America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose
by James E. Atwood
Cascade Books, Eugene, Ore. 252 pages
reviewed by Ed White
Jim Atwood has written an excellent expose of the idolatry of guns in American culture and the manner in which the gun lobby has exploited this idolatry to make vast profits by inundating America with guns. The results have been devastating. Atwood, a Presbyterian teaching elder, writes: “Our country started keeping records of gun deaths in 1933. Since then 1.7 million have died at a gun barrel. More American citizens were killed with guns in the eighteen-year period between 1979 and 1997 (651,697) than all service men and women killed in battle in all of the United States wars since 1775. (650,658)” *
Atwood insists this is about idolatry. The Apostle Paul wrote: “Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the evil of spiritual forces in heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Idols require divine status: “Former NRA Executive Warren Cassidy did his best to give the idols of power and deadly force what they most need, a claim of divine status. He said ‘you would get a far better understanding of the NRA if you approached us as if you are approaching one of the great religions of the world.”
It has been said that when we gather around anyone less than God we become something less than human. Whenever we ascribe ultimate authority to anything other then God, that is properly defined as idolatry. Christians believe that salvation is a matter of life or death. Those who worship the gun god would have us believe that guns are a matter of life or death. The difference is that salvation offers life while guns offer death.
The gun lobby has promoted the myth that the more guns we have the safer we will be. The gun god has the ability to create fear in us. When we are gripped by fear we lose our humanity and our capacity to love. Possessing a gun can give us a false sense of security and power. But what happens to us when we exercise that power? For the past several years we have had more soldiers commit suicide than soldiers killed in the wars we are fighting.
Ancient cultures occasionally sacrificed children to their gods. But as Jim Atwood points out, “their numbers do not begin to approach the sacrifices of 3,285 children, which is America’s annual number of children under 18 who are killed unnecessarily by guns.”
Atwood cautions his readers against demonizing the opposition. He points out that a majority of the membership of the National Rifle Association believe that the goal of protecting the right to bear arms and the goal of making America a safe place to live are complementary, not contradictory. He believes that we can find common ground by eliminating loopholes and laws that allow illegal guns to be widely distributed.
He also calls on the Christian church to have the courage to speak the truth in love. He quotes Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter From A Birmingham Jail”: “The judgment of God is upon the church as never before.”
*See Appendix 1 in the book for a detailed accounting.
ED WHITE is a senior consultant with the Alban Institute.