Freedom Bites Back

We Americans value freedom, we value our freedoms, we value freedom — each one of us — to do what we want and to do what we think is right. We don’t want anyone confining us. What we earn is ours. What we do is our responsibility.

We err on the side of freedom. Even knowing it may come back to bite us. We side with freedom when it comes to abortion, an action I consider murderous; we side with freedom when it comes to money, a commitment to free enterprise that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. We side with freedom when it comes to guns, a freedom that emerges out of our Second Amendment and then developed in ways that many consider way too far. But we value our freedom.

I support substantial restriction of guns, expansion of gun laws, and I support a colossal shift in the kinds of guns Americans can buy and own and possess and have in homes. But gun laws would not end violence. Yet, they would curb violence and it would restrict the guns that some people could acquire or grab in a fit of rage or bitter resentment. But progressivism in laws, while a good, will not bring nirvana where freedom flourishes with only good acts.

We also value the freedoms of the mentally diseased, so far that we will not constrain or institutionalize someone until they are in imminent harm to themselves and others. I value that freedom myself. Who can decide who may or who will probably become dangerous? Freedom leads us to wait.

But these freedoms bite back. Greed motivates freedom in the market; irresponsibility and death shape the freedom of sex; violence and murder flow from the freedom of the Second Amendment.

To alter the course of history in America would mean to restrict the one preeminent value of our legal system: freedom. Are we willing to restrict freedoms? For the common good? Good laws can make a good society better. But laws cannot control humans or our will to freedom. With freedom comes the freedom for freedom to bite back. It does. It does daily. It has and it does and it will.

We do not know why the perpetrator of this horrendous crime in Newtown Connecticut did what he did, but the claim that he had autism or Asperger’s was not what caused this horrific act. As Emily Willingham said in his Slate article, neither autism and Asperger’s did this:

My 11-year-old son is diagnosed with Asperger’s, soon to be simply “autism,” thanks to impending changes in the DSM5. He is a rowdy giant of an 11-year-old who loves tumbling play with his brothers, but his spirit couldn’t be more gentle. When he finds a spider in the house, he carefully gathers it in a tissue and places it outside, alive. He can’t bear to watch people crack tree nuts, like pecans, because being something of a tree nut himself, he feels pain on behalf of the nuts. He is so attuned to all of my nonverbal communication that he will recognize and respond to a fluctuation in my mood faster than anyone else in our house, including my husband.

He knows about the Dec. 14 shootings in Connecticut. When he learned about them, his first response was to turn away in the chair where he was sitting, drooping his head over the back. He stayed that way for many long minutes, quiet and still. When he turned around again, my child who rarely, rarely cries had tears in his eyes. And then, his first urgent concern: that we break from homeschooling and go get his brother, our youngest son and in first grade, from school … now. And as we drove to the school to pick up his brother, whom I badly wanted to see and hug and hear, my oldest, autistic son voiced what I’d already decided: “Let’s not tell him what happened. That’s not something he needs to know. It would make him too anxious and scared.” Perspective-taking and empathy, you see.

Planned, social violence is not a feature of autism. Indeed, autistic people are far more likely to have violence done against them than to do violence to others. No one knows as of this writing what drove the Connecticut shooter to kill 20 children and 7 adults, point blank, although obvious candidates are rage, hate, a huge grudge against humanity, and some triggering event. But if he turns out to have been someone on the spectrum, I’d like to remind everyone that autism is not an explanatory factor in his actions. And that autistic people like my son are fully, fully capable of empathizing with those who were the target of them.

There is no simply answer to what happened. A pastor friend of mine knows that simplicities do not get to the bottom of what is going on in America when it comes to violence. He wrote this to me:

Frustrating to me to watch the aftermath of this.  I understand that this makes people feel very anxious, and so they want to make it a simple problem with an easy solution  that asks very little of them so they can feel safe again.  But it seems to me, at least, that so many folks miss the point.

Have we finally had enough–enough of what?

Fatherless families?

A society that, in losing its faith in general and active membership in religious institutions in particular, has lost its impetus towards community?

A society with an out- of- control media that glorifies and revels in violence?

