Christianity and Guns 2

RE-POST: Asking the “Congress to confront America’s idolatry of guns was asking the fox to guard the chickens.” In fact, as Upton Sinclair put it, “It is very difficult to get someone to understand something when his salary, or his power is dependent on not understanding it.” Whatever the church has done to cajole or convince Congress to take gun safety or control has been outdone by the NRA. James Atwood, in fact, says he failed to take the Bible and Calvin more seriously. He was too optimistic about Congress and the good will of humans to realize that gun control/safety is more than willpower; it is not just a political issue; it is a spiritual issue; it is about idolatry. This is all discussed in Atwood’s fine book, America and Its Guns: A Theological Exposé.

This week we experienced again another godawful event, this time in Texas, where a man was to be served papers of eviction from a home and when the constable approached the house the man inside gunned the constable to death with a [semi-] automatic weapon. He then killed an innocent civilian — and wounded others, some seriously. We should not be saying “people kill people, guns don’t kill people.” We should be saying, “the only guns that kill people are guns used by humans.”

The church should lead the way in exhibiting peaceful approaches to life and conflict, and Christians should lead the way in seeking — at the least — serious examination of gun laws and gun safety and access to guns. How many have to die before this is an issue? How many times to do we have to say America has a gun violence problem?

Hear this: “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'” (19-20). For some people, possession and use of a gun is intoxicating, and the intoxicant is power and the control of someone else’s life.

But isn’t “idolatrous” too strong of a term? James Atwood, who has probably thought about gun control as much, if not more, than any American alive today has reflected on this very issue and sees 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.

He also mentions other elements, like deep emotional attachment to guns, anger when anyone questions gun values, when no preventive measures are supported, show little to no grief for those who have experienced gun violence, vigorously oppose any restrictions of sales of guns, claim an absolute right to use their guns against the government if they consider it tyrannical, claim the blessing of God on the weapon, and believe the solution to gun violence is more guns.

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  • I think ” idolatry” is a fitting term when one’s perspective on guns (or anything) orients his/her life and can’t really be questioned.

  • John Mark

    I don’t own a gun. I haven’t shot one since I qualified on the M-16 40 years ago. I would admit we have a ‘gun violence’ problem, and presume that stricter gun laws are in our future; along with armed school security. This is a tragic but necessary evil; people like the Newtown killer are usually cowards, and the mere presence of an armed person inside the school might deter them.
    Yet I do agree with those who say our fascination with violence is not just a product of the gun culture.
    And I wonder–we know that a young man on a hunting trip to Mexico ended up in jail over a shotgun because of Mexico’s stringent gun laws recently, even though from what I have read he had no criminal intent whatsoever. At the same time, the Mexican drug lords and their gangs have access to weapons (some supplied by us) that are constantly used to kill people. Stricter gun laws may save lives, and prevent some tragedies, but I suspect there is some truth to the (admittedly overly simplistic) maxim that ‘outlaws’ will continue to have guns…….Will our government have the courage to take guns from criminals? Or the resources to do so? I doubt it. In light of “Fast and Furious” I find the present administrations desire to implement gun control disingenuous at best and hypocritical at worst.

  • FDR

    there are thousands of gun laws now… if he ever needs a gun he will change his mind.. trust me.. the last gun ban showed no noticeable decrease in gun violence over a 10 yr period.. next lets go after alcohol it kills 10 times more people..

  • Joel

    The problem with the three things listed by Atwood is they run the risk of poisoning the well. That is, if one makes a pro-gun argument based off of or including any of those three things in the list, one is first accused of being an idolater. The issue is never discussed, but the person’s character is attacked, which is an ad hominem argument.

    Now, I would argue against all three points, but the fact remains that when you begin to characterize the people of a position different than your own, you’ve ceased partaking in any discussion and instead are attempting to ostracize them.

    On the issue of gun violence, I don’t think gun control is effective at all. After all, prior to the 1920s the United States lacked quite a bit of gun control, yet our per capita gun crime was significantly less than what it is today (when we have more gun control). If you look to the United Kingdom or Australia where guns are all but banned, while the gun crime rate is down, both nations have higher overall crime rates than the United States – you’re more likely to be assaulted in Australia or raped in the United Kingdom than you are in the United States.

