The Killing Idea


The Killing Idea
Brian Zahnd

By the killing idea I mean the idea of the modern killing spree. This idea, in the sense I mean it, seems to be a relatively new idea. I’m talking about the phenomenon where one or two individuals enter a school, a theater, a mall, a church, a military installation, or some other public space and randomly kill as many people as possible with the aid of modern firearms. This is a phenomenon that is now a regular occurrence in American life. It has become an idea. Something one can do. A possible course of action. An option. I don’t know if this idea occurred to people in earlier contemporary times, but it seems to have been infrequently acted upon if it did. But now the idea is out there. As an idea it has become a viable option. It is now on the menu of possible ways to respond to frustration over this or that. This idea coupled with the availability of modern firearms allows one or two individuals to wage a very brief and highly violent war upon unsuspecting innocents for the sake of an ideology, or as an expression of rage, or as a way of throwing a final lethal tantrum as one exits this life. It’s an idea. Or you could call it a demon. Anyway, it’s out there.

But what I find baffling is how tolerant it appears American society is of this idea. Or at least American legislative bodies. Oh, we don’t like it, but we are determined tolerate it. We don’t seem to have an alternative idea to curb this killing idea that doesn’t impinge upon what is thought of as “freedom” or some “right.” So the killing idea is tolerated.

This is not an appeal for change. I don’t have the energy to embark upon that Quixotic quest. I don’t think any significant change in public policy is going to happen. Not anytime soon. A commitment to certain ideas of “freedom” and “rights” necessitates that we live with the killing idea as best we can. No, this is not an appeal for change. This is nothing but an expression of my own bafflement at the strangeness of times in which we live. I’m baffled by the depth of American devotion to the gun. I’m baffled by the gun seen as sacrament. I’m baffled by all of this and I don’t think it’s going to change. So my bafflement is coupled with a sad resignation.

People are crazy and times are strange
I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
I used to care, but things have changed
–Bob Dylan

What I will do is advocate for an alternative society where the idea of killing is rejected altogether. I am speaking of the peaceable kingdom where Christ rules. The kingdom of God is without coercion or violence and is altogether peaceable. Within this kingdom swords are turned into plowshare and spears are turned into pruning hooks. Extrapolate from that what you will. The citizens of this kingdom have exited the old age and leapt into the future through baptism. The citizens of the kingdom of Christ have already died to the present order and find themselves participating now in the life of the age to come.

My conclusion? I expect the killing idea to continue to be acted upon within American society. Probably with greater and greater regularity. This idea will metastasize to more and more diseased souls. It will remain an option. So I have no choice but to accept that I live within a violent society. But I will not capitulate. I reject the killing idea…in all its forms. I am pro life. I choose to live within a violent society as a member of the peaceable kingdom of Christ. Within a violent society that tolerates the killing idea I seek to be something other. I do so in the name of Jesus Christ.

But I also remain baffled by the peculiar American tolerance toward the killing idea.

May the peace of Christ be with us.