So many problems that run so much deeper than guns, but they would profoundly affect that lives and choices of many of those who are now so vocal, so they will not be asked.  To me, it compounds the sadness.  As does the idealogue approach which is dismissive of any kind of diversity of thought as well as the double standards (wait, I thought we needed to allow abortions because we can’t legislate choice or morality–wasn’t that what they said in the 70s and 80s?–but now these very same people are so actively trying to legislate choice and morality for their own purposes.  And of the two, we lose far more children to abortion than to guns…)

So John Horgan points at our obsessions with violence, and it makes us ask ourselves why:

I’m even more worried about the potential link between our country’s hawkish actions overseas and mass shootings here in the homeland. President Barack Obama has signed off on drone attacks that often result in the killing of civilians, including children. There is a cognitive dissonance between our leaders’ condemnation of school shootings here and their violent actions beyond our borders.

What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that I see the Connecticut massacre and similar outbursts of violence as symptoms of a profound American sickness, a pathological infatuation with violence, which is also manifested in our militarism and atavisticadherence to the death penalty. All these forms of violence–whether carried out by crazed individuals or by our own government–violate basic human decency. When will we say, Enough!

What does the church have to say about freedom? What does the gospel say about freedom? about violence? These are questions for Christians to ponder.

We look to Jesus, not to laws about freedom.

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Phil Niemi

    Hi Scot,

    Thanks for the post. This event has been on my mind as well, in many different contexts.

    Being a Canadian I see the gun restrictions from a different point of view. The very things that can protect us, can harm us. It appeared they were too readily accessible.

    The Slate article by Emily Willingham was informative, but so is “‘I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother’: A Mom’s Perspective On The Mental Illness Conversation In America” from the Huffington Post. Knowing others who have worked with persons with Autism and mental illness, the seemingly unthinkable can happen. The question is what can be done to protect the freedom and dignity of all involved.

    As a missionary, pastor or church planter, the cause I see for much of our hurt in life is our desire for autonomy. We really don’t want to share life with other people. We don’t want people to know our struggles, concerns or to even feel indebted to others. How would everything change if we brought our pretences down a notch. If we stopped being afraid of being hurt by others, we might actually be hurt less, and live more enriching lives. A willingness to be just a little more, to hold our cards out a little further might make life more satisfying.

    Grace and Peace

  • Karen Spears Zacharias

    Great post, Scot. I’ve been trying to imagine Jesus making his case for his 2nd Amendment Freedoms, and I just can’t. We have a Supreme Court that rules that corporations are people too and that Westboro has the right to picket funerals. We have definitely turned the notion of freedom around to mean not freedom but selfish ambition. I am pretty sure George Mason and others meant for our freedoms to be something that ennobles mankind, not something that destroys us.

  • Jim

    Thanks for posting this, Scot. Our challenges do run much deeper than simple gun laws. America is a very violent country: it was founded in violence, all “progress” has been accomplished violently, we buy and sell violence as entertainment and we think violence is the only solution to our problems. The Gospel says much. However, the church in America has exhanged that for a pot of stew (read power and influence) and now we have little to say.

    Its hard to argue with freedom. But what kind of freedom do we have when we think of over 300 million guns in the country, forclosing on your home and going bankrupt because you don’t have health care and knowing that at the end of life the only security you might have is the local City Mission. We’ve given up a lot.

  • Joe Canner

    Karen #2: I wondered the same thing when I read a post by one of your fellow Patheos bloggers who was bemoaning the anti-gun rhetoric in the media. His solution was that more people should be armed. I get the secular justification for such a policy, but I don’t understand how Christians can push it so strongly. Yes, Paul says that the government bears the sword, but that doesn’t include civilians. I, for one, am not prepared to “bear the sword” and take the lives of others into my hands.

  • http://www.faithinireland.wordpress.com Patrick Mitchel

    Good and important questions Scot, thanks for articulating them. I imagine it could make you unpopular in some circles. I also thought of the President’s tears and of whole communities wiped out by US Drone attacks. Once violence is unleashed it is impossible to control the consequences.

    I was in the US last week (from Ireland) and was taken to a huge sports store. I know I’m not saying anything new here, but it is so hard for a European to get my head around what was freely for sale: combat gear, bullets, pistols, rifles, sub-machine guns etc etc. All you would need to start a private war. And the place was absolutely packed with families, women, young men, dads etc all buying guns.

    And what I really can’t process (although I can understand in principle) is how deeply and enthusiastically Christians are complicit and involved in this gun culture. It is this American unease with violence that seems to me idolatrous – it is trust and faith in our own strength and power. And yet here we are celebrating the Word made flesh, a powerless baby who would become the crucified Messiah who rejected the way of the sword.

