It has happened again; another mass shooting, in a church sanctuary in Texas, and around an elementary school in California. Lately, it seems that we hardly get through one such massacre before the next one occurs. Whenever it happens in a religious sanctuary, such as in Shiite Muslim mosques in Iraq, or in the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. in 2015, it might feel different from other mass shootings. Aren’t those sanctuaries, where God is worshiped? Shouldn’t people be safe there?
But those who die to random violence and terrorism in concert venues, sports stadiums, schools, walking/jogging paths, movie theaters and marathons have just as much right to feel safe and secure. If “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” should not the whole planet be a sanctuary of security, peace and love?
We might even call all these victims, “martyrs,” because they die as sacrifices to the worship of violence, even, the religion of violence, especially, the idolatry of the gun. Make no mistake, the gun has become an idol, even a god, in its own right. Many people look to the gun for the power, worth, agency and security which the Bible says we are to seek and to find only in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This other god of metal, plastic and wood is another theophany (the self-revelation of a deity) of Mars, the Roman god of war, and Molech, who is remembered in the Bible for demanding the sacrifice of children.
The religion of the gun is missionary and evangelistic, growing and claiming its human sacrifices, both among the victims and the perpetrators. You can see such worship in TV shows and movies in which glamorous, strong characters, played by sex-symbol celebrities, wield the handgun or the machine gun like a religious icon, a supernatural wand with instant problem-solving powers. Shoot-em-up video games are like devotional exercises, drawing adherents into contemplative-like states of absorption, whose purposes include communion and union with the deity, and the transformation of the worshiper into the deity’s image and likeness. Such games were first developed by the U.S. military with the express purpose of overcoming and extinguishing the natural reluctance of new recruits to kill fellow human beings. The world’s militaries are like conveyor belts carrying our young into the sacrificial fires of Molech.
Wherever and whatever the setting, the lives lost to a mass shooting, along with our sense of connection and security, are equally as tragic and terrible. One difference pertaining to a mass shooting in a church, however, is the stark juxtaposition of two religious icons: the cross and the gun. On one icon, God accepted and triumphed over human violence, but nonviolently. With the other icon, humans inflict violence on the image of God in themselves and each other. The motivation for killing in a religious sanctuary may include a personal grudge, as it did at First Baptist of Sutherland, TX. Or it may be solely religious, as when jihadi terrorists assault Christian congregations during worship, in Nigeria. Either way, the image of God, in the cross and the human being, is under attack with another religious icon, the gun.
I say this not to demean nor disparage guns as mere tools, nor those who use them as such, responsibly, respectfully, with training and restraint, especially for law enforcement or hunting. I could make the case that, as long as one is not a strict vegetarian, guns are more ethical and humane tools for obtaining meat than is our current system of factory farming. Firearm-related sports like trap and skeet shooting, at the very least, reinforce good training and make one a more humane hunter.
But the guns on the market and in our homes increasingly resemble, and frankly are, military-grade weapons with no purpose other than the mass killing of human beings. Sheer love and respect for our community’s police officers should make that development patently absurd, even criminal. This development says to me that our minds and hearts are increasingly military-occupied territory, even, that an arms race is happening in our streets, our homes and in our hearts. The all-consuming terror of total and Mutually-Assured Destruction, that has long loomed large over the entire world, has now metastasized everywhere, to everyone, on more local and personal scales.
Mennonites have historically been conscientious objectors to wars organized and waged by governments. With all the religious messages calling on us to trust and even worship guns for personal power and protection, there is another war, on another battlefield, to which we must also raise a witness of conscientious objection: the escalating cycle of human sacrifice in our streets, our homes and our hearts, waged by and for Almighty Gun. Anything we worship and trust for personal worth, power and protection, other than Almighty God, let us treat as our Israelite ancestors were called to do with the idols around and among them, as the Amish grandfather told his grandson in the movie, The Witness: