“And Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.” Genesis 22:9
This time, the altar was in Charlotte. We bound our children and, like Abraham, we chose to carry out a sacrifice: Riley Howell and Ellis Parlier, the latest ritualistic offerings made to satisfy our gun lust.
We, unlike Abraham, benefited from no divine intervention, and our offer was accepted by the gods, as it always is in these circumstances. When we Americans worship at the altar of guns, God never intervenes. Our sacrifices are always consummated.
Acceptance of butchery like that which unfolded last month at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte increasingly seems to be not just a regrettable price we pay for our paranoid vision of human freedom, but an affirmative demonstration of our fidelity to that vision: we so value guns that we willingly pay for them with piles of dead kids.
No one, of course, will admit that murdered children are a badge of honor to be proudly worn on the nation’s chest. Yet here we are: Another mass shooting. More death. And no chance we will do anything about it.
Gun control advocates will now point to Charlotte and say, “We need to do something.” But we, the people, will choose to do nothing. In the face of dead first-graders, high-schoolers, and college students, we always choose to do nothing.
Well, almost nothing. We gnash our teeth, rend our garments, and offer our prayers. We hold vigils and create memorials. We read from the well-worn, hackneyed script expressing shock that such evil could happen here.
No one, though, can really be shocked when dead students once again fill our classrooms, and surely anyone who claims otherwise is being dishonest. This is America, after all, and we established long ago that this is what we do here: we sacrifice our young people on the altar of gun lust. Again and again and again.
Demonstrations of genuine grief and phony surprise notwithstanding, our inaction in the face of mass murder suggests that no matter how many lamentations we offer after such killings, we find the slaughter to be tolerable, and certainly insufficient to overcome our inertia.
If inertia it be. Implicit in our inaction is a certain affirmative belligerence. No matter how many baby-faced corpses guns place at our feet, we seem determined to remain unmoved. That isn’t inertia; it’s a choice, the same terrible choice Abraham made.
Just as he was willing to sacrifice his son to demonstrate unwavering commitment to God, so are we willing to sacrifice our children to demonstrate our faith in a twisted vision of human liberty. And just as Abraham believed killing Isaac would be commendable proof of his trust in the Lord, so it becomes more and more inescapable after every mass shooting that we Americans think it good to do nothing, and to view our inaction as the awful proof of our bloody love of liberty.
Now Charlotte joins the many other American communities who have made such sacrifices. Like them, we have climbed the mountain and bound our children. Like them, we have drawn back the knife. Like them, we have learned that God does not intervene. And like them, the lesson we will surely learn from this violence is that man shouldn’t either.
We will do nothing but await the next opportunity to make another ritualistic offering, when we can once again prove our faith. Sadly, it shall not be found wanting.
(Note: This piece was originally published in May 2019. It is reproduced here as a preview of the kind of the work to come.)