  • Mike M

    Finally, something different than knee-jerk reactions. I’m deeply worried about this country. This is a multi-dimensional problem and cannot be addressed by simplistic and violent actions. Or words. Look at all the blame games going around: loose gun control laws; no prayer in schools; poor control/identification of the mentally ill; poor parenting; gay marriages (you know what I mean); and even immunizations. Right, the peculiar notion that immunizations cause autism, the killer had autism, therefore immunizations are to blame.
    The federal, state, and local governments all have an attitude that differences should be answered with violence and so have become the role models for our culture. Very rarely have I seen posts or memes that weren’t violent themselves. We have a lot of soul-searching to do as a nation and it should start with self-examination and introspection, not name-calling and blame-throwing.

  • scotmcknight

    Patrick, grateful for your comment. A telling, searching, piercing observation.

  • http://restlessfaith.blogspot.com chad m

    Are there any good, Biblical or theological arguments on the pro-gun side of these conversations?

  • Brian S

    One freedom that has unseen costs is freedom of religion. It allows both the true religion (orthodox Christianity) and false religions to operate without undue restraint. Yet false religions do far more harm than guns could ever do. They lure people away from Jesus and condemn them to hell.

  • db

    So then, shall we behave as though nothing happened and take no action to learn and change accordingly? That would be both unacceptable and horrific. We cannot ignore issues raised by this tragedy and be considered good in any reasonable sense of the word.

  • Greg D

    I’m convinced FREEDOM has become a god. And, guns are our Moloch.

    http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2012/dec/15/our-moloch/

  • Rick

    Chad M #8-

    One might be in defense of our “neighbor” (including family members, friends, etc…).

  • Robin

    Sincere question for gun control supporters.

    I have been thinking about this proposal and was wondering if you would support such a hypothetical.

    First, make most of the changes that have been mentioned (a) assault weapons bans (b) maximum capacity magazines (c) gun show loophole, etc.

    BUT that would be paired with the following 2 things

    (1) Treating firearm ownership like vehicle licensing: classes required for licensure, including passing a shooting examination, required purchase of insurance for firearms, stiff penalties for firearms possession while intoxicated, etc.

    AND

    (2) Much more open acceptance of Concealed Carry for persons who have met all the requirements above. No more limits on the type or number of legal weapons purchased, even in cities like D.C. and Chicago. Expectation that legally registered weapons can be cariied by people meeting those requirements in most situations (except for Federal Buildings and a few key other structures).

    Basically, if it came along with the increased licensing and safety requirements (as well as assault weapons ban, magazine limitation, and gun show loophole), could you live with the increased presence and acceptability of responsible gun ownership, legally mandataed even in traditionally anti-gun jurisdictions like NYC, DC, and Chicago.

  • Phil Miller

    I’m convinced FREEDOM has become a god. And, guns are our Moloch.

    http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2012/dec/15/our-moloch/

    I have read and liked Garry Wills books, but I find these sorts of articles completely unhelpful. Why demonize all gun owners? Even if you do think that almost no one should own guns, I think it’s ridiculous to paint everyone who does own them or thinks people should be able to own them as being idolatrous. It’s actually for this reason that I’m not very hopeful that things will change all that much.

    I noted the other day that many of the same people who say that banning abortions would never work are so sure that banning guns will. I know people are very upset because of this recent tragedy, and rightly so, but I think the fevered pitch of these conversations does no one any good.

  • http://www.margaretfeinberg.com Margaret

    great thoughts–gives me something to chew on!

  • http://www.oneessence.blogspot.com David B. Johnson

    Scot,

    Thanks for having the courage and conviction to express the way of Jesus with patience and thought. As a Yoderian Anabaptist who pastors a small Baptist church where many gun-trusting NRA members worship, these days have indeed been difficult. I have been mostly silent about my convictions as the dull roar of the lust for freedom, guns, autonomy and power has begun to rise. Wondering if anyone else is in a similar situation and knows how to find peace as a peace-loving follower of Jesus in a world bent on (and that worships) violence.

  • T

    I have a few thoughts that aren’t in any particular order.

    I don’t know what laws would have prevented this latest tragedy. It’s an interesting and important question; but I don’t tend to get my hopes up about such things.

    Related to that point, my deepest questions that were triggered by this tragedy weren’t “What laws or processes would have prevented this particular disturbed young man from getting guns?” Again, I think that’s a valid question that needs thought. But my deeper question was about how someone could go so far down, so that the hesitation to harm and even kill children–kindergarteners (!) and so many of them–is over-run.

