each day, I am immediately impressed with his cheerfulness, then ashamed of my own grumpiness.  He knows that it’s possible that Isabelle will not find a donor—and, if she lives through the transplant, she still faces a life of difficulty.  I know that most marriages do not survive the death of a child or a bankruptcy, should medical bills result in that, and I worry about the younger sister, what her future will be like if she loses her sister and her parents’ marriage.  I look at Isabelle’s father and wonder about my own ability to handle the kind of situation his family is facing.

How they do it? Not just how does this man continue to go through his day or his wife sit at Isabelle’s bedside, because I know the answer to that. They do this because they have two young children, and they have to do it.   But where does the sense of peace and comfort come from?

I have a small clue.

Last week, posters of Isabelle appeared at the kids’ daycare, along with cards listing her website and these bracelets that you can buy to raise funds for her.   We have the card and the bracelets, too.  But what struck me as most interesting was the posters. They include Isabelle’s photo and ask us to pray for her.

What a humbling thing to ask someone else, especially people you don’t know, and people whose faith you don’t know, to do—to pray for you.  Isabelle’s family needs so much, but what they ask for is our prayers.

I have no experience of God’s supernatural comfort, no moment when my own grief and pain was erased by a sense of God’s warming love, no moment when I’ve felt myself picked up by God the shepherd and, like a lost lamb, carried in his bosom.  I have no life-altering encounters with the Holy Spirit comforting me, no clear visions of God telling me not to fear but to rest in the protective shadow of God’s arms.  In fact, when, at moments of grief, well-meaning friends deliver platitudes like, “All things happen for a reason,” or “God has a plan in all of this,” I usually feel irritation rather than comfort.  I don’t have the experience of God actually walking through the shadow of the valley of death with me.  I find that “Footprints” poem really sweet, if a bit hokey, but it’s very far from my own experience.

So, as I’ve prepared this sermon on the comforting face of God, I’ve struggled a lot.  In the meantime, I’ve attended a double funeral—a friend lost both her parents, one unexpectedly and one not, in the same week—and I have received news of the imminent death of my cousin’s child.   With each piece of news, I’ve been faced with my own sense of inadequacy as a comforter. What shall I say to my cousin as she prepares for her son’s death? What do I say to my friend in the receiving line after the funeral?  Do I repeat the platitudes of the funeral sermon? My first response is to deliver a casserole. That seems very inadequate.

Today’s texts give us an idea of what providing comfort means.  They give us an outline of how we might invite God’s comfort of us, how we might prepare ourselves to receive it.

Isaiah gives us this list of commands to follow to hasten God’s comfort:

Prepare the way of the LORD.

Make straight a highway for our God.

Get up to a high mountain and lift up your voice and announce God’s coming


Peter tells us to expect “all things…to be dissolved,” for all that derails us from God’s mission to be burned away. Inspired by that promise, we should

Lead lives of holiness and godliness

Strive to be at peace

Be without spot or blemish

These are hard words and not ones we deliver in funeral sermons.  We do not usually tell people that they need to “lead lives of holiness and godliness” before God will comfort them. In fact, in our popular expressions of religiosity, we often hear stories of God’s comfort being revealed through coincidence, not as a result of our own spiritual discipline.  We hear a song on the radio that reminds us of a loved one, or we are packing up Grandma’s things after her funeral and discover, from the bookmark in her Bible, that she was reading Psalm 25 on her deathbed, the same passage read at her funeral. I do not deny the comfort that such moments bring us, but I do not think that these small coincidences are what Isaiah, the Psalmist, and Peter mean when they talk about comfort.

Isaiah gives us instructions for hastening the coming of God’s comfort, and he says that comfort is a consequence of God’s justice. Or, as we might say, there is no peace without justice; in this case, God’s comforting peace cannot rest upon us if our consciences are stained with the abuse or exploitation of others.  Isaiah’s vision of justice is clearly a reversal of power—the high mountains are laid low, the valleys lifted up, just like Jesus promises the first shall be last and the last shall be first.   Isaiah’s vision is, literally, one of an even playing field.  The writer of Psalm 85 describes this as a time when steadfast love and faithfulness— I think, God’ steadfast love and our faithfulness—will meet. This is where, Peter says, “righteousness is at home.” In other words, our expectation should be that God’s justice and peace belong to humanity even if they do not have their genesis in humanity.

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This justice and peace bring us comfort in two ways.  The psalmist says that, when we invite God’s righteousness, God will “give what is good.” When we invite God’s justice and God’s peace, when, in fact, we expect that our faithfulness to God’s vision for creation will be met with God’s steadfast love and care, I think we can also expect other blessings from God. We will be better able to hear God’s voice, including God’s words of peace.  We will find ourselves in a new heaven and a new earth, as Peter says, a place of sufficiency for all needs, as the Psalmist suggests.

This comforting vision comes from God’s steadfast love, our confidence in God’s plan for peace, our commitment to God’s justice, and our understanding who were are in relation to each other and to God.  Note that these qualities all involve consistency, a key to comfort. This is why, of course, we feel comforted by the familiar and comfortable when surrounded by those whose trustworthiness is confirmed through our experiences with them. We are comforted because God’s love is assured. We are comforted because we know that God will respond to our faithfulness with righteousness.  We are even comforted knowing that we are like withering grass or fading flowers. Our fears and troubles are temporary.  Our individual ability to believe at any one moment is not relevant; instead, God’s enduring presence bolsters us.

To be receptive to this kind of comfort requires action.  Isaiah tells us to prepare, to make a highway for our God. In other words, we are to create a means through which God will enter our lives.  In the Mennonite tradition, this means, I think, simplicity in living, so that we do not ignore God because we are too busy with other things. We are open, receptive, and alert to holiness. We are also to share God’s coming justice and peace with others.  Isaiah tells us to “get up on a high mountain” and announce God, but he also promises that God will level those high mountains. Apparently, then, we are to announce God’s plan for justice before it is delivered—and by doing so, we will aid in its delivery.  Likewise, Peter tells us to strive—what an athletic word!—for peace, holiness, and godliness.   Here are our obligations.

Isabelle’s family receives the comfort of God by preparing themselves for God’s goodness, for waiting with anticipation and assurance of God’s consistent love. This week, C– and I spoke about Isabelle’s chances for a transplant. “They’re good,” he told me with a mixture of hope and grimness that I understood.  St. Louis is a larger city, which means more potential donors.  Winter means more auto accidents, and rates of donation go up around Christmastime, when people are more generous and as parents seek to make sense of their own child’s death in a time that celebrates the birth of Jesus.  For Isabelle to live, some other three year old will have to die—and for her to inherit that child’s heart, some other child, also in need of a transplant, will have to wait.  C– asks me to pray for the donor’s family, and for the first time, I see his cheeriness waiver. I ask him the awkward question all the etiquette books say not to ask someone in need: “Can I do anything to help?” It sounds insincere as I say it.  I can’t pay their medical bills. My own children have healthy hearts beating in their chests, and I can’t give them up.  C– does not ask me for these things, thankfully.  Perhaps he has read Isaiah and the Psalmist and Peter lately, but he doesn’t ask for the kind of social justice that would reduce his healthcare bills or make it possible for both parents to be with an ailing child. Instead, he looks with confidence to a future with his daughter home from the hospital, healthy and growing, and asks me for the comfort I can give to him, thereby consecrating the highway I can build for God’s blessings to enter their lives: pray for his family, pray for the donor’s family, and, when Isabelle gets home from the hospital, please bring them a meal.  In his humble acceptance of a gift I can give, C– allows me to walk the highway he has created between God and his family, bringing tidings of comfort that God’s love promises us.

