I was over on a work-related trip to the US last week. There are lots of things I love about America. The people are hugely generous and hospitable. I’ve been fortunate to have great friends and colleagues who are American. There is such energy, enthusiasm and optimism. There is a wonderful climate with proper winters and proper summers. The landscapes are fantastic and the sheer scale of the place is liberating; it’s the best place in the world for a road trip. All sorts of things seem possible.
And then there are things that I know I’ll never really get about the US. Last week, before the indescribably horrific events in Connecticut, I was taken to a huge sports store (photo). A large proportion of it was taken up with what can only be described as everything needed to start a small war. Combat gear, telescopic sights, every sort of bullet, pistols, semi-automatics, rifles and sub-machine guns. All there for purchase with ID. The place was packed with men, women, families – all window shopping and buying guns.
Yes, I get the idea about the self-defence, freedom and the ‘sport’ of range shooting and hunting.
Scot McKnight has a good post on this
that asks good questions beyond surface simplicities. Worth reading, especially on asking questions about America’s ‘cognitive dissonance” between violence at home and overseas American military action that leads to civilian communities being destroyed by US Drone attacks – the President grieving over one and ordering the other.
The narrative seems to buy uncritically that American is the land of God-given freedom. That freedom is tied up in the individual’s right to bear arms. Freedom is enforced through violence or the threat of violence. Normally, it is the state (police) that is mandated to enforce law and order through violence if necessary. In America, it seems to be accepted that it is OK to have an ad hoc army of self-armed citizens operating in parallel to the state.
But OK, let’s get beyond the idea that America (or any nation) is a ‘Christian’ country. What I struggle to understand is the enthusiastic and active involvement in this gun culture by so many American Christians (and I know many others are as baffled by this as I am). By gun culture I mean a culture that puts trust in violence to solve problems and bring ‘peace’. That blithely seems to assume that I, the individual, am righteous enough not only to use violence for ‘just’ ends, but also that I am beyond making fatal mistakes and beyond the corruption that the power over life and death brings. Which leads, in some places, to numerous Christians turning up at church armed and where churches employ armed guards?
How can Christians (of all people), with a supposedly developed and realistic sense of human sin, be so unself-critical? My theory – is this the dark side of American optimism about human nature? And the church (or part of it) has bought into it without a second thought?
Comments, as ever, welcome