    That being said, the United States is out of control with gun violence, but I don’t think the problem is that we lack enough guns, nor that we lack enough control on guns. After all, Switzerland has a higher per capita gun ownership rate than we do, yet their per capita gun crime rate is drastically lower as well. America’s problem is twofold:

    1) We lack proper training and respect for guns
    2) We lack the discipline (moral fortitude) to own guns

    The problem isn’t gun control, the problem is people control. We’re letting guns end up in the hands of the unqualified, ill-advised, and unprepared. If we were to address the real problem with America’s gun violence – that anyone can own a gun (the type of gun becomes irrelevant) – perhaps we could see a reduction in our gun crime rate.

    A good compromise between both sides could be to loosen restrictions on the type of weapon, provided that a person went through a certification class in order to own that type of weapon. Thus, to gain certification to purchase a handgun, one would need to go through x number of hours learning about basic gun safety, storage, how to use the weapon, how to clean it, etc. This could be listed for every type of weapon (pistol, rifle, shotgun, etc). The certificate would need to be renewed every 3-5 years, depending on the weapon type.

    Who knows, maybe it’s a bad idea. But we need to face the facts that gun control hasn’t done anything to curb gun violence (8 of the 10 deadliest cities in America reside fully or partially in strict gun control states). And in instances where guns are banned, the crime rate escalates beyond control, or at least to the point where a virtual police state is needed to curb the crime. It’s not idolatry to own up to the fact that we have a violence problem, but that gun control has only added to this problem, not abated this problem.

  • It does make me wonder if he thinks the anti-gunners are capable of emotional bias as well. No doubt the “power” issue strikes both ways. Anti-gun is just as ckncerned with power as gun owners, if thats the case. Like FDR said, gun owners have accepted thousands of laws, been fingerprinted and entered into criminals databases in order to conceal carry, etc.

    No doubt some gun owners are idolatrous with guns just like many Christians are idolatrous with the bible and religion (and have killed many by it in history). Yet, should we really judge things by their abuses? Atheists do and we criticize them for it (and that ideology has killed many too).

    I think there are deeper issues here unexplored. Mass killings strike at the imagination. And most gun owners are horrified just as non-gun owners (and I know non-gun owners who are less horrified for reasons not mentioned). But mass killings provoke hysteria. More kids have been killed in gun banned Chicago this year than in Newtown. But hat doesn’t hit the imagination nor provoke hysteria.

    Again there is much unexplored that we won’t get at by calling gun owners and non gun owners names.

  • StephL


    Mass killings prompt hysteria because we know they have entered the imagination of future perpetrators as well as that of parents who have to send their kids to school the next day. Gun massacres in enclosed, crowded places where victims can be trapped and will be numerous have entered the popular imagination and now self-perpetuate. (A tangent: Those are the same places that are gun free because they are crowded. Interestingly, Soldiers don’t wear their guns to go to work, unless they are MPs or in the field, and a friend was just mentioning that weapons were not supposed to be loaded while on base when he was deployed. Things might be different in a forward-operating base, but guns and crowds don’t mix, and you walk around with a loaded weapon constantly ready to fire for your defense and others’ only at the expense of a greater risk for accidents. The military is surprisingly risk averse.)

    If you experience harm from a burn, for example, a normally functioning brain will register greater awareness of harm from burns than other likely sources of harm. The fact that a tornado can destroy your home is not a reason to stop yourself from pouring time and energy into protection against a house fire, and early warning systems, if what you have experienced is a fire. After a fire, you will recognize hazards that others won’t, and you will not be wrong. I have never been in an accident, but I wear a seatbelt, and I am not foolish or paranoid for doing so. To describe what has been felt across the country as hysteria is condescending, or at least is felt so by me.

  • stuart

    Speaking as an outsider not understanding the deep, strong, apparently immutable conviction many Americans hold of the rightness of being armed…in the words of Dr Phil- “so how is it working for you?”.

