Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Christians, Guns, Violence and Atonement Theology

I've been scratching my head for some time about Christians who own guns, and even love them - love revealed and measured in the powerful defense they mount to maintain their right to own guns, use them, enjoy them, play with them, hunt with them, defend themselves and their loved ones against intruders, marauders, terrorists and crazies, and protect themselves from a government, should it go bad, and in the event of some vast end-of-the-world disaster wherein only a few survive, having to rely on their wits and their guns.

It occurred to me recently:

The link between Christians, guns and violence is found in Atonement Theology - wherein God uses violence (against his own Son who becomes, vicariously, the sinner of all sinners) to bring about good. And God, of course, is good, so in God's hands, violence is, by definition, good - for a Good God, all-powerful, can only do good, even when the good is bloody terrible.

There it is!

In all of its gory glory, and weirdness.

Violence produces good, when the violence is done by someone who is good.

John Wayne and Charlton Heston rise up from their graves and shout Hallelujah - "We were right all along. Violence produces good, when the violence is done by someone who is good, and we're the good guys. We know it in our heart. We're Americans. We're white and we're Christian. We're hard-working and family-loving. We're good, and we know it."

No better film depiction of this theology than Mel Gibson's, "The Passion of the Christ" - all blood and gore, because the Medieval Church fell in love with gore and suffering, because the the Medieval world was full of it, and rather than addressing it as evil, the church found a way to sanctify it, a great relief, I'm sure, to the kings and queens of the day, and their bishops and priests.

Historically speaking, as the church grew stronger with lands and wealth and political power, the artistic images of Jesus changed from risen to crucified, from triumphant to suffering, from bathed in light to drenched in blood, from peaceful to agonized, from living to dead. It was no longer the Empty Tomb that set the pace, but the Cross, as Jesus the Christ was transformed into a constant sacrifice dying again and again for the sins of the world.

Power requires violence ... it's the only way for the powerful to maintain and grow their power, for power is never content with the status quo; to cease growing in power is to begin losing power to others. In order to sustain power, power has to be constantly gained, or taken, from others, who have to surrender their power to the powerful, and if the surrender can't be arranged peacefully, well, then, it can be arranged violently, which only goes to prove, that the person or persons who should have surrendered peacefully are not at all good, because they resisted the obvious good of their surrender. So any violence directed against them is a good thing - to teach them the right ways, to break their pride of rebellion and prove to others what it means to be right and good.

Atonement Theology has come under attack in recent years because of its linkage to violence, and its questionable rooting in Scripture. 

Yes, it's there in the notion of sacrifice, but there's more to the story than a quid pro quo exchange of death for life. As for Jesus himself, and what Jesus offers, the story is glorious even as it is very large. By reducing the life and work of Jesus to the simplest notion of He died for our sins, the church has lost most of the story, and like a car with only one tire, it clunks along the road of history, telling the world that a car with only one tire is just fine; come along for the ride!

In its simplest, and most dangerous form, Atonement Theology says: Jesus died for our sins. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and your sins are forgiven, and you will live with him eternally. By killing his own Son, a plan God always had in mind, God pays a price we couldn't pay. Through death, goodness comes our way. By violence, right is made strong. Through blood shed, because Jesus, in that moment, becomes bad, carrying the sins of the world, peace is achieved. Jesus dies as a sinner, and all sinners deserve to die. But his death is special; so his death achieves great good, and God the Father was right to kill him, for our sins, with our sins resting upon him. Hallelujah and Amen!

Rather, we should say, Jesus died because of our sins. 

Humanity killed him because he challenged all of our assumptions about good and right and love and God. He invited us to see life differently, and we refused; so we killed him. But we justified our killing of him with Atonement Theology - that he died, not because of us, but for us, as God planned, from the beginning. How convenient.

But therein lies the clue as to why so many Christians have such a violent view of things ... their god is a violent god who brings about good through violence.

Guns, in the hands of the good, are good ... even as death and violence, in the hands of God are good.

In a nutshell, we love violence - it's rooted, I suppose in our DNA, tribal loyalties and our desire to survive, to surmount death (which we all know is coming our way, and it always pisses us off) and we continually justify our violence by blaming others for it - their rebellion, their misbehavior, their power, their threat, their ways and their culture, are not good, so we have a right to protect ourselves, even to make the first move before they have a chance to strike at us.

Rather than face our violence for what it is, we justify it and glorify it.

Shed the blood of the bad, and good will come about.

Make war, and there will be peace.

Kill, and there will be life.

Destroy, and there will be a new world.

Strange, isn't it?

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful reflection on violence from an "atonement theology" perspective.

    It reminds me of Rene Girard's analysis of "sacred violence" as the resultant behavior justified by atonement theory.

    For Girard, Jesus' death at the hands of violence put an end to any justification of violence period. Jesus' resurrection revealed the power of God's self-sacrificial love over the violence that results in emotional, spiritual and physical death.

    This puts the lie to the NRA's notion that the way to stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun.

    Extended out, this idea results in nations justifying war against other nations because God is on their side and they are the "good" guys.

    Thanks for this insightful reflections, Tom.