Christianity and Guns 3

There is a major question we need to ask as a society, but the question will come after a brief listing. It is a listing of violence we Americans are both exposed to throughout culture and which we engage — engage so much companies can make lots and lots of money from us by producing violent images. (By the way, in Europe violent movies create an R rating. Is it the same in the USA?)

Violent images are encountered in the USA in the following contexts:

1. Movies and TV
2. Video games
3. Western movies, Comic books, Cartoon figures
4. Toys
5. Use of the hand as a gun
6. Sports, especially football (of the American kind) and ice hockey
7. Mixed martial arts
8. NASCAR
9. Paintball games
10. Hunting for Bambi

Next to this set of violent images, what about a language? Big shot, shot in the dark, shoot kill, hit man, open season, shooting for gold, in the cross-hairs, a double-barreled approach…

Or our belief that we are a Christian nation, a city on a hill, a chosen people? Do these create justification for violence? Is redemptive violence the way of Jesus?

The question: Is there a connection between these productions of violent images and American violence? Can we connect the dots? Are we more violent because of our images? Would minimizing the images reduce violence?

From James Atwood, America and Its Guns: “Violence is a pervasive spirit that touches and affects everything we do and everything we are. … Violence captivates, thrills and fascinates us, and it starts beguiling us early in life…” (43).

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.

  • Chris White

    Maybe the freedoms we have as citizens of the USA come with the price of allowing some to indulge in all sorts of excesses, including violence. Look at the excess of choice we have at the SUPERmarket. How many different clothing stores with 10′s and 20′s of different kinds of shirts or socks or underwear we can purchase. How many TV channels are there. Really.

    Then take a look at the lack of community restraint that at one time provided us with a curb on our vices and promoted virtue. The laws become more abundant on what used to be common sense and decency–lack of rudeness or politeness and less and less about what really hurts people communion (community) like sexual mores.

    We hear the cry that we can’t legislate morality then tack on punishment to a crime if we deemed it a hate crime. It is the way it is and our society would need a major revival of Christianity to revamp not our laws–but our attitude about what is really “life”.

    Legislating against guns won’t stop the gun violence just as legislating against heroin didn’t stop that crime and abuse. I don’t own a gun and do think we should tighten the reins on availability of guns. But if some crazed person takes a family members guns–well–evil isn’t stopped by laws for evil does not care about laws.

    As believers we know what evil is–we deal with our own sins and we know how prevalent is temptation. Our secular society can only make laws and try to enforce them. They cannot stop the forces of evil.

    But we can–by the power of God through the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah. It is the only way–one heart at a time. And then one day–when humanity’s inhumanity to itself has reached its pinnacle, our Lord Jesus will return to finally defeat sin and death. Therein lies our hope–not in laws, not in banning things, not in armed guards in the schools, not in the pistol in our holster, no a PR campaign and certainly not in the princes/politicians.

    Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly.

  • Chris White

    Sorry to respond again–but this has to be said. Christian parents–shame on you for allowing this violence into your homes. Same on letting children get hooked on its adrenaline rush. Shame on us for supporting it with our money at the theaters. Christians–we are called to be different, not just avoiding explicit sex scenes–and what we see now on regular TV and in PG movies would have never allowed to be seen by children in the 1960′s era of free sex. Our standards have been so compromised we don’t even realize the filth and decadence and hedonism and voyeurism and violence we put up with–and enjoy.

    If you call yourself a follower of Jesus Christ–take some time and compare your entertainment indulgences to the idea of holiness and cut off all that does not measure up to that standard and we should be very wary of rationalization here.

    Do we have any real hope that society will just get better? Maybe it would if we took the effort to clean up our filthy and violent habits as disciples of Jesus Christ. Let the Spirit of Christ teach us to say “No” tho those things which corrupt our souls and the souls of our children. Today is the day of rescue.

  • Amanda F

    The first two commenters seem to get at the eschatological/theology of the Church problem that keeps this discussion from moving forward in so many circles. If we believe that the world is just
    doomed to spiral down and our job as Christians is to be as good as possible, not kill anyone like those bad and evil people, convert as many individuals as is possible in evil days, and hold up the fort in our own families until Jesus comes back, then yikes. In that scenario, why not own a bunch of guns so you can keep evil at bay all the longer?!

    Sorry, I know that’s an over simplification but it does seem to be essentially what a lot of people are saying.

    Until our collective big-picture improves, I’m not sure we’re ready to stare our idols in the face nor look to the life of Jesus as that that is worth emulating outside of some kind of individual piety.

