There were bomb threats against an elementary school and church in Connecticut this week. Both were hoaxes, fake alarms, echoes of Sandy Hook. Aftershocks. Last week at this time, the phrase “bomb threat against an elementary school” would have recalibrated what it meant to be an American, and to be alive, part of something, anything. This week, it’s just a threat. It is comparatively meek.
Last Saturday, “This American Life” broadcast a seven-year-old episode entirely devoted to the story of Carlton Pearson, a disciple of Oral Roberts who was shunned by the evangelical community when he publicly stopped believing in the existence of hell. The timing of the show was only odd because everyone in the country was talking about something else, and here came this time capsule, straight through it all, its relevance as subtle as an earthquake.
Pearson had become the preacher at a wildly successful megachurch, where he preached that unless one accepted the gospel of Jesus, one was destined to burn in hell. It changed one night when he was watching television:
I was watching the evening news. The Hutus and Tutus were returning from Rwanda to Uganda, and Peter Jennings was doing a piece on it. Now, Majeste was in my lap, my little girl. I’m eating the meal, and I’m watching these little kids with swollen bellies. And it looks like their skin is stretched across their little skeletal remains. Their hair is kind of red from malnutrition. The babies, they’ve got flies in the corners of their eyes and of their mouths. And they reach for their mother’s breast, and the mother’s breast looks like a little pencil hanging there. I mean, the baby’s reaching for the breast, there’s no milk.
And I, with my little fat-faced baby, and a plate of food and a big-screen television. And I said God, I don’t know how you can call yourself a loving, sovereign God and allow these people to suffer this way and just suck them right into Hell, which is what was my assumption.
He follows this with a Socratic exchange with God, who convinces him that hell is on earth, and only on earth:
And I thought, well, I’ll be. That’s weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. That’s where the pain comes from. We do that to each other, and we do it to ourselves. Then I saw emergency rooms. I saw divorce court. I saw jails and prisons. I saw how we create Hell on this planet for each other. And for the first time in my life, I did not see God as the inventor of Hell.
I’m not a Christian, but the slaughter of 20 children sounds like hell. Hell is a place where there are tools to make it happen, that can be acquired by people who don’t have to prove they’re sane to get them — just that they’ll do and say the right things to the right people. My idea of hell is a place where this isn’t just the tip of the iceberg for getting near these things, but the entire process, and my idea of hell is one where people can say, with a straight face, that a 230-year-old law allowing citizen militias enables anyone to own a death machine.
Gun stores do brisk business after a shooting, exposing, if nothing else, the Ponzi-scheme foundation of the American firearms industry. You can never have enough guns, because the end of the world is coming. I’ve never understood why people think guns will save them if the world’s ending. There seems to be something about the “end of the world” that they don’t understand, primarily that in the unlikely event that earth was in its final hours, anyone would give a flying crap about them.
Until that time, let’s acknowledge that guns are a sickness. Every gun sale is a tremor for a bigger earthquake of suffering to come. In fact, compared to how many guns are in private hands, it’s a shock there aren’t more incidents like this, even given the recent spate of them. Instead of taking that as an argument in favor of the responsibility of the gun-owning public, let’s accept that the situation we have is already to much to bear with this bit of luck on our side. A week ago, a bomb threat against an elementary school would have been unthinkable. Unless we act, we cannot yet conceive of the horrors that are certain to come.