  • Drane

    John Mark says, “This is a tragic but necessary evil; people like the Newtown killer are usually cowards, and the mere presence of an armed person inside the school might deter them. ”

    Not true. Many, if not most of these attacks seem to be mass Murder-suicides. The perpetrators know they will die, they want to die. A guard with a gun will not deter them.

  • SamB

    Stuart #7. It is not working to well for us. It will take a while but I concur with these steps proposed by Larry Burns a politically conservative federal judge from San Diego for the gun control part of protecting our children: “Bring back the assault weapons ban, and bring it back with some teeth this time. Ban the manufacture, importation, sale, transfer and possession of both assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Don’t let people who already have them keep them. Don’t let ones that have already been manufactured stay on the market.” It will take years but as these guns and high-capacity magazines are removed from our country, lives will be saved.

  • SamB

    Several friends have told me recently that Christians should not participate in things like I have been doing when asking them to take sides in gun control proposals that are being discussed after the killings in Connecticut. I do believe we are called to resist evil, and some of my heroes are men and women like Oscar Romero, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Dorothy Day and others who nonviolently have resisted the evil they found in the culture around them. None of these people I admire would have been able to affect society without ordinary folks standing alongside them actively resisting evil. They saw themselves as leaders but leaders who stood with and among victims of societal evil. There is a danger of saying that as a follower of Christ we should not be involved in society in this way. It is to disincarnate the body of Christ from the mess of the world. Jesus moved into the neighborhood and all its brokenness. God became incarnate in a specific location. Jesus messed with things, and it got him killed. From the very beginning the church has been involved in what could be called politics, if we could agree on the meaning of that word. For example, early in Church history around 400 AD, a Christian now called Saint Telemachus was stoned to death for trying to stop a gladiator fight in a Roman amphitheater. He was killed for trying to stop what the Romans, in a Christian Rome, considered to be great sport and entertainment. I guess we can try to understand this by imagining a Christian going to a boxing match or one of the cage fights that are so popular and becoming so repulsed that he tries to stop it. Why should he not have just left in disgust? Why did he have to involve himself? Didn’t he take a chance of alienating a Roman sports fan from being open to the gospel? I don’t think Telemachus was the only Christian there, but because of what he did the Christian Emperor Honorius issued a historic band on gladiator fights. There are “gladiator fights” happening in our culture. What will we choose to do? Be silent?

  • SamB

    “But isn’t “idolatrous” too strong of a term?” No, I truly don’t believe it is. What we are talking about, at least what I am hearing proposed, is not extreme at all. It is the removal from our society of semi-automatic weapons and huge magazine that are clearly modifications of military guns that are designed to kill people quickly and efficiently so that they can be sold in civilian markets. I have hunted all my life and presently have guns locked away in a safe that I have used often. But in the face of this latest horrifying massacre of school children, I do not understand how the resistance by reasonable human beings who defend the availability of these guns and magazines can be anything but something like idolatry. And yes kids die everyday in inner city ghettos and in countries around the world due to gun violence. It is very sad that it takes something like this to awaken many of us. But if this doesn’t then what will?

  • John Mark

    Drane #8: I respectfully disagree. Sure, the Newtown killer took his own life, but he could have done that at home. Instead he went to a place populated by unarmed women and helpless children, murdered others and killed himself, I believe (no, I can’t prove this) rather than face the police. I continue to think that if he had believed he might be shot before killing anyone else he would have acted differently. Suicide is a cowards way out.

  • TJJ

    I agree with John Mark. This killer chose very very “soft” targets. Sleeping mother, unarmed women, 6 year old children. The motivations of a mentally ill man capable of doing this are not going to be rational, in the way that we seek a rational explaination, but he did not want to encounter any real resistance that might stop him before he could make the “kill statement” that he wanted to make. He chose his target accordingly.

    Pulling out the “idolatry” accusation to attack those who hold positions we disagree with is tiresome, and intellectually lazy. IMHO.