I had the opportunity to interview Mike Austin about his book God and Guns in America. The transcript follows below, with my questions in bold.
What led you to write God and Guns in America?
I saw people, including many Christians, who were very confident about their views, but many of the arguments they offered seemed shallow to me, or at least not strong enough to justify that confidence. This is true for people at both ends of the ideological spectrum. That motivated me to write a few blog posts at my blog at Psychology Today, Ethics for Everyone. I was then invited to take part in a debate in the Christian Research Journal. From there, my interest and involvement in the issue grew. Eerdmans was interested in publishing a book for the general reader, not just other scholars, and I jumped at the chance. I wanted to work through the relevant biblical material for myself, and consider the strongest arguments offered by people for the different perspectives on this issue. Deaths by gun violence are steadily increasing year over year, and we must not simply accept this, especially because there are things we can do to reduce such deaths, and all of the related trauma.
Who are some of the thinkers that have influenced you? (If people have read them, they’ll likely also want to read you!)
I’ve been strongly influenced by Dallas Willard, in his understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ, and that influence shows up in all of my work, I think. Others who have influenced me include C.S. Lewis, Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, Marlena Graves, Richard Foster, Jim Wallis, and Rob Schenck. Further back in history, Kierkegaard, Aristotle, and Aquinas have influenced me in many ways, too.
As events have unfolded since your book appeared, such as what happened on January 6th, did you feel as though your writing was prophetic?
I did not see it coming, so while I wasn’t prophetic, I think the events of January 6th are a natural result of many of the issues I discuss in my book: easy access to guns, Christian nationalism, the blend of faith, family, patriotism, and gun ownership, and the ways that gun culture in the United States has transformed from a focus on sport and hunting to self-defense and defense against “tyranny”. My book came out in May of 2020, during the beginning months of the pandemic when schools were shut down. One byproduct of that was the reduction in mass shootings at schools, and elsewhere. Sadly, as our society has opened back up, such shootings are on the rise again. I recall saying in a few interviews at the time that my book is not as timely as it might have been, given the reduction in such shootings, but if things don’t change it will become very relevant again. And that has come true, sadly.
What do you feel was your biggest unexpected discovery or “aha moment” when writing?
My views about violence and war has always fallen within the just war tradition. I believed that violence can be and is justified, under certain conditions. I’ve respected pacifism and pacifists, though I disagreed with them. But my study of these issues while writing this book made me see the strength of the case for pacifism, from the perspective of politics, morality, and Christian theology. While I would not say I am, strictly speaking, a pacifist, I would say I am as close to it as you can get without actually being one. The burden of proof for anyone who wants to baptize any form of violence as justified by Christian teachings is much greater than I had previously believed, and that has really had big impact on my understanding of what the Hebrew Bible and New Testament have to say about these issues. In particular, one of the biggest aha moments I had was when I studied John 2:13-22, where Jesus cleanses the temple of the moneychangers. People use this passage to justify injuring or killing others, but nobody was injured or killed in this passage. I find that to be a fascinating commentary on how we use Scripture, and what it says about us.
What three takeaway points or other things do you think would persuade readers of my blog that your book is one they should get, whether for themselves or as a gift for others (or both)?
- Regardless of your position on guns, my book offers common ground for people on the right and the left, and argues that there are things we can do to protect the rights of responsible gun owners while reducing gun violence in America.
- I discuss several of the most prevalent myths about guns and gun violence, myths that are present across the political spectrum. If we get past these myths and uncover what is true, we can make some progress on this issue.
- I also explore the most cited biblical passages by people in the gun debates, and offer an ethical approach to guns and gun violence grounded in the Bible and Christian thought.