Christianity, gun violence & the nihilism of Mike Huckabee

"Just lock and load, right?"
“Just lock and load, right?”

Guest post by Phil Snider
December 15, 2012

When Mike Huckabee infamously said that Friday’s murders in Newtown, Connecticut took place because we’ve “systematically removed God” from our public schools, he provided yet another stark reminder of the way that Christianity frequently functions as nothing more than a nihilistic enterprise that keeps us from addressing the most serious concerns that face us as a nation.

When people like Huckabee line up to say that “taking God out of the public schools” is the reason why such horrific atrocities take place, it shifts the conversation away from actual dialog about real problems and real solutions and replaces it with jargon that has basically nothing to do with what sets the stage for such tragedies. As such, this version of Christianity becomes the ultimate form of nihilism, for it is used in such a way as to ensure that nothing changes, that no substantive dialog can occur, and that no substantive action is demanded of society other than cognitively affirming a particular religious viewpoint (or talking point). It allows Christians to hide behind facades that mask the actual reality on the ground. It encourages people to focus on things behind the scenes (that no one can be sure about) more than on things right under our noses (that are readily apparent).

It is full of logical non-sequiturs, as the president from my alma-mater, Phillips Theological Seminary, writes:

“These spokespersons link the slaughter of innocents with either taking God out of schools or a secular turn in the U.S. [But] how is it that the most church-going, overtly religious nation in the developed world is being visited with more gun violence than any of the more godless nations because of our sliver of secularism? Why aren’t nations such as France or Canada visited frequently with mass murders? I believe any such punishing god is created in America’s image and bears no resemblance to the God of Jesus of Nazareth.”

Perhaps most striking of all, it keeps important calls to action (such as “turning pistols into plowshares”) at arm’s length, because it repeats the narrative that the problem isn’t really about guns and our pathological allegiance to them. In short, it asks you to live in an alternative universe.

This is similar to the way many Christians say that the primary reason for being a Christian is related to the afterlife. Such an emphasis shifts what is most important away from this (very real) world toward another (very different) world, not to be accessed until after you die (it is truly “otherworldly”). And when the point of Christianity is only about going to heaven when you die, there isn’t nearly as much emphasis on making a difference in the here and now. Not surprisingly, in the 1980s, James G. Watt, Secretary of the Interior, said we didn’t need to worry very much about environmental concerns because Jesus is coming back soon and none of it will matter, so to hell with the environment. Nihilism if I’ve ever heard it.

Huckabee asks, “Should we be surprised schools have become a place for carnage because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, responsibility, accountability?”

This may not be a bad question in its own right, but it takes some kind of audacity to ask it if one shamelessly lobbies for the NRA, for where is the valuation of life, responsibility, and accountability on the part of the gun industry and the gun lobby or the politicians they own? Or on the part of Christians who refuse to talk about any measure of gun control, even though they get a bunch of warm fuzzies on Sunday mornings singing to somebody who, ironically enough, told them to put their bloody guns away (“Those who live by the sword will die by the sword”)?

A better question for Huckabee to ask would have been this: “Should we be surprised schools have become a place for carnage because leader after leader has refused the responsibility to talk about true measures of reform, because politicians bought and sold by the gun lobby evidently don’t have any accountability in our culture and therefore can use all of their trite platitudes as a way of changing the subject instead of dealing with what really matters? That we not only are discouraged from talking about changes in gun control, but even conversations about the kind of culture that perpetuates such outbursts of violence are off the table as well? That many Christians who claim to be pro-life actually glorify a culture of death, worshiping at the altar of violence and pledging allegiance to arms, not only sanctioning preemptive wars but remaining quiet as drones continue to drop bombs on civilians a world away, like nothing is even happening, even as our nation’s spending on weapons and warfare continues to outpace the world on a drastic scale, even as we celebrate and venerate all of our founding myths of redemptive violence and the myopic machismo that goes with them, not the least of which is on display in the blood bath scenarios portrayed in the Left Behind novels, all of which fly off the shelves of Christian bookstores and are taught as being perfectly ‘biblical’?”

Of course, there is alternative religious wisdom out there. There always is. And it’s pretty simple. As one theologian summarizes, “Violence begets violence. Generosity begets generosity. Guns beget guns. Nonviolence begets nonviolence. The choice is clear.”

The great preacher & social justice advocate William Sloane Coffin once worried that America is going the way of the dinosaur: “Too much armor, too little brain.” Let’s hope it’s not too late to reverse course. The children, quite literally, depend upon it.

——–
phil-snider_43PHIL SNIDER is an award-winning writer, speaker, pastor, and teacher whose work focuses on the intersection of religion and postmodernism in relationship to community practices and traditions. His most recent book is Preaching After God: Derrida, Caputo, and the Language of Postmodern Homiletics (2012).

