Agreeing to Our Harm

Marilynne Robinson in the NY Review of Books: Some years ago I spoke at a conservative church in northern Michigan. I talked about military-style guns and the culture of fear and resentment that rationalized the zeal for them. My point was that they and the passions associated with them should have no place among people who claim to be Christians. When I finished there was silence. Then a woman raised her hand and asked why no one had been prosecuted for the Iraq War. It was not a question I expected, to say the least. I had no answer.

The woman was gracious, not at all confrontational. But clearly she had asked her question as a kind of rebuttal to what I had said about guns. When I had time to think about it, I decided she was asking me which was the graver danger—that weapons had seized upon the imagination of an important subset of the population, together with threats and fantasies of using them against people and institutions within their own country, or that a president could throw the American armed forces unprepared into a war, with heavy losses on both sides, and that he could do this on the basis of thin or doubtful information, if not simply from a sense of private grievance and a privileged indifference to other considerations. Now the Supreme Court is mulling the possibility of making real in law the presidential immunity from prosecution, the privileging of power that had, as fact, offended the woman’s sense of justice and safety.

To weigh one grievous threat against another is not a very useful exercise. There is no point in seeming to minimize either one. If I had understood that the woman was questioning the choice I made in deploring where I did, if I’d had my wits about me, I would have said that the problem with guns was accelerating past the possibility of legal control. The choices of individual people would be crucial in determining how widespread the ownership of these weapons would finally be and what ethics on one hand or terrors and delusions on the other would govern their presence and use.

More here.