    As Patrick Mitchel mentioned above, I’m more concerned by the overlap of the American gun culture and the American Church. Regardless of whether one thinks that armed teachers/administrators would result, on the whole, in fewer deaths of children via guns, I am very concerned with the faith in and even fervor for guns that is so prevalent in the American branch of the Church. Jesus didn’t die for gun rights or economic rights or anything so fleeting. His dream is not a Church that is armed to the teeth, secure in its power to shoot those that would seek to harm others. He died to set people–evil people–free from the sin and death that otherwise has the last word on us all. Our sense of peace and even fearlessness in an evil world comes not from our man-made firepower, but in our (supposed) confidence in the resurrection of the dead. For all the talk in conservative circles about the bane of liberalism and its frequent denial of the resurrection of the dead, it is worth asking ourselves honestly if our faith in guns betrays a fear of those that can kill the body that opposes the kind of courage that the resurrection of the dead is intended to unleash in Jesus’ followers.

  • T

    David Johnson,

    I will tell you that, as my prior comment suggests, I think we underestimate what it means to “trust” the resurrection. That’s where I would press any church–on the need to be comforted not by our own power over others, but by the resurrection of the dead.

    The way I talk to my 8-year-old daughter is to tell her not to be afraid of what people may take from her because there is nothing that anyone can take that Jesus won’t give back, and then some. We have to have a base of power from which to love even hostile people, and that base of power is the resurrection of the dead via Christ. Praise God.

  • SteveSherwood

    Robin, no one has yet responded to you. I think I would be comfortable with your proposal.

  • David B Johnson

    T,

    Thanks for your prophetic words.

  • Patrick

    T,

    Jesus did order His servants to arm themselves. So, it doesn’t stand to reason to suggest arming one’s self is demonstrating a lack of faith in Christ.

    30 AD Israel was an exceptionally violent culture, just as our’s is.

    Did Jesus or the 12 express “faith in swords” or was He suggesting His 12 do their part and Yahweh would do His for their safety?

    “Prepare the horse for battle, but, victory belongs to The Lord”.

    Not being argumentative, just pointing these facts out.

    God and man work together in Christianity, so arming yourself is not a loss of faith in God anymore than working for a living is claiming His promises to feed&provide for us are lies, IMO.

    BTW, I do think we can go overboard and at that point enter a form of idolatry, but, there’s a reasonable middle ground here.

    Scot,

    1) What a joy if the perp had been stopped before entering the school, by force.

    Can’t have that if only the evil are armed. It happened in Pearl,Mississippi. Teacher ran to his car, grabbed his rifle and stopped the killing immediately. I wish it had happened in Newtown.

    2) Why would the perp have cared if we gave up our right to protect ourselves from violent men like him? What difference would it make to the violent person?

  • Ian Thomason

    I’m an Australian Army officer, so please read what follows with such context in mind.
    As I’ve shared before, I find the American Christian penchant for firearms/militarisation peculiar, especially given the high incidence of gun-related crime and violence that your country all too regularly experiences. This leads me to personally question why any private US citizen believes s/he needs to own an M4-style assault rifle. These and similar weapons weren’t designed for elk hunting or target shooting. They were designed with the sole purpose of killing people; they were designed for the battlefield. Your streets and your schools shouldn’t be your battlefields, so why would a follower of Christ want or need to own a machine thats design brief was to kill as many human beings as possible, as quickly as possible?
    I’ve read the reasoning for gun ownership in America expressed along the following lines: “I need my guns for protection; there are a lot of bad people out there with firearms!” The logical disconnect, as I see it, is that this sort of thinking is self-feeding, and self-defeating: too many bad people have guns, so more good people need to get guns. Why not simply limit the number of firearms in private hands, instead? This approach has largely worked in my country; consequently, firearms-related crimes are quite rare over here.
    I suppose what I find most disturbing is the image of men and women raising a Bible in one hand and an assault rifle in the other: the instrument of peace grasped in the left hand, the instrument of war in the right.
    This shouldn’t be.

