In their first extended statements since the mass shooting in Newton, Conn., National Rifle Association representatives, advocated armed guards in schools. In their mind, this was the most immediate step that the nation ought to take to protect our children. But they did not speak about restrictions on guns or on high-capacity magazines.
The group’s advocacy for better mental health care and their denunciation of violent video games, movies, and songs was an old familiar approach to the problem. The idea of armed guards in schools fails to take into account the other locations of recent mass shootings—a shopping mall, a temple, a movie theater, a parking lot. The NRA solution does nothing to address the gun violence that takes lives every blessed day in the United Sates and across the globe. Their response keeps the gun above reproach. The gun occupies a place of reverence.
In the African American Christian tradition we often pray: “God Keep us sake from all hurt, harm and danger.” We pray to a God who holds the power of life and death, who has the ability to give and to take back the breath of life. We place our faith in and worship a Creator God who is Divine Love. God is ultimate.
However, when anyone places h/er faith in a created thing, in a less than ultimate being or object, that person has created an idol. Our worship is idolatry. And, make no mistake about it, idolatry is insidious. We may think that an idol is something crafted with the intent of representing a god, but this too is a deception.
In the wake of one of the worse mass killings in the history of the United States that left 20 children and eight adults dead, the question before each of us is whether or not we have made the gun a god. We expect our God to provide safety, sustenance and joy. Far too many of us look to the gun for safety. The gun provides food, and the gun is fun when we get a kick out of shooting just for entertainment.
When our fascinations with guns turn them from tools into an idol that commands our esteem, regard, deference, respect and even reverence, we are led astray into a land of lies and distortions. This is the danger of an idol. It feeds on our fears. It is a dead thing that requires devotion bought and paid for in the currency of blood and tears. When the gun becomes an idol god, it lulls us into thinking that its presence has the power to makes us safe when the complete opposite is true.
The gun can bring death, but it cannot bring life. It can neither bring more abundant life nor eternal life. The Bible warns from beginning to end against idolatry. The prophetic voice in Isaiah says:
To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him? An idol?
. . .
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless. (Isaiah 40)
When the gun becomes an idol god, the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution becomes holy writ interpreted with a mistaken exegetical emphasis on the portion that says: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” We overlook the portion of the amendment that says: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state. “ This was written before the United States developed the most powerful military in the history of humankind.
Still the notion that police, state national guard forces, the military or various weapons in our homes can keep us perfectly safe from the death-dealing chaos when madness and/or criminal intent pick up semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazines and starts to shoot is a chimera, an illusion.
Some believers ask: where was God when this waking nightmare happened in Newtown? God is love. God was present in every loving act that happened on that day in that place. God is present now as God gives us the strength to live through our grief. God gives humankind free will. The question is where is our love? Where is the radical love of God loving through us?
Will the truth of our love and faith in a Creator God who is ultimate overcome the idolatry of the gun?
Valerie Elverton Dixon, founder of JustPeaceTheory.com, is a former teacher of Christian ethics at Andover Newton (Mass.) Theological School and United Theological Seminary in Ohio. She is the author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”