  • Stephen Weaver

    Amanda, unfortunately you are correct. Our perspective on Christ’s Reign and our eschatology predispose us to reactionary positions and defensiveness on many fronts. In my own congregation, though I am supposed to set the tone as senior pastor, I feel like I have the helm thrown over hard but it is taking a long time for the bow to swing around …

  • Prodigal Daughter

    Well said, Amanda. A verbal tongue lashing from anyone along the lines if the first two comments just turns me off. And I’m not one to expose my children to violence on tv or movies. Heck, I didn’t even tell hem about Newtown and they are elementary age.

    The first two comments present a black/white “only way” view of our culture’s problem with violence and a way forward. How about participating in our culture on its terms while living out a different ethic? It’s dirty and dangerous, but probably more effective. Sitting back and preaching is a losing proposition.

  • Percival

    Never really seen NASCAR unless the Pixar movie counts. How is it violent? Dangerous, yes. But I presume the object is not to hurt your competitors.

  • Robert
  • Ray

    @Robert, et al. – The predominant & popular question of the hour is: Are violent media stimuli, especially role-playing types (video games, etc.), contributing to the prevalence of violent behavior in our society? This question seems to be an attempt to reduce the violence issue to some easily identifiable (and blame-able) culprits. I’m not saying this question shouldn’t be asked, but what if we’re starting with the wrong set of questions?

    For example, there is a different but poignant (sociological) question which I have not seen discussed much at all: How is it that these violence-oriented stimuli & entertainment are so popular to begin with? In other words, there must already be “something” there in the population to which these entertainment companies are appealing, a “something” which attracts viewers/participants – and thus sells products – like no other. (And I perceive that these companies have slowly figured this out over the last 50 years of the evolution of media technology).

    That “something” is what is driving the market – from movies, to Nerf guns, to “Call of Duty”. If that collective and prevalent “something” we’re not there to tap into (to begin with), then we would not see such a predominance of violence-related entertainment. To be sure, violence in products and media outlets likely feeds and contributes to this “something”, often in unhealthy ways. But rather than simply asking if violent media and products are causing us to have a more violent society, I’ll throw out the discussion point of asking how those products and media got a strong foothold in the first place. Perhaps including this question in the conversation might help disciples better discern our role and mission as we appropriately engage the society in which we find ourselves.

  • SamB

    It seems a lot of the conversation we are having deals with what will be effective. Are we thinking about this correctly? The success of Jesus can not be measured the way our culture measures things. Doesn’t his way often looks like failure? Isn’t it only by faith that we believe light is overcoming darkness? I think it is only with the eyes of Jesus that we can see the widow’s mite is the significant and eternal way of Jesus, and consequently said to be successful. As someone who wants to follow Jesus faithfully, my constant seeking is to live in his way and I believe he demonstrates in all his ways that evil is overcome by doing good, by love. This may look like failure. It probably often will. What would it look like to the world, if we in a nonviolent act of resistance publicly destroyed any assault weapons and large magazines we we own. How would this contrast with are arguing about our gun rights and how are guns are what we need to protect ourselves, arguing even in the face of the evil that erupted at Newtown?

  • SamB

    I just want to add that I am glad this conversation is taking place.

  • Dominick

    What about Christian community? We read Acts chapter 2 as if it is some vague analogy pointing to some abstract truth about some other thing. When salvation came to me, and I was baptised into the body of Christ, my life became accountable to this whole corpus. The lie of Individuality and the pursuit of personal happiness is a lie of the West. Violence is born out of fear, and our fear cannot rest if we feel that we are alone in this world. When believers begin to truly share their lives with one another, and offer a lifestyle that is actually different than that of the world around us, then we can begin to show people a better way. Until then, we are just shouting into the cacaphony of voices in the public arena.

    We can cut out violence from media, forgetting that our Scriptures are full of blood and gore; and we can make laws about guns, forgetting that change begins with hearts and minds. Let’s live as Christians were intended to live, and the affect of Christ in our world will be undeniable and unambiguous. We need to move away from the shallow conversations and get into the mess of the real issues. A violent movie can be good or bad, depending on the point of the violence and the depth of the message. Gun laws can be good or bad, depending on whether they are addressing the deeper problems, or satisfying the lowest common denominator.

  • Merv Olsen

    8 Good question and insight , Ray …. How is it that these violence-oriented stimuli & entertainment are so popular to begin with? In other words, there must already be “something” there in the population to which these entertainment companies are appealing, a “something” which attracts viewers/participants – and thus sells products – like no other.