    God bless,

    Ian

  • T

    Patrick,

    Do you really see in Jesus a command for his followers to arm themselves and then use those weapons on the violent? That’s your take away from Jesus’ teaching and example? I know the (one) verse you are talking about, and, frankly, I don’t think Jesus wanted his followers to arm themselves any more than he wants them to gouge out their eyes. As long as we’re pointing out the facts, I think you need to give more facts about Jesus and his story. For instance, you could go just a little forward in the story to Jesus rebuking Peter for using his sword or backward to his numerous teachings on how to deal with evil people, even violently evil people. Better still, you could look at his own example of praying for those who killed him, while he had the power to stop them. It’s just not intellectually honest to sum up Jesus on this issue by saying that he ordered his followers to arm themselves. “Balance” on this issue often ends up being no different than the teaching Jesus specifically criticized: “love your neighbor” and “hate your enemy.” But Jesus said in pointed contrast: “Love your enemy. Do good to those that persecute you.”

    We are taught to work, even as the Lord provides. But Christians simply aren’t taught (at least not by Jesus or Paul or anyone in the NT) to arm themselves.

  • metanoia

    I have purposely tuned out the news of the tragedy in Connecticut. I don’t need gruesome details and reminders that we live in a sin cursed world. There is a voyeuristic quality about the way these things are covered which just draws us like moths to a flame. And as moths are burned, so are our psyches and consciences. We imbibe in the rotgut of fear, confusion, and uncertainty prepared by the enemy of our souls and invite yet another layer of worry over that which we can do very little about. Unfortunately these things serve as a reminder to that which we take for granted and should need no reminding about. Cherish your loved ones. Remind yourself that life is to be lived by faith. When what happens seems to make no sense at all, it makes faith that much more real. For to live in a faith where everything makes sense is no faith at all. May God’s comfort visit and uphold these families until such a time when that which is not understandable will be made clear.

  • TJJ

    The “what would Jesus do” thing is very temping and easy to throw out there. But it is far more complicated than just throwing the idea out there would suggest. If the Gospel accounts of Jesus final days are correct, at least one of Jesus’ disciples was packing the weapon of choice in those days for self defends and other things, a sword/long knife. Did Jesus have essentially a security detail. We know how dangerous country roads in that day could be. Just one example.

  • http://seekingfaithfulnessblog.blogspot.com Holly

    Meh. I don’t think that the totality of the NT and Jesus’ life could be used to support the right to stockpile guns or own assault weapons. You can perhaps proof-text and find one verse…but not an over-arching view which would be supportive. In fact, I would dare to say that the complete transcript of Jesus’ recorded words would fly directly in the face of Christians arming themselves. Further, you don’t find support for armament in the writings of the early Church, which was birthed and reared under corrupt governments and persecution. What we find, instead, are exhortations from Paul to pray for those in power. The early Church was distinguished from the zealotry of the day, largely by NOT resorting to revolt or violence.

    I come from a culture where it is common to give little boys real guns at very young ages, and where churches teach gun safety. It feels schizophrenic to me, not specifically Christian.

  • T

    Patrick , TJJ and others,

    I mean this with utmost seriousness and sincerity: The teaching and example of Jesus are not close to “balanced” on this point. When it comes to how to deal with violent, evil people, there is a consistent and oft repeated refrain in the NT, with a multitude of different articulations and examples:

    If your enemy is hungry, feed him.
    If your enemy is thirsty, give him something to drink.
    Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.
    If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
    Do not return evil for evil, but do good.
    Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by doing good.
    Do not resist an evil person.
    Do not fear those that only kill the body but cannot harm the soul.
    Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
    Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
    When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.
    Anyone who loves father or mother, spouse or child, even his own life, more than he loves me is not worthy of me.
    Anyone who does not [by comparison to me] hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.
    You have heard it said “Love your neighbor” and “Hate your enemy.” But I say love your enemies.
    Brother takes brother to court . . . why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?

    There are more besides these, with Jesus’ own conduct and cross being the centerpiece. He taught it, then he did it. And he commanded us to do the same and love like he does. If you haven’t taken the time to see how central this idea is to Christ’s own character, teaching, and story, then I urge you to do so. Didn’t Paul know he was going to face beatings, stonings and even death? So what was his plan in response? How did he prepare for the unjust violence coming his way? It was not by arming himself, except with the truth of God’s ultimate control and the promise of the resurrection of the dead. His battle was not with flesh and blood, but with powers and principalities. His weapons were not of this world but were powerful for tearing down strongholds of evil. He fought the good fight, but only with the sword of the Spirit and the armor of God. Violence was the way of Saul, not Paul.

    I urge you not to strain at possible inferences for taking up arms and take in the flood of plain teachings and examples flowing from our New Covenant that calls us to follow a very different way.

  • Tom F.

