Our Idolatry of Guns

Jason Micheli —  December 3, 2015 — 9 Comments

Another mass shooting.

This time in Roanoke, OregonSouth Carolina, Louisiana, Colorado, California. The 355th this year.

More gun violence.

While Americans get hot and bothered over the specter of an infinitesimal number of refugees fleeing to America from terrorism in Syria, we ignore terrorists of our own making. We watch the aerial footage of standoffs and the ticker tape death tolls scroll across our television screens as though it were all a Quentin Tarantino film.

No, I can actually remember Quentin Tarantino movies: ‘I’m a mushroom cloud laying motherf@#@$r’ said Jewels to Vincent Vega on screen at the Genito movie theater in Midlothian, Virginia in the fall of 1994.

Like long lapsed Catholics, we genuflect towards the terrible headlines, but we don’t actually bother to remember the tragedies.

We note the place names and the dates and the numbers of victims with less investment than a boy memorizing the stats on the back of his Topps baseball cards.

That is to say, we don’t give a damn.

Wolf Blitzer may but we give less than a damn actually. We don’t do anything about it.

We may be willing to shred the constitution when it comes to Muslims, but when it comes to guns we’re all either strict constructionists or we’re, worse, apathetic.

Comfortably numb.

On the left, we respond with resignation that nothing can be done.

On the right, we respond with bumpersticker cliches (‘people kill people not guns’) and specious, apocryphal history (a militarized police and unstable individuals with automatic weapons is what James Madison wanted).

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I know what the emails in my Inbox will say: I’m reacting too rashly, too quickly. We don’t even know the details of this (latest) mass shooting.

Maybe.

I know I’ll get gripes that I’m being ‘political,’ a transgression which pastors should never commit. However, none of the above should label me an anti-gun liberal. I’m, in fact, neither liberal nor anti-gun. That many of you still will label me an anti-gun liberal shows how silly the debate has gotten.

Some of you will be irritated by what follows below. Fine. Whatever.

It’s:

A) not own argument but another author’s and

B) completely in line with the official position of my denomination, the United Methodist Church.

So there.

In America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose James Atwood, a Presbyterian pastor, makes a theological, as opposed to a political or constitutional, argument for safer gun restrictions.

That is, it’s not a question of what’s constitutional, legally allowed or what the Founders envisioned; it’s a question of how we as Christians live as a peaceful alternative to State, placing our identity in Christ above all worldly loyalties.

And its at the question of loyalties and priorities where Atwood makes his argument.

While not disputing the 2nd Amendment, Atwood- ever a good Calvinist- argues that the problem at the root of the gun debate- the gun lobby specifically- is idolatry.

Take this quote: “Former NRA executive, Warren Cassidy, … ‘You would get a far better understanding of the NRA if you were approaching us as one of the great religions of the world.”

For some people, Atwood argues- and he’s a hunter himself-possession and use of a gun is intoxicating, and the intoxicant is power and the control of someone else’s life. But isn’t idolatry too strong of a term? Atwood singles out gun idolatry in the following three elements:

1. When an owner [of a gun] believes there are NO circumstances when a regulation or restriction for public safety should be placed upon it [the gun/the owner].

2. When an owner believes that guns don’t kill; they only save lives.

3. When an owner has no doubt that guns preserve America’s most cherished values.

Atwood goes on to identify other elements:

Deep emotional attachment to guns.

Anger when anyone questions gun values.

When no preventive measures are supported.

When little to no grief is shown for those who have experienced gun violence.

When any restrictions of gun sales are vigorously opposed.

When gun rights carry more moral weight than children’s safety.

When people claim an absolute right to use their guns against the government if they consider it tyrannical.

When people claim the blessing of God on the right to own a weapon.

Because I’ve seen it so many times before- and so have you- I know what’s coming in the days ahead. Those on the left will demand we do something about gun violence but will do nothing about gun violence. Those on the right will point to the individuals involved and ignore the instruments by which they so easily wreaked their havoc.

But, I’m pretty sure, not many people will be pointing to or pointing out our idolatry. Not many will be calling Christians out.

So I might as well: is the sacrosanct nature of the 2nd Amendment proof that people of faith are more shaped by our national story than we are by our Gospel story?

