On Las Vegas

So I haven’t been posting in two or three months – as I mentioned in my last post, I’m taking time off to focus on my thesis. There’s just not much room in my life at the moment for sustained regular posting. However, every now and again I come across an article that demands a response. Today that article is on the shooting in Las Vegas.

So the article (here) is from Think Theology, some theology website based in the UK. I’ve written about them before – you might remember some 4,000 angry words about an article on The Shack. I sort of feel a little bad about bashing the website again – I don’t want to follow it just for the purpose of saying mean things. That said, I do tend to disagree with a bunch of their ideas. For example, they’re hosting a conference on complementarity, which is basically the idea that men and women have essential gender differences – so they’re designed to ‘complement’ each other. It’s a belief that inherently denies the validity of gay relationships, gender fluidity, and transgender identity, and basically it can just fuck off.

Anyway, so this one article (here again) was about the shooting in Las Vegas. It’s a reflection on gun violence and why Americans are afraid to give up their guns, and – it’s generally unremarkable, except for the final paragraph and a bit, which are really weird. The body of the article talks about why Americans have guns – one of the reasons is the ol’ what if somebody breaks in with a gun routine. It doesn’t really make sense: if you’re a responsible gun owner you lock your guns up, which means they’re more difficult to access in the case of a home invasion. But whatever. Americans are stupid about guns, and 11,714 of them have died this year as a result. That’s how it works.

So the writer talks a bit about the values that Americans hold – she’s basically trying to carve out some of the motivations against gun control even in the face of nearly 12,000 dead people. Here’s that bit:

“The core issue, as far as I can make out, is that many Americans value their freedom so highly that they would prefer to keep their country as free as possible, even if it means there is a (considerably) higher risk of death. They are bitterly opposed to the idea of ‘the state’ telling them what they can and can’t do (and what they can and can’t own!). It is a deeply embedded core value of a nation that was built by people escaping religious and political oppression. It is, after all, ‘the land of the free’.”

Alright, well, whatever. This is focusing on cultural ideas around gun control, and doesn’t talk about the arguably bigger gun-related issues around lobby groups like the NRA, the bitter political divide in the States, or the general distaste for experts and professionals – so there are other systematic issues that I would’ve thought were more important, but again, whatever. We’re hearing a bit about the man-on-the-street position on gun control, and it’s a relatively inoffensive topic. But then the next paragraph:

“It is easy to criticise, to suggest that maybe they should get over themselves and back down on this one, but isn’t it just an example of the condition of all our hearts, albeit writ (very) large? From the beginning of human history we have been told, “If you eat the fruit, you will die”, and from Eve all the way down to today, we have been choosing freedom over restriction, sin over obedience, our choices over God’s laws, the risk of death over control from on high….”

So this is a bit weird. The basic premise is this binary between ‘freedom’ and ‘obedience’, where freedom is bad and obedience to God is good. The history of the idea is familiar: Adam and Eve, ‘freedom’ as disobedience, it’s not really free, you’re just disrespecting how things were supposed to happen. We’re familiar with all that. What’s weird is saying that obedience to God is the same as obedience to the state. Let’s lay the argument out step by step.

  1. Americans won’t let the state control access to guns (their so-called ‘freedom’).
  2. We are all like Americans, because
  3. We won’t let God control our lives (that is, we are sinful).

The parallel is made very explicit in the text: the American obsession with ‘freedom’ from state control is equated with the human obsession with “sin over obedience”. The American thing is specifically described as “an example of the condition of all our hearts. That’s a bit weird.

First of all, disobedience to the state is often a very good thing. This should be obvious. Historically, the American government has denied the voting rights of women and black people, denied the legality of homosexuality and then denied gay people the right to marry, authorised the institution of slavery, let alone the banning of interracial marriage and the Jim Crow laws (curiously, “separate but equal” sounds like a complementarian slogan), interfered in the domestic affairs of countless nations to further its own international agenda, ah, and last time I checked they’d nuked Japan a couple of times too. The state is not always correct, so treating distaste for state control as a form of distaste for God’s control is stupid. To be clear, I appreciate that state control of gun ownership and the state-authorised enslavement of black people are totally different issues. But the rhetoric used in this article doesn’t make that distinction. The American desire for freedom from state interference is explicitly cast as an “example of the condition of all of our hearts”. Refusal of state authority is an example, an instance, an actualisation of the human refusal of God’s authority. That’s daft. It’s practically medieval, in fact – it brings to mind the idea of the divine right of kings. Surrender to the state, you disobedient sinful children! I think it’s thoughtless, rather than malevolent, but it’s still daft.

The final line, and this really grinds my gears, is “Judge not, lest you yourselves be judged. It fits with the theme of the author’s post: choosing unregulated gun sales over state control is a form of choosing sin over obedience, and as fellow sinners, we shouldn’t be judging other sinners. It’s unclear to me what’s meant by ‘judge’ here, but it sounds like the author doesn’t want us to condescend towards the Americans. After all, they’re only human, aren’t they? They’re only making the same mistake as the rest of us – their only failing is the universal failing of sinfulness. No. Fuck that shit. Eleven thousand, seven hundred and fourteen Americans are dead because of gun violence – and that’s just this year. That’s not the same as watching some porn or swearing or fucking stealing a bit of fucking stationery from the office. Don’t tell me that all sin is equal in the eyes of God – no. Get fucked. That’s a bullshit argument used to obfuscate the need for concrete social or political change. The language of forgiveness and mercy and ‘we’re all sinners’ is often used by Christians who would rather sit on their fucking hands instead of trying to fix a problem. Whenever a priest sexually abuses a child, the Vatican rolls out the old “It’s a speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye”, along with “Let he without sin cast the first stone” and, my personal favourite, “Judge not, lest you yourselves be judged”. Now is not the time for bullshit platitudes. Some fucker just killed sixty people and injured another five hundred. Judge not, you say? How about stop obscuring the issue and advocate for some fucking positive change.

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