I love my guns. To me, they’re beautiful tools. No different than the ancient hand drill passed down from my father, or the simple, bone-handled pocketknife I carry.
I marvel at the craftsmanship of these utilitarian devices, the grain of a gun’s stock, its deeply blued barrels, the simplicity of design. Each brings back memories of a day in the field with friends, family and dogs.
But unless I’m hunting or at the range, these tools — except for my grandfather’s worn, non-functioning side-by-side hanging above the hearth — are locked in a heavy safe bolted to the floor. Beautiful as they are, guns are tools designed to kill.
So while I find pleasure and beauty in these dangerous instruments, I do not worship them.
Ironically, I feel much the same about the Bible. After years struggling to escape from a conservative Christian upbringing, I view the word of God not as the restrictive, intimidating book of rules I was taught, but rather a beautiful tool for living a good life.
Yet like my guns, in the wrong hands the Bible can be a destructive weapon — certainly not as deadly as an assault rifle, but still capable of severely damaging the hearts, minds and lives of those on whom it is trained. Which is exactly what is happening today in America.
We are weaponizing God and worshiping guns.
To a growing, predominantly male sect, firearms — especially assault weapons — have become holy idols, and the right to carry them, as Mike Pence recently proclaimed at the national NRA convention, a “God given” liberty. At the same time, Christian nationalists are using the Bible as a cultural cudgel in the raging war on race, abortion, transgender identity and other so-called “liberal-woke” issues.”
“Like my guns, in the wrong hands the Bible can be a destructive weapon.
For the majority of Americans appalled at our nation’s firearm-fueled slaughter of our own, and those of us accepting of culture change and the expansion of human rights, it’s easy to look with distain on such idol worship, the distortion of God’s word, and those who perpetuate both.
But before we condemn such beliefs and behavior, we need to consider the power and impact of the cultural and societal change we’re experiencing and the fear it’s fueling — a fear as old and complex as humanity itself.
For historic context we need to look no further than the Bible, specifically Exodus, chapter 32, and the tale of the Golden Calf.
Having fled Egypt, the Israelites are in the midst of their famous 40-year road trip when their leader, Moses, gets a call from God to meet God in the mountains so God can lay down the law, so to speak.
When days pass with no sign of their leader’s return, the Israelites, stuck in the desert with little more than the food and water God has provided, grow antsy and a bit grumpy. (Think sitting on the tarmac in an economy seat on a storm-delayed flight for hours with little communication from the pilot and nothing but pretzels and water to eat and drink.)
Finally, convinced their leader and his God have walked out on them, and uncertain of their future, they melt the bling they were wearing and carrying, create an idol, to which they offer sacrifices, and then party. As you know from reading the Scripture or watching the movie, it doesn’t end well. Moses finally shows up, loses it and quickly, but with a helping of death and destruction, quells the revolt.
Centuries later, beset by change and uncertainty, America finds itself in a similar situation. If the existential threat of climate change and the extinction of species weren’t enough, we’re finally realizing that modernity, despite its advances, has a dark downside.
We find ourselves in an increasingly wobbly world, a digitalized, demographically shifting universe we don’t understand and can’t control. Globalization threatens America’s standing in the world culturally, economically and strategically. The flavor of our melting pot nation continues to change, with immigration and wokeness threatening our traditional (white, male, Christian) position and power in culture, community and politics.
“Facing such fear and uncertainty, many of us, like the Israelites centuries ago, are reverting to idols and false gods.”
Add a Bible worthy pandemic, a former president who wants to be king and a digital Greek chorus belting out a never-ending medley of fake news and bogus conspiracies, and you get the picture. Facing such fear and uncertainty, many of us, like the Israelites centuries ago, are reverting to idols and false gods. Even worse, we’re practicing human sacrifice on a daily basis.
So how, with the rise of a vindictive, nationalistic God, the idolization of AR15s and no new Moses in sight, do we reclaim the sense of optimism and unity that has marked the better times of our democracy?
As insurmountable as it sounds, we can start by restoring both guns and a loving God to their proper places in American culture and putting more faith in ourselves and others.
We must put down our weapons of choice be they guns, holy books, partisan politics or self-preservation and instead turn to honest, open dialogue, a far safer, more productive tool in explosive situations such as ones we face today.
And, difficult though it may be, who better to start the conversation than those of faith who believe in an accepting God, and gun owners who believe in commonsense regulations? Strange bedfellows to be sure, but bedfellows with a common goal: restoring our beautiful tools to the peaceful purposes for which they were created.
Scott Spreier is a Texas-based writer and consultant. An avid-bird hunter, former NRA-trained firearm instructor and veteran, he also serves as a senior ambassador for Giffords Gunowners for Safety, which supports reasonable firearm regulations. He is an active member of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas.
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