    Pretty radical stuff, Scott. Broadly speaking, I wonder if the American synthesis between 17th- 18th century classical liberalism (as you put it, “freedoms”) and civic religion (e.g., as described by Toqueville, and more recently Bellah) is falling apart at the seams.

    On the radical conservative end, the classically liberal elements are quietly white-washed over, with revisionist histories that turn the founding fathers into evangelicals who established a Christian nation. Religious freedom is reduced to religious freedom for “us”, which often specifically excludes Muslims. In the face of having to accept gay marriage, conservatives are quickly trying to head off a compromise based around ideas of religious freedom. For example, there is the recent CT article comparing Lewis’s classically liberal views on divorce and religion vs. Tolkein’s more conservative view that the state should uphold religious marriage. I love Tolkein, but remember, he thought fondly about monarchy, something decidely un-liberal.

    On the radical liberal side, you see similar moves in the opposite directions. The Democrats almost took God out of their platform this year. On gay marriage, legal arguments have tended to see freedom of religion as being nearly always overruled by the interests of preventing discrimination. That is, one kind of “freedom” (religious expression of the moral wrongness of gay marriage) turns out to be in conflict with another (freedom from unfair discrimination), so that liberals tend to see it that religious freedom should always lose in the public sphere.

    And so here, on gun rights, you have a similar divide. Conservative protecting their “freedom” for gun ownership are ideologically pure and brook no compromise: any restriction can only mean a slippery slope into the surrendering of this basic right. Liberals today (or perhaps progressives is more apt, since it was the 18th century “liberals” who recognized” a basic right to bear arms in the first place) are particularly “un-liberal” on this score. As you point out, when it comes to freedom for abortion, this is particularly emphasized in a phrase like “pro-choice”. But gun ownership, something which is in itself only modestly dangerous, is not a protected freedom in liberal eyes.

    (Or take another freedom: freedom to consume alcohol. Just about as many people die from drunk driving accidents as they do from gun deaths, and that doesn’t even include all of the other ways that people who consume alcohol kill themselves and others. Why no talk about prohibition?)

    So when I hear you making a pretty concerted communitarian critique of American “freedom”, I resonate. I think you are likely right on nearly every point. But I think the real danger here is that we identify our communitarianism with Jesus the same way some identified classical liberalism with Jesus. So, critique away. But I would just point out, the communitarian-biblical critique is as modern a phenomenon as the classical liberal synthesis that it seeks to replace.

    So to your question: what does the church/bible have to say about freedom? I want to respond, which “freedom” are we talking about? There is the freedom from sin, from guilt, from brokenness, from the power and principalities of this world, and the freedom to love, to worship, to know God through Christ and to serve others in community. That freedom I see in the church and the Bible. As to the “freedom” of modern political debates, including the last 500 years of reflection about political freedom, I am much less confident about how the biblical “freedom” maps onto modern political “freedom”. I just want to raise my hand in this conversation and caution against too easy comparisons between the two; these comparisons too often have the biblical witness serve one vision of modern political freedom, and belittle the scriptural witness in the process. They so often make it so that biblical freedom is really about a certain version of modern political freedom. I’m not saying that you are making this mistake, Scot, but I’m just saying I would be more comfortable if the distance between these two concepts of freedom was even a little more clear in what you wrote.

  • scotmcknight

    Tom F, we agree … both on modern freedoms and the Bible’s sense of freedom is miles from modernity’s freedom.

    I led this post to one question: a modern sense of freedom, America’s deepest value, in contrast to biblical freedom. Should I have begun with a “but” to make it clearer? I thought my last two paragraphs made the contrast clear.

  • Mike M

    God have mercy. We’re too broken to notice our brokeness. This isn’t about our rights to own the same type of guns the government can use against it’s own people but rather our response to hate and violence.

  • Tom F.

    Scot, maybe you did make the contrast clear, and I could easily still be misunderstanding.

    I guess my vibe that I got from your post was that your critique of modern “freedom” itself seems very modern; it seemed to me to be an essentially communitarian critique. Your question “Are we willing to restrict freedoms? For the common good?”, could be pulled directly from the communitarian program. I think the communitarian critique is basically on target; I think it resonates well with the vision we get from scripture. But the communitarian critique has a modern history; it mingles elements of conservative thought from the early modern period (i.e., Burke) with a dose of sociological insight into the importance of particular, historical communities for human flourishing. It is a correction of modern liberal political thought, and as such, often shares many of the same assumptions. So the sense of “this business about freedom is modern and alien to scripture” in your post seemed to be in some tension with a critique that actually ran along fairly modern lines, seemingly influenced by another modern political program, namely communitarianism.

