“God turned into an idol requires the shedding of blood.” —Gustavo Gutierrez
When we survey human history and the various societies that practiced human sacrifice, ritual murder, for the sake of the propitiation of some god, we ask: what god required such? Then, we congratulate ourselves that human moral evolution has brought us to a moment when we no longer purposely kill one or thousands to please some divinity. I say: not so fast. In the United States, we commit what amounts to human sacrifice at the rate of almost 90 men, women, and children a day to the god of the gun.
When we put our faith and trust in a created object to keep us safe, when that inanimate object becomes the source of our confidence, power, and even our self- respect, we have turned it into a fetish, an idol god. The problem with an idol is that its power is illusion and delusion. Holding a gun, we suffer the delusion that we are powerful, that we have some control, that we have evaded, for a moment, one important fact of the human condition: we are weak and vulnerable creatures.
Moreover, in the United States, people who worship the gun have lifted the second amendment of the Constitution to the level of holy writ. They use it to proof text the position that every American has a right to own a gun with few restrictions. They will not entertain the notion that the second amendment could be or ought to be repealed.
The problem with the idol god of the gun is that it is a dead object; it is an instrument of death. When we worship the gun we participate in the worship of death that derives its power from a constellation of lies, magical misdirection, smoke and mirrors that hide the deep injustice of a political-economy where one percent enjoys extraordinary wealth and everyone else lives on the edge of survival.
Make no mistake about it, gun violence, resistance to gun regulations, toxic them versus us politics, and income inequality are related. A political-economy that erodes the middle-class cannot tolerate unity among the various groups in society who, if they worked together, and voted their economic interests, would overturn that death-dealing system. Rather than working and voting in solidarity, various groups acquire weapons in the name of self-defense from stranger danger, self- defense from the dangerous Other. We are told that our lives and livelihoods are in jeopardy because the dangerous Other, the evil Other, wants to come and take our possessions and harm our families. In this political season we are told that we need to keep our guns to defend ourselves against mass shooters, terrorists, and even from a tyrannical government.
The truth is: most gun violence happens between people who know each other. Gun deaths from intimate partner violence, suicide, and accidents are the results of the worship of the gun. So, aside from new gun laws, it is important to disenthrall ourselves from the glamour of the gun.
During a town hall meeting hosted by CNN, Taya Kyle, the widow of Chris Kyle, the American sniper, asked President Obama why not find hope in statistics that show a decrease in crime. New gun control laws are not necessary. Another young woman who is a rape survivor thought the president’s proposals would hinder her from getting a gun that she wanted for self-defense. She is the mother of two young children. Nothing in President Obama’s executive actions would stop either of these women from buying or owning a gun.
I think it is important to note that Chris Kyle and his friend, Chad Littlefield, were killed on the gun range by a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Kyle mistakenly believed that the gun could help heal this person, so he put a lethal weapon in the hands of a disturbed individual. In a speech before the National Rifle Association, Taya Kyle spoke of good and evil and the gun as an instrument of protection against evil. This is interesting because when Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask that God will deliver us from evil not that a gun will.
Similarly, when we think of the Sandy Hook mass shooting where 20 children and six adults were killed in the school, Adam Lanza’s first victim was his mother. She legally purchased the guns and thought shooting would help her bond with a son who she knew was troubled. She was killed with weapons that she bought and kept in her house. Lanza’s final victim was himself.
When the young rape survivor spoke about wanting to keep a gun to protect her family both inside and outside of the home, I wondered if she planned to carry the gun with her when she was outside of the house with her small children. Would she carry the gun in her purse? Did she have any idea how quickly shooting incidents happen? Chances are she would not be able to shield her small children and pull a gun to ward off a threat at the same time. Is she aware that a child is killed with a gun in the United States on average every other day, many accidentally? Does she know the statistics that show the obvious, that a woman is more likely to be killed with a gun if she lives in a house with one? Women and children die more often from gun violence than men.
President Obama wants smart guns that will only fire if they are in the hands of the person programmed to use it. Why would anyone oppose this? The 2015 documentary by filmmaker Stanley Nelson – “The Black Panthers; Vanguard of the Revolution” – takes us back to a moment in American history when the Black Panther Party cited California law and the second amendment to assert their right to carry loaded firearms in public. They were determined to defend themselves and the black community from police brutality. During 1967 when Ronald Reagan was governor of California, politicians advocated gun control measures. Now white people assert the right to carry loaded weapons in open carry states. However, an African-American will be shot by the police for holding a toy weapon. Witness the killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African-American child who was shot in two seconds by Cleveland police.
The Panthers’ strategy of self-defense with guns was enough to cause them to be targets of the FBI and of local police. The most blatant murder was the assassination of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in Chicago. I say these state sponsored executions without benefit of trial were because Fred Hampton was a threat to the death-dealing political economy. He was working on trans-racial political coalitions that went beyond solidarity with leftist students or the radical chic. Hampton was forming coalitions with poor white people who also lived in substandard housing and lacked proper education and employment.
Nelson gives us footage of Hampton saying: “White power to white people; brown power to brown people; yellow power to yellow people; black power to black people.” Unity was and remains a threat to a system that has revealed the truth of its injustice to working class whites who have lost faith in the American dream as they succumb to suicide and drug addiction in higher and higher numbers. Some finally see that white-skin privilege does not help them. Some fall into despair while others turn to politicians who practice the politics of division.
Guns is the idol god of a system of lies intended to keep people divided according to race, immigration status, religion, sexual orientation, gender, and political ideology. And every day, we sacrifice nearly 90 people at the altar of the gun. Imagine a thousand years from now when archaeologists investigate our civilization. They will not find pits filled with thousands of corpses all sacrificed in one ritual to a blood-thirsty god, but they will find thousands of scattered graves of men and women, of little girls and little boys whose bodies bear the evidence of a fatal gunshot. They will ask: what were they thinking? What god required this?
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”
“God turned into an idol requires the shedding of blood.” —Gustavo Gutierrez