Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Guns and religion

This strongly worded post from respected Evangelical scholar Ben Witherington is worth considering (read it here):

To my fellow Christians that like to think guns and Christianity go well together - enough is more than enough. You are living in denial of the Gospel, and its time to grow up. 'Thou shalt not kill' does not have a codicil of addendum to it which reads 'except in self-defense' or the like.

My views on gun control have been in a state of flux since Tucson. I still consider hunting a legitimate use for guns, even if it's not something I'm interested in. Beyond that, though, I'm having an increasingly difficult time justifying the private ownership of guns explicitly designed to kill people. Witherington does a good job of addressing the usual argument against gun control in the post.

I came upon Witherington's post via Dan Horan, OFM. You can read his thoughts on guns and religion here and here.


  1. Is "Thou shalt not kill" the Gospel? I agree with him that "Thou shalt not kill" does not have such a codicil. In the Sermon on the Mount, even harsh words violate the commandment. Yet there is clearly another side.

    Before they leave for Gethsemane, Jesus counsels his disciples to take their swords with them. Peter misuses his. So now we have a question. If the only reason for taking them is to kill, why was Peter counseled to have a sword and then chided for using it? I think there is a defensive purpose that is legitimate, and we do find it here.

    And if "Thou shalt not kill" is taken to have no exceptions, then it is not just private ownership that is in question. You will end up with an Amish stance where the state is evil for using such. Knowing the historical link between gun control laws and genocide (170 million people have been killed by their governments in the last century. See chart here: http://jpfo.org/filegen-a-m/deathgc.htm), I think whatever we do, we cannot justify having only the state armed.

  2. Witherington is definitely arguing against gun ownership from a pacifist angle. And, as you can probably tell, I'm not entirely comfortable with pacifism - mostly because of the question of self-defense. I'm really undecided on this one.

    I will say, though, that I don't really see the need to protect against genocide in a liberal democracy. Maybe I'm naive, but I just can't imagine the United States, for example, engaging in the murder of its citizens. Of course, I guess you could say that we need to be armed in case we ever move from liberal democracy.

  3. Research our treatment of the Native Americans, and you'll see that this has happened under a liberal democracy before. You will find words like "total destruction" and "extermination" used by political leaders.

    It isn't just that we need to be armed in case we ever move from a liberal democracy. Our being armed helps to keep those in power from preying on us more than they do.

    Gun control advocates cite crime statistics that may or may not improve with gun control. But the scale of death among unarmed populations has been so many times higher. The numbers of dead from crime are never in the millions. It doesn't make sense to put millions of lives in jeopardy to prevent a handful of deaths.


About Me

I'm Rachel's husband and Darcy's daddy. I'm a Hoosier, an accountant, and an Episcopalian. Politically, I'm a progressive who believes in the preferential option for the poor. I use the blog as a sort of journal - to interact with my reading and sketch out ideas.