Engaging Judges in Art: Samson

Regular readers of Sixoh6 know that I’m reading through Judges right now. I think it’s the book for our time, and I encourage others to read it carefully now to see how it speaks to our culture of violence, especially against women, tribalism, and nationalism. While conservative Christians have been looking to Trump as a King Cyrus and, in Trump’s delusions, Jews are looking at him as the Messiah, I think the comparison to Samson might be more apt: a man persuaded in any moment by his appetites and anger, somehow who is vengeful but wants to be remembered as a hero. (I’m open to other readings of Samson, but I think it’s unlikely that my assessment of Trump is going to change.)

Anyway, that has taken on my a review of art inspired by the stories there. I share some of them below. If you have other pieces that address the Samson story, I would love to see them!

Samson Slays a Thousand Men with the Jawbone of a Donkey by James Tissot

Image result for Samson with the JawboneSamson and Delilah by Jose Echengusia Errazquin, above, and below, by Peter Paul Rubens

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See the source imageSamson and the Philistine by Danish painter Carl Bloch

See the source imageSamson by British painter Solomon Joseph Solomon

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Above, The Blinding of Samson, by Rembrandt. 


Segregated Education’s Role in Today’s “Religious Liberty” Arguments

Today, a special back-to-school post reminding you that white supremacy and racial segregation in education gave us much of today’s Religious Right:

Since Brown v. the Board of Education (1955), religious conservatives have used private religious education as a defense against segregation.  Post-Brown, white families facing the specter of integration set up private Christian schools all across the US that excluded students of color. “Religious liberty” became a cover for racial bigotry–just as, today, is a cover for anti-gay bigotry.

This went on for more than a generation, as white people integrated with “all deliberate speed”–which is to say, not much speed at all. White mothers, claiming that they were only acting in their own children’s best interests, were central players in resisting segregation.

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“Race Mixing is Communism” announces the picket sign of a white woman opposing desegregation. Political conservatives have often tried to paint those in favor of racial justice and equality as un-American. Not surprisingly, Ronald Reagan, who tried to label Nelson Mandela as a communist, supported “segregation academies” like Bob Jones. 

It wasn’t until 1983–almost thirty years after Brown–that the ultra-conservative Bob Jones University lost a Supreme Court case over the issue. Because it opposed interracial marriage on religious grounds, the school refused to allow African Americans to enroll until 1971. (In 1970s, 15 years after Brown, the IRS revised rules to say that segregated nonprofits were no longer tax exempt.) Then, until 1975, it only allowed in married African American students (presumably, only those married to other African Americans). When it began to allow unmarried African Americans to enroll, it prohibited entrance to anyone who promoted interracial marriage. The university had a policy against interracial dating that it didn’t repeal until 2000.

These policies caused it a major headache in the 1970s and early ’80s. The federal government came after the school’s tax exempt status, arguing that the government had a compelling interest in eradicating racism in education. For 13 years, the school fought against the revocation of its tax exempt status, but in 1983, Bob Jones v. United States was decided in favor of the federal government. In 2000, when presidential candidate George W. Bush came under criticism for visiting a school that continued to ban interracial dating (and is anti-Catholic and homophobic, though most of his voters didn’t mind the homophobia), the school changed its policy. Just two years ago, it regained its nonprofit status.

Bob Jones lost its court case, but the arguments it made there–that any government intervention in its operations was a violation of its religious liberty–continue to appear in “religious liberty” arguments today. This includes those opposing contraception mandates in health insurance, supporting the right to fire LGBTQ+ people based on their sexuality or gender, and attacks on Muslims.

At its core, Bob Jones wasn’t about religious liberty but about the right to create a white-only schools–and, in a broader sense, about defining “religious liberty” in a way that gave authority to white Christians to discriminate.


“Heartland Elegy”: Same Class, Different Conclusions

New 606 contributor Melanie Zuercher offers her thoughts on two of the most important memoirs of white America in the last few years: JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy and Sarah Smarsh’s Heartland.

