Guns and faith: Who is the NRA calling a 'good guy'?

The Christian religious tradition allows for none of this self-congratulatory delusion that we are the good people, assured of a special standing. Or that we should be toting guns everywhere without limitations.
The scene of the Aurora, Colo. shooting in 2012, the day after the crime.

The scene of the Aurora, Colo. shooting in 2012, the day after the crime. Algr/Wikipedia

A sculpture outside the U.N. headquarters in New York

A sculpture outside the U.N. headquarters in New York Island Nimbus/Flickr

In the days following the murderous rampage in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec. 14, I was hopeful when I heard that the National Rifle Association was going to break with its standard policy of not commenting on such events of gun violence.

Finally, I thought, this immensely powerful organization that has done so much to re-define the Second Amendment and to politicize any and all attempts to rationally limit gun sales and ownership has had its conscience awakened. The murder of so many children has shaken even the NRA. Finally, even they cannot stand it. They will say,  “No more,” or “We repent,” or “This isn’t working.”

I should have known better.

Instead, National Rifle Association President, Wayne LaPierre said, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” The answer — why didn’t I see this coming? — is more guns. The answer is arm the good guys.

LaPierre only puts bluntly, and succinctly, a world view that is now commonplace in American culture: that the world can be divided into the good guys and bad guys. This is stock-in-trade of the movie industry and the genre of film made by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and countless others. After 9/11 it became the framing rhetoric of then President Bush who spoke often of Americans as “good and compassionate.”

I want to try to think about this framework from a faith perspective, that is, from a theological perspective and as a Christian. I understand that this is not everyone’s moral framework, but it is mine and it is framework that still plays a significant role in American society — however misunderstood.

For Christians the world does not divide between the good guys and the bad guys. The Apostle Paul in his great summa of the Christian faith, his Letter to the Romans, insisted — quoting the Old Testament — that, “There is no one who is righteous, not even one.” And that, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Note the key words, “no one” and “all.”

As a moral system Christianity is built around the idea of human sinfulness — the conviction that not just some people, but all people, have a built-in tendency toward evasion, corrosive self-interest and self-deception. And not just some, but all people are violent — at least potentially.

I understand that Paul’s theology, which is really that of the entire Bible, will come as a surprise and shock to many, not least self-proclaimed Christians who understand themselves as the good guys. It will also be unwelcome by many of today’s positive thinkers who are convinced of what David Brooks called, “our inner wonderfulness” as human beings.

But older traditions of faith were deeper; deeper and more honest. Citing such doctrines as “original sin,” they taught that all people, not just some, were capable of and vulnerable to self-deception. Those assured of their own righteousness and goodness were, in such ways of thinking, most at risk — which is why Jesus said the prostitutes and tax-collectors (legally sanctioned swindlers in that culture) would enter heaven before “the good people.” Such classical Christian thought, now largely forgotten in the general dumbing down, knew that all human beings are at least potentially violent, potentially murderous.

The world does not divide into “good guys” and “bad guys.” We wish that it did. If it did, it would be easy. For everyone thinks they are the good guys.

A latter day Christian, who understood and conveyed this faith with its hard truths was the Russian novelist, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who wrote the following from the Russian gulag:

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart . . . This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of goodness is retained. And even in the best of all hearts there remains . . . an uprooted small corner of evil.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jan 3, 7:14 a.m. Inappropriate

I'd only add that mental illness is not related to the good vs. evil continuum whatsoever.

Posted Thu, Jan 3, 7:38 a.m. Inappropriate

The framers of the Constitution understood that "those who have been given a particular role and responsibility, like police and military" cannot be trusted when a despot rules. When the law is what the G says it is, as has been the case since the Patriot Act passed, folks can no longer "hold them legally accountable for the use of such lethal power." Where is the legal accountability for "extraordinary rendition," secret prisons, and all the rest of the extra-legal tactics employed in "the war on terror?" Your argument, as a man of faith, is to put faith in the military, the police, and the law. Yet, by your own argument, these are all human institutions and therefore subject to weakness, failure, and evil. Your faith correctly reposes in God, not Man and his institutions. I'm not arguing with you about guns, but about faith.

gadfly

Posted Thu, Jan 3, 8:39 a.m. Inappropriate

"You limit access to those who have been given a particular role and responsibility, like police and military, and you hold them legally accountable for the use of such lethal power."


The author has a tremendous faith in government institutions. It's not a faith that our founders shared. They realized that although it is the duty of government to protect us as citizens, it is also our duty as citizens to protect ourselves from an eminently corruptible institution like government. Every power that the government has is a privilege granted to it by the people. But people cannot grant to others that which they don't have. If the people don't have a right to use lethal force in self defense, neither can the government. Government already claims unto itself the "right" to initiate the use of force against its citizens. That's a right that no one has. Imagine the "rights" that government could assume for itself if the Constitution did not set down lines it could not cross.

dbreneman

Posted Fri, Jan 4, 7:23 a.m. Inappropriate

Baloney. The framers gave no indication that they sought to empower individuals to attack their government with guns. Well-regiulated militias were not envisioned as a means to empower either treason or civil war (which is what you're suggesting), but to allow states and citizens to protect themselves. Where do you feel the constitution or federalist papers suggest what you're saying? If anyone was counting on citizens going up against the US military as a way to protect democracy, they were not thinking things through - and if that's what people are arming themselves to do, it certainly doesn't make me feel safer!

If we want to protect ourselves from despots, we have no choice but to find a way to make our government and its separation of powers work effectively. The problem with government today is that so many are dedicated to tearing it down rather than working together despite their differences to make it work.

Posted Mon, Jan 7, 9:51 a.m. Inappropriate

"Baloney. The framers gave no indication that they sought to empower individuals to attack their government with guns."

Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 28: "If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no resource left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government, and which against the usurpations of the national rulers, may be exerted with infinitely better prospect of success than against those of the rulers of an individual state."

In Federalist 46, James Madison talked about the militia, larger in size than the army, being a check on power of a potentially abusive national army. "It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops."

There are other examples of this "baloney" in the Federalist Papers, but I think this is enough to support my contention.

dbreneman

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