    At the end of your post, you say that we look to Jesus, not to human laws about freedom. I guess I don’t understand then; you talk specifically about which laws you would support (restrictions on guns), and it seems to you that these laws should be based on the principle of balancing human freedoms against the common good. Well and good. I probably agree. But where does Jesus talk about this balancing of the freedom of citizens against the common good of a nation? Or put to your opponents, where does Jesus talk about the absolute need for human freedom and rights in response to human governments?

    I just have this nagging suspicion that this whole conversation, both the affirmation of human political freedom and the critique which says that these freedoms should be balanced against the common good, is simply being discussed in terms alien to the biblical writers and Jesus. Therefore, I don’t even know if I could affirm that modern political freedom is “miles” away from biblical freedom, they seem to me to be operating with such radically different assumptions and purposes as to be nearly incommensurate. That is, I don’t even know if I could use biblical notions of freedom to attack OR support modern notions of political freedom. That may, however, say as much about me as it does about the biblical notion of freedom.

    In any case, thanks for the interaction, and I apologize for the lengthy posts.

  • http://www.wanderprone.com Nate

    I tend to think that it’s actually the restrictions on our freedom that make us truly free. If you own a piece of property, I am not free to take it from you no matter how powerful I might be. I have spent much of my life in countries that the West would not consider ‘free’…and yet, in a sense, these places are more free than the U.S…as long as I have the right connections to power, I am free to take from you what I want without fear of consequences. The West at times forgets that precisely what makes their societies work at any level are prudent restrictions on our (sin corrupted) thirst for freedom.

  • Bill

    But what if we are thinking all wrong about guns and gun ownership. What if you look at how the Israelis do it? What if it’s love and care for one’s neighbor and neighborhood the motivates us instead of gun ownership being a right. How about it being a privilege like a driver’s license?

    Check this out.

    http://www.israellycool.com/2012/12/18/if-we-dont-learn-something/

  • StephL

    I think freedom cannot be the only narrative we accept. As in, the government should protect our freedoms … And get out of the way. That would mean a police force, a military force, lawyers and prisons, and that is it. A government that saw no other responsibility for itself would quickly become corrupt. A government that is by the people for the people is also concerned with the well being of its people, with fighting disease, accidental deaths, abuse, hunger, etc. A government with any measure of power (which all governments have) that does not concern itself with well being can only be morally corrupt. Raw power without a heart. Yet sometimes our rhetoric makes it sound like that is not true, that the government can concern itself only with rights and we would be okay.

    Cigarette use and alcohol use have not been prohibited in our society … But we have found a way to make things better. We are better protected from second hand smoke, but people can still choose to smoke. People still have the freedom to trap themselves in an addiction. But we no longer look at newscasters puffing on cigarettes and mumbling the news reports through the cigarettes in their mouths as anything but laughable. The culture was changed.

    I think people sometimes resign themselves to the way things are by saying only God can change hearts. But people do agitate for change and small measures are taken that over time change the culture, with minimal loss of freedom: tobacco use, drunk driving laws, seatbelt and childseat use.

    There was an article in the NY times recently about gun culture in Newtown, and the final paragraph ended with a quote, by a gun enthusiast I think, to the effect that guns gave us our freedom. And that is where the problem lies, I believe. Guns are intertwined with America and hence with freedom in our psyches: the Revolution, the Civil War, the conquest/colonization and westward expansion…

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/17/nyregion/in-newtown-conn-a-stiff-resistance-to-gun-restrictions.html?_r=0

  • StephL

    Scot, my above comment was not a critique of your post. It is my overall response to the rhetoric of freedom that surrounds all movement for change and improvement in the United States.

    I wouldn’t look to laws for wonderful efficacy but for less complicity.

  • Rob F.

    ” As you point out, when it comes to freedom for abortion, this is particularly emphasized in a phrase like “pro-choice”. But gun ownership, something which is in itself only modestly dangerous, is not a protected freedom in liberal eyes. (Tom F @ 28)”

    First, BOTH progressives and conservatives pick and choose how and when they want the government to intervene. Conservatives don’t want the government to legislate gun ownership, but they generally do want the government to legislate on abortion and definitions of marriage. Therefore, general appeals to role of government give neither side an advantage in the debate.

