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Praise the Lord...Pass the Ammunition?

Is gun violence a spiritual issue?

It was a patriotic song written in 1942 by Frank Loesser in response to the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor.  “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” was apparently uttered by a chaplain on the U. S. S. New Orleans.  Whether it was said by a chaplain or not is debatable.  Someone said it and heard it and wrote a song about it to support the war effort.

Religion and violence.  They don’t have to be linked, but often they are.  Many have made the case that all religions should be eradicated from a civilized society because they only breed war and destruction.

It’s naïve to suggest that we can remove faith, devotion, belief, and myth from the psyche and human experience.  A case can be made that we are by nature religious creatures always searching for meaning; we have a deep desire to be devoted to someone or something larger than ourselves.  We need a God or gods to worship.  Even atheists have their gods.

The Reformed theologian John Calvin (1509-1564) said the human mind is a factory of idols. He was right. We always create images or things or personas to worship (often not worthy of our devotion).  Look at our fascination with shows such as American Idol or our enthrallment with celebrities or the Baltimore mania/adoration/idolatrous obsession with the Ravens - this is not to judge, but simply an observation (as a Ravens fan).

It’s the nonchalant way we easily connect religion and violence that concerns me most, especially when it comes to the national conversation around gun violence and gun control.  For some, having a gun or protecting the rights to own a gun has become a kind of idol demanding obeisance and religious zeal from its followers. Gary Wills recently made this case in a provocative column.  He writes, “…the fact that the gun is a reverenced god can be seen in its manifold and apparently resistless powers.”

Some say gun control is a political issue.  Others say it’s a mental health issue.  Others, still, say it’s a health care issue.  I agree with James E. Atwood who suggests that it’s essentially a spiritual issue.  In his recent book America and Its Guns: A Theological Exposé (Cascade Books, 2012), Atwood asks an important question, posed directly to religious communities, specifically to Christians: “Many people of faith dare with some frequency, to call this a ‘Christian nation.’ Polls continue to show most Americans hold some religious faith, with Christianity claimed most often.  How then does our self-identification as followers of the Prince of Peace relate to what can at least minimally be called a fascination with violence?”*

That’s my point.  Why as a nation is the United States so violent?  Why are Americans so fascinated with violence?  Movies. Video games. Television.  Sports.  Are our lives in American society so boring, so shallow, so meaningless that we have to turn to violence to be entertained?  The majority of Americans say they believe in God, but what God? Who is this God?  

I’ll even go out on a limb here and raise a pointed question to the Christian community: have our theological claims about what took place through the violence of a cross – and Jesus’ crucifixion was violent – somehow made us numb to the violence that surrounds us on a daily basis?  In other words, some Christians think redemption is only possible through violence, through suffering, namely Christ’s.  Has the cross as a symbol of human brutality and violence toward God somehow, unwittingly, justified violence, somehow made it “holy”? If not holy, then at least acceptable?  Has our toleration for violence within Christian theology made us numb to the amount of violence in our society, leaving us emotionally frozen to the next shooting?  I wonder.

Religion doesn’t have to be violent.  True religion is rooted in love and compassion and reconciliation and the celebration of life – affirming the inherent value of each individual.  

Whether one is religious or not, whether one is a theist or atheist, we need to be aware of our idols.  The reason idols were considered dangerous in the Hebrew (and later Christian) scriptures was because the Israelites knew that we become what we worship.  Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) made a similar point:  “That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our life and our character.  Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.”  What are we as a society worshipping?  What are we becoming?

*On Sunday, February 17, 5:00 p.m.,the Reverend James Atwood will be speaking at Hunting Ridge Presbyterian Church, 4640 Edmondson Avenue, Baltimore, MD, 21229. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

rc February 19, 2013 at 03:41 PM
Mary Ann, So I understand, are you saying that an individual who is forced by circumstance to make a conscious decision to defend themselves, family, or fellow citizens, by staring down the sights are not doing that out of love and for the preservation of good? Your first post was the jabbering rant of an individual who lives in an imaginary world cushioned by padded walls of a false security. Your second post proves that you live in a "code compliant" straw house and expect others to live in “code compliant” straw houses even though we both know there is a chance that the wolf could run low on bacon. I love my piglets more than my (to this point sustained) ideals of peaceful happy bliss. Back in the real world now… Out of love, I would choose to be prepared to make a quick and permanent decision if left no other recourse for the preservation of good. Sorry about the metaphor, I thought you might need it explained in the context of a fairytale. Building Code Hint: If you build your house out of straw don’t build your expectations out of brick. Regards rc
Mary Ann February 19, 2013 at 05:27 PM
rc - Your bluster and diminishment have probably served you well. Actually, my life hasn't been so padded. I appreciate when things are good, having come out of a few struggles (I prefer understatement to hyperbole). I know what it looks like before a person pulls the trigger on you; I've been shot. I find my peace as best I can. You sound very angry and fearful. We all have a lot to lose. Our nation is the only one among its peers that hugs its ammo (I already know your response to that!). Look, you guys win - there's no way you'll give it up. Your rhetoric bespeaks the blood you'll spill when threatened. Which again, proves Ken's point.
rc February 20, 2013 at 05:51 AM
Mary Ann, To clarify your perception of me, I'm a happy camper and I only break out my "bluster and diminishment" to get the attention of those individuals who may have the ability to see beyond the end of their nose. Unfortunately most of these people are bound to remain cross-eyed. Speaking to which their guile and hypocrisy amaze me. The ones that go on the soft spoken attacks of personal rights under the guise of public safety are often the same ones that would make childish jabs associating religion and guns (site the above article) if someone with an ethos steps in to defends those rights from the threat of elimination. There lays the difference between us. I could not attempt to comprehend how your incident galvanized your personal views, yet you would support politicians that are hell-bent on changing citizens’ personal freedoms. Where does it stop when the failstop is gone? Since I don't know the circumstances of your situation I won't speak to it anymore other than to wish the best of health to you in the future.
rc February 20, 2013 at 05:51 AM
Mary Ann, To clarify your perception of me, I'm a happy camper and I only break out my "bluster and diminishment" to get the attention of those individuals who may have the ability to see beyond the end of their nose. Unfortunately most of these people are bound to remain cross-eyed. Speaking to which their guile and hypocrisy amaze me. The ones that go on the soft spoken attacks of personal rights under the guise of public safety are often the same ones that would make childish jabs associating religion and guns (site the above article) if someone with an ethos steps in to defends those rights from the threat of elimination. There lays the difference between us. I could not attempt to comprehend how your incident galvanized your personal views, yet you would support politicians that are hell-bent on changing citizens’ personal freedoms. Where does it stop when the failstop is gone? Since I don't know the circumstances of your situation I won't speak to it anymore other than to wish the best of health to you in the future.
Mary Ann February 20, 2013 at 01:36 PM
rc After this, I'm done. I'm as capable as anyone in using terms like "guile and hypocrisy", "citizen's personal freedoms", and "childish jabs" - but viewed from a different lens, and focusing very clearly on a different populations and concepts. Correct, you don't know my circumstances, and I don't know yours. Perhaps we shouldn't presume to know Ken Kovacs's? My last posit is to suggest we change our national currency to NOT say "In God...", to "In Guns We Trust".

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