    I don’t know the answer to that except by simplistically saying it all goes back to Cain killing his brother.

    What bothers me – because we can make a difference here – is that so many Christians I know DO allow violence into their lives via movies, video games, computer devices.

    For me violence is out – no guns, no war movies, no violent movies, no computer games etc. I never played football as a young person because of the possible injuries that would probably result.

    Even IF it was proved there is no correlation between violent images etc and actual violence (which I seriously doubt), Life is too short to waste on such ridiculous pursuits that involve violence in any of its many forms.

    I have enough challenges and stresses in my life without adding violence in any form. As a teacher I have always encouraged students to do THEIR best – not have a super competitive spirit. Too many kids are up-tight and are unable to relax. They need to learn how to be still and destress – not add more stress through violent type games (actual or virtual).

    Paul advises all Christians: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

    Legislating against violence (e.g. gun control) will only achieve minimal results – but minimal results are better than none!

    More importantly, however, is that people see me as a man of peace – and through my witness (words and deeds) be attracted to the Prince of Peace…King Jesus.

  • ft

    From a literalist biblical standpoint, is there a relationship between trusting in weapons and chariots and trusting in guns? I feel that the discussion has overtones of fear… that if we don’t have access to guns, especially the kind that kill multiple people quickly, then we will not be able to defend ourselves against a tyrannical government. That’s kind of like trusting in guns. I know that’s so literalist in interpretation but it seems to fit.

  • Chris White

    Amanda F. @3
    Not only is it an over simplification of what I wrote–you missed the whole point. If you re-read it you will see that I mention the need to tighten the reins on the availability of guns along with dealing with the issue at the root problem–the evil in our souls. In speaking to believers in Jesus Christ–we would quite the hypocrites if we allow violence into our homes via the media listed and all the while cry foul about the proliferation of guns. If by “we” in your second paragraph you are talking about the citizens of the USA, then no–as a whole, the citizens of the USA cannot be expected to emulate Jesus–but neither can they stop with violence. It is part and parcel of our societal make-up. the big picture you waved away.

    Prodigal Daughter @5 Read what I just wrote to Amanda F. above. Do you really think laws can stop evil? The people caught up in doing these mass killings are not going to be deterred by laws–they could care less. If anyone thinks changing the laws about guns will stop evil–now that is pie in the sky utopia. Nevertheless, there are things we can do to limit the availability of guns.

    Sam B. @9 Thank-you and well said.

  • Mike M

    You don’t get it: we live in a paranoid, violent, revengeful society that believes, like our “sancrosanct” government that violence is the answer to violence. Our war drones have killed way more than 26 lives of children and even more adult deaths. We continue to slaughter millions of children in the name of “freedom of choice,” and we kill our own citizens without trial by jury in the idol worship of the “War on Terrorism.” Wake up and smell the poison.

  • Jim

    I had an opportunity to meet with Stanley Hauerwas during the first Gulf War. We talked some about the media coverage and especially those grainy images of buildings or trucks in the crosshairs that had been targeted. It seemed that the military briefings loved to show those. You could see the rockets flash in and the buildings explode.

    I asked him, being someone who had written and spoken so pointedly about violence, if he watched the news coverage of the war.

    He replied: “No. I find it far too sexy.”

    I’ve thought about that reply a lot. Is the sexiness in the images? Or is the ‘sexiness of violence’ in ourselves?

    That language sure points to how compelling, captivating and arousing images of violence are. Seems germane to the discussion: is the issue violent images in media or violent longings in ourselves?

    Maybe Freud had more to say than we thought…sex and violence.

    Incidentally…Scot…You can add shows like Dateline and the news in general to the list.

  • Prodigal Daughter

    @ Chris White: I never claimed that laws would stop evil/violence. I do think they can help lessen them to a degree. But I also think its a utopian ideal to think that this side of eternity we can stop violence by converting one soul at a time. Can it lessen evil? Sure, but even Christ’s most ardent followers are still capable of great evil. We only need to look to history to see great violence that has been done in God’s name by his followers.

    I suppose what really struck a chord with me in your initial post was the tone of moral superiority. If you want to give a verbal tongue lashing, have enough humility to include yourself as a target. You have to earn your right to talk down to everyone else. Your second post was much more engaging. :)

  • Ray

    @Merv – yes, it does go back to Cain. I wouldn’t say that’s simplistic at all, as those early stories in Genesis are giving us a theological (& etiological?) window by which to view our own selves even today.

