Guns AND Religion?

During Obama’s first go-round in 2008, there was a big flare-up surrounding his comment about rural voters bitterly clinging to guns or religion. It was the equivalent of Romney’s inelegant 47% remark from this past fiasco election.

I’ve already gone on the record about guns here: “Those Immune to Violence Arm and Disarm.” I hope I made myself clear. I am not impressed or persuaded by either side of the Newtown-fueled gun aftermath. I wrote, “I don’t have any solutions because I remain unconvinced that we have truly understood the problem — gun advocates and apologists alike be damned.”

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The Twitter and Facebook noise has simmered down on one side of the issue (with a few annoying and predictable exceptions). There are no more breast-beating choirs demanding that we melt all guns or insisting that gun ownership makes you a serial killer or a Republican.

While this herd has apparently calmed down and moved to other pastures, there is a disturbing stream of meme’s and other social media apologetics on behalf of guns and against gun control.

Look: I don’t want to embarrass anybody and I am not trying to be nasty about this. I understand that it’s easy to get caught up in something like this amidst the new media flurry. I got rather carried away with Notre Dame football this season and we all saw how that turned out. Oh boy. How embarrassing!

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Obama was wrong about the rural “guns or religion” comment. For one, there are many young professionals who don’t know the first thing about guns who are all up in arms about  them right now. Not just farmers. People who admit having zero interest in guns before recently, and no use for them, are buying them and clinging to them somehow. Why? Because the ideological winds are blowing them in that direction. The right is buying guns for the same, stupid reasons the lefties call for banning them entirely. Know-nothings, on both sides.

What is perhaps more disturbing is the second point that Obama got wrong: it is not an either/or between guns or religion. It has become a both/and. There are many people—who I won’t single-out here—who equivocate their guns and their religion, together. And I don’t mean “the religion of guns” or the “state religion of gun ownership” or something clever and esoteric like that. What I mean is that there are creepy, growing signs that some people are beginning to get too close to being comfortable with something like this: 

The prevailing argument seems to be that owning a gun is a God given right, established by the Divinely inspired Constitution of the United States of America. Okay. I take it back. Maybe I really do mean that it is a state religion of gun ownership. But this argument is also being used in tandem with other things, including the generic religious faith of Christianity, not to mention Catholicism. More and more, it seems that being personally opposed to gun ownership or supportive of any degree of gun regulation is reason to be caricatured as downright unchristian.

Don’t forget: I’m not an anti-gun loon. But I am also not ready to hand over the conversation to people who seem to be willing to ignore their own religion’s long-standing tradition, especially when it directly speaks up on the matter at hand—as the Catholic Church did via Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Press Office of the Holy See, on Vatican Radio. The title is revealing: “Against Arms.”

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Obama was at his most insulting in his “guns or religion” comment when he insinuated that there’s something wrong with clinging to one’s religion, to faith. But at least he had the sense to separate the two. Sadly, there are more than just a few of my Catholic brothers and sisters who are clinging to guns and religion right now, ignoring the absolute fact that there is nothing intrinsically harmonious about them.

I struggle with the Vatican’s rather absolutist statement about arms. I can understand the spirit of the message, but the letter of it seems overly privileged and European to me. I think it needs more nuance. As a Catholic, I am not forced to take it hook-line-and-sinker, but I certainly cannot willfully ignore it and I should never flaunt something that goes in the opposite direction. Even if I doubt or dissent in my heart, that should remain there to be wrestled and reasoned with, not in a Facebook meme or another, tired-out jingo about how American gun control is the moral equivalent of the genocidal intentions of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.

Our Holy Father knows a thing or two about the lessons of Nazism. He also knows this: even when we fail to cling to Christ, he clings to us and will never let us go. Cling to that and that alone. Cling to love.

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