    As many of pointed out, this is a very complex issue and therefore any solution(s) will involve multiple strategies. Increasing/changing checks/restrictions on gun ownership should be part of the solution. Stricter gun laws won’t solve the problem but I agree with StephL @ 35, at least we as a nation would be less complicit.

    Robin @ 13, I just don’t understand the rationale that more guns will make us safer? We have people trained to use firearms, they are called law enforcement. Increased conceal and carry laws coupled with “stand your ground” laws seems be going in the opposite direction.

  • Jag

    Why would anyone want the freedom to own a rifle designed solely to kill humans as quickly and efficiently as possible? When one person insists on that freedom, the rest of us lose part of our freedom to live without fear. Fear of our children being gunned down. Or ourselves.

  • Rob Henderson

    When someone is intent on murdering others they will find whatever means necessary to carry out their diabolical plans. The issue seems to me to be the huge mental illness problem in our country as well as the bigger problem of the dysfunctional home-life. Merge these two together and you have a time-bomb waiting to go off.

  • http://existingbetween.wordpress.com/ Joy F

    Is freedom to live in fear of your neighbor truly freedom? If the attitude becomes “we must have guns to defend ourselves” it is no longer a choice. We destroy freedom itself by making it a necessity rather than a possibility. Once people feel they need guns, indeed many who would prefer not to have them buy them because they live in fear – is this still freedom? Why are we forced to pay the consequences for the freedoms of a few?

  • Mike M

    Joy F: I agree that fear is a key ingredient here. And we have a great role model in this country: think of the Cold War, the Wars on Drugs and Terrorism, and the slew of preventive wars since WWII and you’ ll know what I mean. A large portion of gun rights activists fear the GOVERNMENT (and/or fear some future vision of our federal government). Remember, those groups and individuals take the bible prophecies very seriously and one would be hard-pressed to say they aren’t sincere Christians. And for clarification, I don’t necessarily agree.

  • Rob F.

    Hi Rob (@38),

    “When someone is intent on murdering others they will find whatever means necessary to carry out their diabolical plans.”

    I tend to hear this argument from folks…but where is the data to support it? In other Western countries with stricter gun laws, they have less mass killings with guns AND I haven’t seen or heard anything to support that they are offsetting this with more mass killings by other means. Are there epidemics of bombings, stabbings, etc. that are killing many people at one time in the UK, Australia, Canada?

    There was a knife attack in China at a school on the same day (http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/14/world/asia/china-knife-attack/index.html) of the Sandy Hook shooting…many children were hurt but none were killed (at least as of the report linked above). So yes, disturbed people are going to do bad things, but we should do whatever we can to limit the severity and lethality of their actions.

    More limits on guns is not the only answer…but how can it not be part of the solution?

  • metanoia

    “More limits on guns is not the only answer…but how can it not be part of the solution?”

    Now that, is a sensible statement.

  • Josh T.

    Rob F (#41)…

    I am wondering if there is an important face-to-face component in most of these shoot-em-up, going down with “guns blazing” horrific acts. In other words, perhaps the process of killing individuals is a big priority to these killers, in contrast with terrorists with a political/religious agenda that seem more concerned with the results than the means used. I’m not saying that people wouldn’t use some other weapon, but if I’m right (and I’m merely speculating here), it would disconnect the killer from the face-to-face act of killing. My bro-in-law pointed out that the Aurora shooter had rigged his apartment with explosives, but to me that seems like an epilogue to his primary face-to-face rampage of destruction. I suppose he could have used explosives in the theater if mere fatalities were the goal, but he didn’t. I think (again, totally my opinion here) that he wanted people to see him in the act.

  • Rob F.

    Josh T (#43),

    I am no expert but I think your assessment is probably correct. These people probably do want the face-to-face encounter. I think this fact makes the issue of access to weapons even more critical. So what if Lanza didn’t have easy access to an assault rifle and pistols? What weapon might he have used? A knife? A hunting rifle? A shotgun? These weapons could certainly cause damage but without semi-automatic or extended mags there is at least the chance the attack would be less deadly.

    I would also point out, that these kinds of tragedies are relatively rare and only account for a very small number of gun-related deaths. However, they serve as awful reminders that too many people are killed in this country by guns. It is a shame that it takes mass killings for us as a society to even have a conversation..and frankly I am still skeptical if this time anything will be different…even the conversation on this blog suggests that for some guns guns are still not a problem.


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