    @Jim – cf. my post above. Your points echo exactly the question I was getting at (Of course Hauerwas has a much more colorful way of putting it).

    In my limited estimation, this is an important part of the big picture of violence in America. What is going on in our culture – both on an individual level & a collective level – that allows violent media and products to gain such popularity and influence in the first place?

  • Alex K.

    This being a anecdotal example, of why I am in favor of people being able to own guns. My wife works at a hospital and a young male broke and entered a house that a elderly woman was living and was present. She shot the guy and was able to call the police. The current gun laws do not stop criminals from getting guns.
    Yes in other countries the gun crime is down, but violent crime is not. Rapes and other crimes are up per capita. We should push for personal responsibility and not further punish the people who are responsible. We are able to do that with cars, why not guns?

  • Chris White

    Prodigal Daughter @17,

    Peace. I am sorry you took my first post as having a morally superior attitude–I still don’t see how it is after re-reading it–it was certainly not meant to be. I was not implying at all that winning one heart at a time would stop the violence. It won’t. It will only stop the violent behavior from that one heart. What is utopia is the thinking we can stop the violence 100%. We might be able to slow it down now and again–maybe. There is so much simplistic thinking out there trying to stop the kind of evil that happened at Newtown. We humans think we can control it, subdue it, drug it, put it in secure hospitals, legislate it, shout it down, out-think it, and prevent it from rearing its ugly and devastating head. We can’t. We can try. We ought to try. But we cannot stop it. It will happen again and again. It is sad. It is demonic. It is what Jesus can to defeat. It will only be subdued completely when He returns as King and Lord.

    We have a hard of enough time dealing with it within our own breasts, within our own mind. We pray lead us not into temptation and forgive us our sins. We know its power to deceive. It is times like that Friday the nation should be called to repentance rather than self-sufficiency. Again…Peace.

  • Chris White

    Last sentence in first paragraph: what Jesus “came” to defeat.

  • Amanda F

    @Chriswhite

    Again, sorry about the oversimplification and failure to mention that I agree with you that legislation isn’t the answer. Absolutely! My concern is less with the USA legislative response than that of the church.

    I believe that Jesus will return and defeat sin and death. I long for that reality with a deep ache. I certainly do not believe in some kind of nice utopia where we just agree to believe certain things and live in a certain way and evil just goes away.

    But, I do believe that the Holy Spirit commissioned Church has far, far more power and authority than we give it credit for when we assume everything is always going to get worse until Jesus comes and fixes everything.

    I’ve had to wrestle very deeply with hope this past year. I’m fortunate to be part of a church that has challenged me, though the work of the Spirit in community, to walk in hope instead of cynicism. And this after walking with Jesus for 12 years and always being a part of a church family. This was and continues to be an intense spiritual battle. Intense.

    However, I would say that my ache for the church to wrestle with the way of Jesus and live in the power and authority we have been collectively given has grown enormously alongside my ache for the Lord’s return. I don’t even know what all of that even means! But I know must fight to walk forward in hope and expect the greater things.

    This year, I’d like to resolve to spend less time trying to figure out everything intellectually, and to press forward all the more into community and watching the mysterious work of the spirit unfold as he moves more of us into hope and so deeply into his arms that we can and will start to look our cultural idols in the face and pray about what our response is.

  • Chris White

    Amanda F. @22.

    Peace. Thanks for your response. Although Jesus and his early followers did not try to solve their societal shortcomings via changes in the law, but one heart at a time–well–they really couldn’t–unless they fulfilled the Jewish notion of the Messiah -ruler by force. Some religious folk are also desiring to change things via changes in the law here in the USA (and other countries) [hence the Religious Right and Left). They tried and for the most part–failed. And all the while clouding the mission of the church to both the believers and the not-yet-believers.

    There is a hue and cry for gun change laws–it may become a reality. This is a viable political option we Americans have. What Americans generally have lost sight of–laws don’t change people as you agreed and the Israelites have found out since Mt. Sinai.

    Granted, the Holy Spirit can move both on the Church and on this nation to make substantial changes to curb violence or other evils. We can pray for this. But Americans have made choices about their lifestyle that for the most part rejects the influence of the Spirit. I think we as Christians can be the conduit of just such a change by our first repenting of letting the violent and sinful effects of our society rule our spending. If every believer stopped buying the killing games, etc. it would be a start. Nevertheless, the choices of our society have consequences. Peace.


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