Generous Orthodoxy  

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Will Campbell lives! (part four)

In this week's New York Review of Books, there is a substantive article about guns in America by David Cole, professor of law at Georgetown. The NYRB is ultra-liberal by almost any standard, yet many of its essayists work hard to be respectful and to analyze issues fairly, in depth, from various perspectives. Cole is reviewing two books, one favorably, one not so favorably. He takes author Tom Diaz (The Last Gun) to task for "liberal hyperbole." The book that he praises, and describes at some length, is Gun Guys: A Road Trip by Dan Baum. Baum, a Jewish Democrat from New Jersey and a former staff writer at The New Yorker, plays against type in his essay; he's always liked guns. He has gone to considerable lengths to understand the gun culture. He travelled around the South and Southwest wearing an NRA cap and carrying a gun (for which he obtained a license), meeting and schmoozing with gun enthusiasts, trying to empathize with them and deconstruct their political views.

The first thing that he wants to say about his subjects is that they have been on the receiving end of  a good deal of truly awful stereotyping, dished out gleefully by the liberal media. This would not have been tolerated for a minute if the subjects had been black, gay, Hispanic, Jewish (fill in the blanks).  Here are some examples that Cole quotes from Baum's book:

Newspaper editorialists called gun owners “a ridiculous minority of airheads,” “a handful of middle-age fat guys with popguns,” and “hicksville cowboys” with “macho” hang-ups. For Gene Weingarten of The Washington Post, gun guys were “bumpkins and yeehaws who like to think they are protecting their homes against imagined swarthy marauders desperate to steal their flea-bitten sofas from their rotting front porches.” Mark Morford of SF Gate called female shooters “bored, under-educated, bitter, terrified, badly dressed, pasty, hate-spewin’ suburban white women from lost Midwestern towns with names like Frankenmuth.”

Baum rightly concludes, “It was impossible to imagine getting away with such cruel dismissals of, say, blacks or gays, yet among a certain set, backhanding gun owners was good sport, even righteous.”

What was also coming through again and again was that gun guys felt insulted. They had something they liked to do—own and shoot guns—and because of it they suffered, they believed, a continuous assault on their hobby, their lifestyle, and their dignity…. At precisely the moment they were sensing their numbers shrinking, gun guys were experiencing what they perceived as a nonstop attack on their very worth as human beings.
Will Campbell is not mentioned in this article nor, indeed, envisioned. And yet here he is. "These are my people," he would be saying. He would be reminding us that "we're all racists," "we're all bastards, but God loves us anyway." That was the rock bottom of his gift to the church. The difference between him and us is that he acted on these beliefs in a way that is unimaginable to most of us. In spite of his often annoying, self-parodying persona, he was the real thing (see the Rolling Stone article mentioned in an earlier Rumination, if you can find it).

In the final analysis, the gospel is not only good news for victims. It is also good news for victimizers. And it is transformative for us both. Thus Paul the apostle concludes, "God has consigned all human beings to disobedience in order that he might have mercy upon them all." (Romans 11:32)