Over the past two years, two young(ish) writers – one born in 1984, the other in 1980 – have published memoirs that caught my attention: J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis and Sarah Smarsh’s Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.

I grew up in Appalachian western Maryland and eastern Kentucky, but I am not from Appalachia. My parents are westerners/Midwesterners – my father was born and raised in Idaho before leaving it, forever, for college in Kansas and Indiana; my mother was born in Missouri but only weeks old when the family moved to Iowa, and she was raised there and in western Nebraska before leaving it, forever, for college in Kansas and Indiana. My family has been going to south-central Kansas to visit relatives since I was middle school age. My parents have lived there (in a small town about 30 miles north of Wichita) since the early ’80s and I have been eight miles away since the late ’90s.

I loved Heartland. Not so much Hillbilly Elegy. Why is that?

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

It could have to do with a female vs. a male writer. Especially when it comes to memoirs, I tend to prefer the former – no surprise, I relate to them more closely. It’s certainly tied to Smarsh being the superior writer. To be somewhat fair, she was trained as a journalist. Vance, a Yale Law School graduate (as he reminds the reader several times), didn’t and maybe still doesn’t necessarily see himself as a writer. He’s competent but not compelling. She definitely is. She began developing her writer’s imagination early, though given her family and economic background, she might not have started to see it that way until she went to college.

But that’s the English major in me coming out. There has to be more.

These books have a lot of similarities. In addition to their ages, both writers are white and culturally rural. Vance mostly grew up in Middletown, Ohio, population a little under 50,000, but spent significant time as a child and young adolescent visiting extended family in Breathitt County, Kentucky. Smarsh was raised on farms but was within relatively easy reach of Wichita, Kansas’ largest city, population just under 400,000.

Vance is the younger brother of one sibling, a sister. Smarsh is the older sister of one sibling, a brother. Both come from so-called broken homes, although Smarsh remained consistently in close contact with both her parents after their divorce, while Vance lived only briefly with his biological father, and his mother went through a series of husbands/boyfriends throughout his childhood and adolescence. Both had significant relationships with their maternal grandparents – for Smarsh, her Grandma Betty and step-grandfather Arnie (the only grandpa she knew), for Vance, the Mamaw and Papaw he credits for raising him.

Both Smarsh and Vance are conscious of class and how it underpins their stories. When Vance writes of Mamaw and Papaw and their move from eastern Kentucky to southern Ohio, he says, “[B]oth of my grandparents had an almost religious faith in hard work and the American Dream.” That statement could come straight out of Smarsh’s book. But here the paths begin to diverge.

Though neither one ever graduated from high school much less went to college, Mamaw and Papaw built a comfortable middle-class life for themselves and their three children in Middletown. Vance’s mother, even with her violent behavior, unstable relationships and addiction, managed to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing and maintain a professional career.

Smarsh’s grandparents along with her parents, Nick and Jeannie, were monumentally hard workers, without a college degree to their names. Early in his marriage to Jeannie and the lives of their two children, Nick worked almost literally night and day to build a house for them – a house he would later lose despite all his labor. Or maybe, in some sense, because of it. Combine the residue of the ’80s farm crisis (the emptying out of rural America), the melding of the for-profit hospital system and health insurance and pharmaceutical companies into one juggernaut, a fire that destroyed Nick’s pole barn, and chemical poisoning and ensuing neurological damage he sustained while working one of his many off-the-farm jobs – and the result was that ultimately he couldn’t hold onto the house he had built for his

Essential to who Smarsh is has been her knowledge from an early age of what it meant to be the daughter of a teenage mother who was also the daughter of a teenage mother. In this, of course, she treads into territory where Vance will never have to fear stumbling. As white people in America, both of them inherit privilege whether they want it or not and regardless of economic status or class, then or now. But what may truly be at the root of my different feeling for these two books is that Smarsh is aware of her privilege and at least names it. Her body, in the sense that it makes her vulnerable to repeating her mother’s and grandmother’s history, undergirds her entire story. Vance, however, seems oblivious to how many rungs up the ladder he is as a straight, white, cisgender male – by virtue of things he never earned.

