Another mass shooting.
This time in
Roanoke, Oregon, South 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.
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).
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.
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.
A) not own argument but another author’s and
B) completely in line with the official position of my denomination, the United Methodist Church.
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?