Saturday, July 21, 2012

A "Theology" of the Second Amendment

“God forbid that we question even a single tenet of the theology of firearms”, writes   E.J. Dionne, Jr  in “The Gag Rule on Guns.  A “theology” rings loudly as I am reminded of the practice of some “Christian right” who are ardent protectors of guns. The article citing a Louisville church where unloaded weapons were allowed at an event celebrating Second Amendment, is one example that prompts the question, how is carrying guns in spaces called church “good news”?

The gun brandishing religious Americans are somehow self-deceived through their use of argumentum ad verecundiam. When asked about the practice of celebrating the Second Amendment (which for them includes bringing one’s weapon to church), interviewed sources (at the Louisville church) referenced the “forefathers of our nation”. There was no mention of the forefathers of the church or the alternative society that emerged in the midst of other nation states or empire, e.g., the Roman Empire. There was no remembrance of the sins of many of our American forefathers who, e.g., generally accepted pro-slavery ideology and practices while applying some kind of interpretive reasoning or biblical "theory", which included biblical texts. Moreover, for these 21st century religious cowboys, the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution seems to be their primary text, while many of the stories and exhortations of the Biblical text that suggest non-violent practices are far from their minds.

It seems that this kind of self-deception is correlative to identities being nurtured, formed, and socialized by the American dominant script, which is one of certitude, privilege, and entitlement. One of the crucial flaws of this religious thinking and practice is the story or script they knowingly or unknowingly embrace about who and what they are. Many of these kinds of church folk have little stomach for doubt and little aptitude or imagination for working with an alternative, counter script; i.e., the Christian narrative in its fullness. Thus having lost their way, they cannot navigate and negotiate their lives through what Walter Brueggemann describes as the “the ragged, disjunctive character of this counter-script.”

“That script is not monolithic, one dimensional or seamless. It is ragged and disjunctive and incoherent. Partly it is ragged and disjunctive and incoherent because it has been crafted over time by many committees. But it is also ragged and disjunctive and incoherent because the key character [God] is illusive and irascible in freedom and in sovereignty and in hiddenness.”

These self-deceived quasi churches across the American landscape such as New Bethel Church in Louisville are a mix of an intellectually and spiritually undernourished group of people who call themselves “Christian” while also trying to erect some kind of American ruggedness club. If they are to become more fully human as measured against “authentic, undiminished humanity,” embodied in Jesus, they will need to revive in their collective settings the rich Christian tradition and practice of casuistry with an aim to better understand their connectiveness in this fragmented world of competing narratives. In this case, it is proverbial mixing of oil and water, viz., American nationalism dubbed over and against the Christian narrative.

On another level, this self-deception is what Thomas Merton called Promethean Theology (The New Man): a human obsession with what is "mine" and "thine", i.e., between what is “mine” and what belongs to God. Like the prodigal son, there is separation from what is “his” and the rest of God’s possessions. Seeking a “soul full of my rights”, the gun-brandishing “Christian” has forgotten (from a lack of contemplation) the reality that we are to ‘Never take your own vengeance . . . for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay”, says the Lord.’ Our action is clear, “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; and if he is thirsty, give him a drink . . . do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” (The Letter of Paul to the Romans 12, which is key and context to understanding the often mis-interpreted Chapter 13)

Instead of seeking to defend themselves and our “individual rights”, may they and may we all engage in the work of contemplation, nurture, formation, and socialization by the practices of preaching, liturgy, casuistry, social action, spirituality, and neighboring of all kinds, such as hospitality and non-violent responses. Perhaps we might start with a modest proposal from the Mennonite Central Committee, “Let the Christians of the world agree that they will not kill each other.”

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