Most egregious (and addressed elsewhere by others far more knowledgeable and articulate than I) is Vance’s apparent “blame the victim” attitude. He seems to think that because he made it out, anyone could if they had the will and put in the work. But just because that was true for his grandparents and most of the other adults with authority in his life, as well as for him, does not make it true now or universally, as Smarsh’s story illustrates well. She doesn’t eschew personal responsibility – but she also names the corrupted reality of America in the 21st century.

Hard work can’t overcome an unaffordable, unsustainable health-care system, a labor hierarchy that does not value actual hard labor (paying, and rewarding in other ways, least those who work the most), or the lingering effects of so-called trickle-down economics and tax breaks for the wealthiest (bailing out the corporations “too big to fail” while farmers, blue-collar workers, federal employees, and small businesspeople face fiscal ruin). History shows that that same hard work has not led to fair treatment in terms of wages, housing, or education for America’s black and brown people. Hard work cannot penetrate the effects of global climate change on land, weather and people, or the biological and neurological choke-hold of opioids and heroin, perpetuated by a pharmaceutical giant grasping for bigger and bigger profit margins. And white supremacy has cynically and intentionally kept these groups of people – poor white, black and brown – who are treated the same by the wealthy elite, divided from each other when together they would outnumber and could overpower that same elite.

To my surprise, comparing Hillbilly Elegy and Heartland did leave me with some appreciation for the former, plus even more for the latter. It reinforced my personal commitment to reading non-white writers of both fiction and memoir or nonfiction (Ta-Nahesi Coates, Keise Laymon, Tommy Orange, Roxane Gay, Edwidge Danticat, Luis Alberto Urrea, Jesmyn Ward, and many more – and if you only ever read one book about race in America in the 21st century, let it be Isabel Wilkerson’s truly monumental The Warmth of Other Suns).

But mostly it hammered home the truth of one of the basics in the struggle to dismantle white supremacy, white privilege and white patriarchy – that we live in a racist and patriarchal (indeed, toxic) system, that our institutions are those things by nature, and that true change must be systemic. Yes, J.D., it will take hard work – but it’s work we have to do together.





How the Just World Theory Prevents Us from Thinking Accurately about Guns

We all have fallacies that we’re inclined toward, probably. One built into American culture is the just belief hypothesis–a cognitive bias to believe that we get what we deserve, both good and bad. In a culture that values individualism and free will, it’s tempting to believe that our experiences are the results of our actions, not structural forces that we often cannot see, much less control.

It crops up a lot in my discussions with people about guns. For years, a member of my extended family insisted that he had to have easy access to unlocked, loaded guns (either carrying them on his person or stashing them around his house) because he might need to defend himself or his guests from some danger. No amount of information about the dangers of guns–that he was a far bigger danger to himself and his guests than he was to a potential intruder–was persuasive. After all, for every statistic, there is an outlier, and why shouldn’t he be that outlier? This is stupid thinking when it comes to the lotto (“Someone’s gotta win!”) but deadly thinking when it comes to weapons.

Just world hypothesis teaches us to credit bad things to the badness of people and to see good things as evidence of their goodness. (It’s kind of a riff on Puritan Calvinism. Though you couldn’t know whether you were elect, you could look at your life and see if God’s blessings in it, which might be a sign of your choseness for salvation. Then you begin to do the work of those blessings in order to make sure that there was evidence of salvation in your life. Hence the Protestant work ethic.) Thus, if you are a good person, bad things shouldn’t happen to you–and if something bad happens to someone else, it probably means that they deserved it.

Because, in our imaginations, we are good people, we assume that we can control a gun situation. Look at the number of grandparents whose irresponsibility with guns results in the death or injury of grandchildren in their care; they believe that they are good grandparents (even better because they have guns to protect their grandkids!) and that, somehow, this means that gun deaths and injuries won’t happen to them. Somehow, their grandchildren are more obedient than the majority of kids (who touch a gun they find before they locate an adult). Somehow, their gun won’t kill a child. Somehow, they are faster than a speeding bullet and can prevent death and injury. It’s magical thinking.

Six Philadelphia police officers were injured in a 7 1/2 hour standoff with a sniper recently. Many more officers were involved in the incident. All of them are better trained than your average gun owner. Officers miss their target more than 80% of the time. Again, they are trained to fire in high stress situation, and your average gun owner is not.

Why, then, are so many gun owners so confident that they can Stand Your Grand effectively?

Reactions: Conservative pundit Tomi Lahren has become the butt of many Twitter jokes after sharing a photo of herself wearing exercise pants designed to carry a handgun

Above, conservative personality star Tomi Lahren wears a gun in yoga pants made with a special pocket to stow a weapon in an Instagram post she made in 2018. Surely, this weapon can only hurt bad people and never hurt good ones. 

While there has been some research on the application of just world theory to guns, what I have found so far has focused on victim blaming (that victims of gun violence and incidents somehow deserved the pain they have suffered) rather than gun owners’ overconfidence that they are going to save the day rather than kill themselves or a loved one.

We can know, cognitively, that our own goodness is irrelevant when it comes to guns. But I’ve not yet met a gun owner who leaves their guns unsecured (which describes the majority of gun owners) who believes that bad things could happen.









Crypteia for Our Age

Historians aren’t quite sure what the ancient Spartan krypteia was–perhaps a military training, a rite of passage, a secret police force. In all of these ways, it is what comes to mind as I read stories of Trumpian terrorism against immigrants.

One explanation of the krypteia was that those young Spartan men who had proved themselves exceptional in their military training where, each fall, given permission to murder and steal from the helots–the people who worked in agriculture. They were devalued, perhaps total slaves, perhaps occupying a position between slave and free person. Whatever their status during the rest of the year, during the krypteia, they were targets. Though they outnumbered the Spartans who ruled over them by large numbers, they were oppressed through violence. Spartan men who participated in the krypteia were encouraged to spy on them, then choose the strongest to kill.

The Spartans needed the helots to produce their food, but they feared their uprising.

And so, each year, the ritual of hunting and murdering the vulnerable, oppressed people that the Spartans themselves relied on, in an effort to control them through fear, happened.

It’s hard not to see the parallel in the US government’s raids on immigrant agriculture workers.

See the source image

There are many reasons for why our agricultural system looks as it does: We want a lot of meat. We want all our food cheap. Our nation was built, literally, by the work of enslaved people, toiling in fields, producing cotton, tobacco, rice, sugar, and other crops for white consumption. Since then, our domestic and foreign policies have been motivated by American eaters’ desires, from bananas to beef. And, always, we terrorize those who do this work. In 1942, Japanese Americans forced into concentration camps during World War II left fields full of strawberries as they were forced from California. A few weeks ago, immigrant workers from nations south of us were forced from their jobs, their children left alone, and into detention centers.

One explanation of the krypteia is that it kept the helot population under control. If you would be targeted because you were strong or smart or had leadership capabilities, perhaps you would choose not to develop strength or smarts or leadership skills. If you knew that obedience was still rewarded with terrorism, you would certainly avoid disobedience.

But I wonder if there isn’t something else, too, that drives such cruelty: that we often hate the things we are dependent on because they remind us that we are vulnerable.

Trump is a narcissist, and I suspect that many of his followers are too. This doesn’t just mean that they like themselves a lot–it also means that they hate anything that reminds them that they aren’t superior. ICE raids look like narcissistic rages: an attempt to erase and destroy any hint that we rely on others.