Jason Micheli

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9 responses to Our Idolatry of Guns

  1. The only way to bring gun death down to levels seen in other nations of the developed world is to repeal the 2nd amendment and confiscate privately owned firearms.

  2. Thanks for this. As a Presbyterian colleague, I’m proud to know Jim Atwood. We are working to move our denomination forward around the spiritual and moral issue of gun violence.

  3. AMEN! I am so sad you took this off FB. I was commenting and then …POOF. Here’s the deal, I’m done. I’m done just praying. I’m done just bitching. I am doing the only thing we CAN do which is vote with our voices and our feet and make it known that the NRA’s doctrine is no longer acceptable. Absolutely pray. But you know what: throw out the politicians who cave to the tiny, zionistic faction within the NRA that continues to render gun policy impotent! BC God is not going to do that – only we the people can make that happen. We can’t control the crazies, we certainly can’t control the guns and ammo that are already out there, we can’t control terroristic behavior (and by that, I mean the terror we are wreaking on our own selves in our own country by our own people….and the other, too), and we certainly can’t fight them with more guns!! But, we can galvanize and take advantage of living in a democracy, of living in a free country and making our votes, our voices and our actions matter. Look at how Jesus changed the world – he had no earthly rank or power, deep pockets, political influence! For God’s sake, He came as a poor, Jewish bastard precisely to show us that none of that matters. He has empowered us with the same power – His power – to elicit change – not through violence, not through grotesque, oppressive wielding of power and firearms, but through LOVE. Let’s LOVE our way to change – it’s our most powerful weapon!

  4. I don’t have issues with pastors that are political. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Elder Dr. Troy D. Perry are fine examples. Keep it up.

    But one of the more frustrating, and occasionally entertaining, parts of being a political moderate is watching the battle of the talking-heads when a tragic event happens, and the various political sides embarrass themselves (and demean us all) trying to capitalize on the carnage.

    This is exactly one of those situations.

    While Atwood’s analysis of the fringe he sees is thought-provoking and reflects a very informed spiritual understanding; his analysis of the thoughts and motivations of the average person that positively values guns mostly just reflects the memes of one end of the political spectrum – vs an actual exposure to those that feel and think the opposite. (There could be a discussion about idolatry, planks and eyes here somewhere as well.) I might have to find this book.

    In other words, just like those that will predictably call for more guns and tighter immigration controls to prevent this sort of thing, he might have made the all-too-often erroneous assumption that spiritual maturity makes intellectual rigor less important.

    In my opinion, both are necessary.

    I agree with you on one thing though; it will be another year of both sides sticking to their inflammatory rhetoric instead of actually working to reduce the violence – regardless of the means.

    No, I do not own a gun. No, I’m not a Republican or Libertarian.

    Yes, yes, yes; I will we be telling my right-wing friends this same thing. Yet again.

    Blessings

    Interesting P.S. As an experiment, I changed his “elements” to reflect “abortion” vs “guns” and sent it to a few left-leaning acquaintances. The commentary I received back is quite colorful and lively.

    • While I don’t mass shootings and abortions are analogous, I DO agree with you that the intransigence both issues provoke on both the left and the right is similar- as is the tone deaf refusal of one side to see why the other finds guns/abortion a morally compelling subject. That so many (how many more/less than abortion I wonder?) die by handguns just IS a theologically weighted question like abortion. Even pro-choice people have to acknowledge the moral gravity of the topic. The larger sin, I think, in both cases is the degree to which we’ve made our national and political identities more compelling to us than our faith identity.

      • My informal experiment in substituting the controversial subject was meant to see if the structure of Atwood’s comments was constructive or inflammatory; I think you can infer the results. Rhetoric similar to the Atwood content you summarized is sadly neither informed nor informative. It merely attempts to demonize a larger group of people based upon an extreme; the same as those that would demonize all immigrants for the violent behavior of a few.

        Your comment on our out-of-balance political and faith identities, I feel, captures the appearance well; but falls short of asking the truly uncomfortable and personal question of, “Why?” The convoluted arguments we all erect to force the Faith into the human structures we hold dear are only understandable through the lens of our human frailty.

        Just realizing the imbalance in our identities is the first step in mending this flaw in our spiritual foundations. Where do we go, as individual believers and as a catholic church, from here? And how do we get there?

        How does it feel when your Methodist and faith identities collide?

  5. Disappointing.

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