How does Scripture speak to the insane?
From the Daily Office Lectionary for Wednesday in the week of Proper 29, Year 1 (Christ the King, 2015)
1 Peter 4:12-15 ~ Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief-maker.
Another shooting in America. Another shooting in a world gone mad.
Actually a couple of them yesterday. White (probably politically conservative, probably avowedly Christian) males were the perpetrators. The big splashy shooting was at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs: according to the last report I saw three are dead, nine are injured, and the gunman is in custody. The less-noticed killing was at a Waffle House in Mississippi: a waitress asked a diner not to smoke in the restaurant, so he took out his concealed pistol and shot her in the head.
Many are making note of the fact that the former shooter is being described by press and pundits as a “mentally deranged lone gunman,” as an individual not as a part of (or a person influenced by) a political movement opposed to the abortions offered by Planned Parenthood. The suggestion is made, not without cause, that when the perpetrator of such an atrocity is a person of color, a member of an ethnic or religious minority, or a foreigner, his (they usually are male) identity with that group is emphasized; he is seen as representative of the collective of which he is a part, the whole group being castigated as violent and frightening. When the gunman is a white male, he is always nothing more than a “deranged individual.” That would clearly seem to be the case with the Waffle House killer, though probably not so much with the Planned Parenthood gunman.
I haven’t written one of these Daily Office meditations for quite a while, and I gave up writing them on a daily basis a long time ago, not because I don’t meditate on Scriptures everyday (I do), nor because I came to doubt whether anyone else was getting any benefit from them (I do, but then I write them for myself more than others), but because I am struggling to understand how the Bible speaks to a world gone mad and I have little to write until I can make sense of that.
I think the Scriptures are meant to address a sane world, a world where being “a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even . . . mischief-maker” is something outside the norm, a world where though “fiery ordeals” may exist they are not understood to be the normative state. That is not our world, however. We live in a world that is mad. We live in a world where mass murder has become a daily reality. We live in a world which is a fiery ordeal. We need a new hermeneutic for understanding Scripture in this milieu. We need a hermeneutic of madness. How does Scripture speak to the insane, the ones whose world is not the rational cosmos created by God, but the the irrational delusions they themselves have created?
About that “lone gunman” thing . . . I don’t believe any longer that there are lone gunman. Remember John Donne: ” No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent . . . .” Each of these gunmen, the two yesterday and all who have come before them, Da’esh (aka ISIS), the Israel security forces, the Russian air force, the Syrian armies . . . all of them are part of a great societal mental illness that is killing our world, an insanity that is spreading and eating away at humanity.
I don’t really believe in end-times prophecies. I really don’t believe there will be an end of the world in the literal sense; I really don’t expect to see Jesus coming in power in the company of the angels descending from the clouds. I never have. I understand all of that to be metaphorical of personal faith, not a prediction of how the world ends. If I give credence to any prediction, it is T.S. Elliot’s: “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”
These men with their guns are not making the explosive reports of men rationally and arguably justifiably at war, they are not firing the “shot heard around the world” of revolutionary change and social justice, they are not even going “bang-bang” like children playing at cops-and-robbers; they are whimpering. They are the whimpers of a world cowering like a madman in the corner of his asylum cell. How does Scripture speak to the insane?