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13 thoughts on “Christianity, gun violence & the nihilism of Mike Huckabee

  1. I think the way Naphtali uses Jesus’ “endorsement” of violence in Luke 22:36 overlooks a few considerations.
    The first obvious question is: two swords are enough for what? Are they enough to prevent his arrest? How can this match up with Jesus’ rebuke of Peter violent attempt to resist arrest? Jesus clearly tells Peter “No more of this!” and then he heals stricken ear (Luke 22:49-51). Resisting arrest cannot be the purpose of the two swords.
    The second question is were the two swords enough for an armed rebellion to start a new militaristic “Jesus movement”? Jesus seems to answer this question in Luke 22:52, when he states to those arresting him, “Am I leading a rebellion that you have come with swords and clubs?” The answer is no, as he is seized and led away (v. 54).
    In contrast to the literal interpretation of using swords physically, the following interpretation may lend greater consistency within the life and teachings of Jesus (not to downplay the unique perspectives of each gospel author).
    In Luke 9:3; 10:1-17 Jesus reminds the disciples of his mission for them before he arrived in Jerusalem. Did they need anything extra? (purse, a bag, or sandals?) No, because the mission of Jesus was still spreading (& those who it threatened were not fully aware). As Jesus becomes a greater threat as he approaches Jerusalem and he has intentionally compacted his antagonism with religious leaders (who are also seeking to trap him with self-incriminating words). The environment is tense, and the two swords—no more than that—represent the tension. Jesus’ mission has shifted to a clear danger, and the disciples must beware. However, he certainly did not intend for his disciples to use the swords, as we just saw in the literal interpretation, above, for he is about to tell Peter to put away his sword.
    Also, it seems much more likely that Luke is using this story to demonstrate Jesus’ fulfillment of Isaiah 53:12. “For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered among the lawless’” (Luke 22:37). He was ‘destined’ to be arrested like a criminal, put on trial like a criminal, and even crucified like a criminal. What are criminals known for carrying with them? Weapons, and to be numbered among criminals, Jesus must also have weapons. That is why he said that only two swords would be enough—to fulfill this prophecy.

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  2. “That many Christians who claim to be pro-life actually glorify a culture of death, worshiping at the altar of violence and pledging allegiance to arms, not only sanctioning preemptive wars but remaining quiet as drones continue to drop bombs on civilians a world away, like nothing is even happening, even as our nation’s spending on weapons and warfare”

    hmmmm….wow…didn’t know you knew us well enough to plaster such a despicable description of us for the world to get the wrong idea about us.

    After all I live 5 miles from the nation’s largest Jet Fighter Air Force base where they fly over my house daily. There is a bomb site where I can hear them detonating bombs from my back door. And you know what? I feel safer because I am surrounded by some of the greatest heroes in the world; our military. I observe everyday the hardships, difficulties and deployments they endure. I go to church with many, my husband works with families who have connections to this base, our neighbors are pilots, retired pilots and Intelligence operators. WHY DON’T YOU ASK THEM HOW THEY FEEL ABOUT WAR? WHY DON’T YOU COME HERE AND PLEDGE YOUR ALLEGIANCE BY TELLING THEM HOW YOU THINK INSTEAD OF WRITING IT ON A BLOG? WHY DON’T YOU REALIZE THE BIBLE SAYS THERE WILL BE WARS AND RUMORS OF WARS AND THESE PEOPLE HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT BUT RISK THEIR LIVES FOR YOUR FREEDOMS TO SAY THAT!

    WHY DON’T YOU GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT ABOUT WHAT THE BIBLE REALLY SAYS?

    These are real people, with real families with real lives just like yours; only they know what real sacrifice is. And you know what? They are hurt, and afraid of people like you. They have been put down, treated with disdain for doing a God given right to free this country and hopefully to keep it that way. This President has fired many, some of which were our friends. He is stripping them of benefits; and lying to the American people because believe me they are still being deployed.

    Before you decide to annihilate our military with your hate filled words again, visit a military base. You owe them an explanation.

    Thanks to the guy who wrote Luke 22:36 “He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”

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    1. Has it ever crossed your mind, Naphtali, that YOUR theology may be off?
      For instance, the Luke passage that is quoted is done so eisegetically not exegetically, so then you can make it say what you would want. A further exegetical study will show that the passage isn’t saying what you are trying to make it say.
      But that having been said, it is clear that you have no desire for gracious dialogue but rather antagonism.
      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I also sense that you may believe in American Exceptionalism. Therein lies another issue regarding interpretation of current events and scripture.

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      1. Allen, Do you have more to say on the Passage from Luke? I read that recently and, well was completely baffled by it! Can you put it in its correct exegetical place? The passage seems counter to everything that Jesus teaches to me and completely out of place. Where there other uses for swords besides war? Did Jesus tell them to get swords so that they would not get arrested with Jesus later, ie was this camouflage to protect his disciples? if, so why only two swords and not 11? I would love to hear more about this!

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  3. Not sure what Bible you preach from it is not the same one I read. I am a spirit filled, Bible believing Jesus of Nazareth follower. Your idea that “we” as “Christians frequently function as nothing more than a nihilistic enterprise” is like the pot calling the kettle black. You preach your own version of “Jesus” as an alternative religion to Christianity. Pardon me but I am not as you write “hiding behind facades that mask the actual reality on the ground” nor are many others I know trying to do that which is believe the truth as God wrote it and live it.

    I happen to believe and agree totally with Gov. Huckabee.
    As I attempt to keep my cool here over your overhauled Bible theology, I will tell you as you so eloquently placed us in your “box” of a lack of a value for life, gun toters and appealed NRA supporters your “intersection of religion and postmodernism” or whatever will fly in the faces of the schools in Israel who have no school shootings. Why? Teachers carry guns with them all day long.

    Mr. Snider, your awards that I am sure hang on your walls for all to see must be a reminder of all you have intellectually acquired. So much for getting to know who Jesus really is.

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  4. As well-written and insightful as this is, I believe it is inherently dangerous to blame a lack of anyone’s god or gods for the behavior of very ill people -no matter their age. Is the Christian God in charge of how we act? Or are we.

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