In the chatter in my Twitter, Facebook and Google Reader feeds I’ve noticed very few posts about the shooting in Tucson AZ, other than reports from news outlets.

This doesn’t seem right, so I thought I’d post here about it.

Perhaps it’s far too easy to dismiss this as the lone act of a lunatic. Or, if you’re a conservative, to blame the harsh rhetoric of leftist sites like Daily Kos or, if you’re a liberal, to blame Sarah Palin’s “reload” rhetoric.

So far the worst statements I’ve heard are from Fred Phelps, a former three time Democrat gubernatorial candidate. Today he praised the act of the shooter and announced he plans to disrupt the funeral of nine-year-old Christina Greene the same way he disrupted Elizabeth Edwards’s funeral last month. This is beyond horrifying.

Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein, a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts,  gave a sermon today about the shootings and posted it on Facebook. I’m posting excerpts of it here because I think it gives us much to think about (the complete text is here):

…The evasion begins almost instantly. “We don’t know if this is politically motivated,” I see written in many places.  What a strange thing to say, I think.

Whatever Loughner’s political affiliations or ideas are — and as of this writing I don’t know — his crime was most certainly political.  Politics does not mean merely one’s party affiliation and policy-making. Politics comes from “polis,” Greek for “city,” for a group of citizens. Politics is what we do in public, how we behave in the act of living together as citizens under one government.

There is almost no public act I can think of that could not be construed as political. Everything we bring to public attention is political.

…Undoubtedly trying to inject some perspective and calm into the mounting furor, MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow says, early on in the evening, “There is nothing to be gained from speculating on the motives and affiliations of AZ shooter without facts.” I disagree.

…I feel that America is in a schoolyard fight, behaving at barely above a toddler level of maturity but with much more serious weapons and power.

Just like most people watching the story unfold, I think I know what the problem is. I have my theory just like everyone else does.

My theory is that society has long ago declared open season on decency and that we are becoming ever more addicted to and enthralled by the gladiatorial style of interaction that inevitably ends with a shot to the skull at point-blank range, bodies in the street.

… We have accepted –and accordingly become desensitized– to the blood sport of hate and violence-promoting sound bites on talk radio, television and the internet.

To win the sport one must land on the front page and promote one’s an agenda through the nastiest means necessary.

What I decry as most immoral and despicable about this sort of rhetoric, this violent play, is that it is deeply cynical. It is coldly, intentionally manipulative, engineered by strategists, funded by big money interests, and unleashed on a public that actually has some heart left, some emotional connection to the fate of our nation and its people, and who do not see that we are being played by cynical opportunists who exist in a rarified realm of power and influence that we naively hope or believe might concern itself with the actual common good.

Cynical manipulation of the public – something I believe has a profoundly upsetting effect on unstable minds like that of Jared Lee Loughner —  is becoming more and more prevalent in our age because it is working. It works for the left and the right. It is a huge moneymaker for the news media, which once had journalistic standards including a commitment to objectivity that has not existed for several decades.

This cynicism is soul-killing.

What particularly galls me this Sunday morning is that these cynical manipulators are counting on me, and other American clergy,  to call for peace today, to call for quiet reflection, prayer and mourning, to call for remembering the families of the slain and the wounded, keeping our mouths shut and focus on our “flocks” (note the connotation of sheep!) while they take care of big, important things.

Shut up and pray, is really what they’re saying. Keep your minds in the stuff that happened thousands of years ago.  Don’t make connections between religion and reality.

But who will speak for the soul? asks Diana Butler Bass.

Exactly. The soul is at stake here.  The soul of a nation, in this case, which is worth fighting for, and fighting about, with as much passion as we can muster.

…In the Green Movement, we have a form of activism that recognizes how harmful toxins in the environment are for our health: We protest harmful additives to our food, we have outlawed lead paint and remove asbestos from buildings. We test for automobile emissions and don’t allow cars on the road that are unsafe or that emit more than an acceptable level of gasoline vapors.  It is time for a form of activism that protests the level of toxins in our civil discourse and that imposes public disapproval, shame and consequences for offenders.

For too long, good people have kept their complaints to themselves or their close circle of friends, fearing to be labeled “politically correct.”

Political correctness concerns itself with sensitivity to language and with inclusion. Not only should we be totally unafraid and unconcerned with being labelled politically correct — who cares!?– I think we need a communal and all-inclusive movement that ramps it up a few notches. Call it the Civility Movement. Call it the CCD. Citizens for Common Decency.  Call it something catchier than that — have a bunch of fascinating, funny, entertaining and impressive people promote it.  Set up something more attractive and sexy and exciting to counter the hate and trash and violent talk.

Bring respectful conversation back, call the folks who are so horrified and disgusted by the ugliness and ignorance and cynicism of the current discourse back to the table… and expect this movement to make absolutely zero profit for anyone.

Who is willing to make that kind of investment?

Who indeed?

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