Catholic theologian Evelyn Underhill famously said, “The most interesting thing about religion is God.”
For instance, in the book of Exodus, Chapter 20, God declares what has come to be called the Ten Commandments or the Decalogue.
It is slightly differently ordered in the Hebrew texts and changed in the earliest English translations.
In the King James version this is the sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” The scholars known as God’s Secretaries in Adam Nicolson’s book of the same title translated the Hebrew word rasah to mean “kill.”
Whereas the first meaning of that word is murder and no prohibition in ancient Hebrew to wartime or capital punishment. Thus the commandment is “You shall not commit murder.”
I am not writing this to assuage any feelings of guilt my fellow soldiers may have; although I wish I had been aware of the translation so many years ago.
I am writing it, because in the past week, there have been at least seven mass shootings across the United States! “Mass” being defined as four or more casualties dead or alive, excluding the shooter. No other country in the world can claim such audacious fame.
There have also been mass stabbings. PBS in 2020 reported Grafton Thomas was arrested for stabbing five people as they celebrated Hanukkah in an Orthodox Jewish community north of New York City. On March 21, 2020, 27 people are dead after a group of uniformed men with knives attacked the Kunming train station in southwestern China. On May 26, 2020, a man screaming “I will kill you!” attacked a group of schoolgirls near a school bus parked at a bus stop just outside Tokyo, killing two and injuring 16 before killing himself.
However, none of this incidental stuff excuses the national guilt of the United States. We claim to be a “free country” and yet are slaves to the NRA and lobbyists who convince people who have never read the Second Amendment to the Constitution, that it is their “God-given” right to own an assault rifle and extra-capacity magazines. I doubt God ever said, “Thou must own a weapon of mass destruction like an AR-15.” And the 5-foot-something congresswoman who says she has to carry a side arm because she is small and needs to defend herself is at best delusional.
God must weep every day, asking, “What part of do not murder did you miss?” or, “Where, exactly, do I say you need such weapons of destruction?”
Pretty sure God doesn’t say, “Thou shalt murder thy brother and sister,” but I know God has said we must love one another. And I believe the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, who says, “If it’s about hate; it ain’t about Jesus.”
Our response to these mass murders is not just legal reform. It is a sincere study of the mental illness involved and also our willingness to enforce red flag laws and consider another automatic weapon ban, which had proven results preventing such mass murders and expired on September 13, 2004.
Any religion that worships the Nation first or an incorrect understanding of the Second Amendment misunderstands Underhill’s quote, and leaves off the God part.
The Rev. Dr. Mike Fay is rector of Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Salida.