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Guns, Violence, and the god of Freedom

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20160916

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Guns, Violence, and the god of Freedom




I don’t have a hundred people in front of me to ask right now, but I imagine if I were to interview a crowd of Americans one by one, asking each to list the things about the USA that are most important to them, the word “Freedom” would appear in most lists, probably at or near the top. Fortunately for me, someone has already done this work and behold!, my hypothesis is supported.

Here is a 2012 survey conducted by The Atlantic/Aspen Institute

You’ll have to scroll down a bit to find this question:


And in this 1984 study by L. Robert Kohls, then Executive Director of The Washington International Center, the word “freedom” may not appear on his list of 13 values held by Americans, but “freedom” can be read between the lines of most of the 13. Notice the similarities (and a few differences) between the two referenced lists.

Acknowledging some of the language from the above referenced Kohls study, American freedom has many faces. We want to be free to determine our environment, pursue any future, spend/save “our” time and establish the boundaries of our privacy. We want the freedom to be treated among all people as an equal as well as the freedom to treat all people as equals. We value the freedoms of self-determination, competition, and enterprise. Americans are freedom-haulics.

OK, so Americans love freedom. So when a rogue gunman opens fire on Americans in a mall, night club, school, or church, it is not the loss of life or the grief of those still living that seems to bother most Americans. What bothers us most is the loss of freedom. With every mass killing, Americans complain just a little bit more about how these circumstances are making it more and more difficult to feel safe in public places. Interpretation: I am not as “free” to move around as I was 30 years ago. Violence is encroaching on my freedom.

Because guns are the weapon of choice among those who seek to do mass violence, the reaction among a large American demographic is to look for changes in gun control laws. The thesis is that by reducing the availability of legally procured guns, we will see a decrease in the number of gun-related crimes. From the standpoint of freedom, one could argue that these individuals want to trade one freedom in exchange for another, with the understanding that the freedom they are surrendering is of less value than the freedom earned by its loss. In America, the issue of gun ownership/control crosses over into a discussion about “rights” (related to “freedom”) as well, but I’m interested in discussing freedom as an American value, not rights. So let’s avoid an argument about gun control laws while we acknowledge that people on both sides of the issue are arguing in favor of one freedom or another.

Because in America, freedom isn’t so much a value, it’s a god.




I suppose a definition of terms might be helpful at this point. Caveat: I am not going to assume that everyone who reads this is going to adopt my definitions wholesale, but you need to at least understand how I as the author am defining the terms I’m using.

So what is a god?

I believe that worship is an inevitable human experience. I truly do not think there is a single exception in human history to this rule: humans worship. Sometimes the object of a human’s worship is the human him or herself. I believe most humans worship more than one object, actually, and now suddenly I’ve introduced another term, “worship” before I’ve even defined the term, “god”, that I set out to define in the first place! But these two terms are intricately related.

A god is the object of human worship. And so worship is the posture of a human before his god.

Worship is deification. Worship in its ultimate form is a wholesale trust that THIS THING will satisfy my deepest longings and needs. Worship is, on the one hand the acknowledgement of human need, and on the other hand the hope of its fulfillment. Worship says, “here I stand”.

A god, then, is a deliverer. A god holds the key to a promise. A god has the power to transform a need into an experienced reality. A god, according to a worshiper, is more real than other non-god-things. In fact a god is so elementally excellent that humans will sacrifice to it. And by sacrifice, I mean surrender a good thing in expectation of something better. And if I believe that all humans worship, yep, I believe that all human beings sacrifice.

In America, freedom is our big god.

We expect freedom to deliver on our deepest human needs. We expect freedom to transform our needs into an experienced reality. We expect freedom to provide for us what is most essential for human existence, and we will naturally sacrifice nearly anything to/for freedom. Think about this: our military exists, in large part, under the auspices of human sacrifice to the god of freedom. I’d need some statistics to prove this, but I’ll guess that America sacrifices more American humans to the god of freedom than American Christians sacrifice themselves in witness to their faith. I’m probably right about this.

Even among Christians, who profess faith in the God of the Bible, greater sacrifices are made to “freedom” than to their professed Almighty God. Happily, there are exceptions to this, but they are few. Imagine a comparison of the average yearly Christian family’s church offering to the same family’s yearly tax bill and you will see what I mean. Now some might argue that taxes are more akin to theft and if given the “freedom” (there’s that god again) to choose where to send his money the Christian would most likely choose to send it to his church rather than his government… but how much less than his “taxes owed” would he choose to send? And would he make his decision based on his conviction that he has the freedom to choose such things to begin with? Oh freedom, how we love thee.

If you don’t like the taxes argument, then perhaps we could run a comparison between the average Christian household’s entertainment budget and their offerings to church. How many people write a bigger check to Verizon than to their church? Why? I would argue that the answer has a lot to do with wanting to have the freedom to define our "down time".

As long as we are discussing Christians, freedom, and money, we should acknowledge that few topics are more uncomfortable among worshippers of the Biblical God than a discussion of giving. Remember, giving is sacrifice, sacrifice is worship, and we always worship our god/God. And so when the God of the Bible dares to describe Biblical worship in terms of a “tithe” (10% off the top - pre-taxes!!!) as a sort of minimum starting point, Christians retreat into a discussion of the wonderful grace of God and how he forgives all sins. Yes, Christians love to worship freedom as much as the other Americans do.

But what I really want you to consider is this: what happens to a culture when the vast majority of its participants worship freedom?

If a god is depended upon by faith to deliver, mustn’t we ask ourselves what power “Freedom” actually has? Because if we are treating freedom as if it is a god, and if our god lacks the power to deliver what a god should… in what state does that leave the one worshiping this alarmingly tame and impotent god?

If Freedom does have godlike power, maybe we should stampede toward an even greater degree of sacrifice than that which we are already paying. Seriously, if freedom can make my deepest longings an experienced reality, why would I even consider saving any of my money? Just give it all for Freedom!

By now you detect a note of sarcasm.

Freedom cannot deliver as a god must. And by “freedom” I mean “civic freedom”. I probably should have specified that already. We are talking about civic freedom, not the kind of freedom that the Biblical God promises. Because if THAT were the freedom Americans were worshiping, they’d all already be sacrificing to the Biblical God in tithes and then some.

So yes, I am saying that civic freedom, “freedom”, cannot make my deepest longings anything close to an experienced reality. Freedom, as a god, might be a promise, but it has lost the key to its delivery truck. Actually it never had it.

Contrarily, I believe that the cultural disappointment in the American god called “freedom”’s inability to deliver anything even remotely worth the weight of what has been sacrificed at its altar, is a root cause of the violence, shootings, mass murderings, bullying, road rage, Black Friday chaos, as well as the generally disproportionate social disorder among otherwise civil folks.

Did you get that? I am blaming freedom-worship for producing cultural violence. What should we expect? Freedom is good. Freedom should give good things. And so let’s worship freedom. AHA! Now your faith is placed in a creation - “freedom” - rather than in an actual God. And when a god fails to deliver, its worshipers get restless.

And because gods also tend to be dressed with a power that places them above reproach, the restlessness gets blamed on all kinds of other “culprits”. Thus “guns cause violence”, or “young urban African Americans cause violence”, or “bad people cause violence.” Maybe what is causing the violence is false god worship?

I suppose I have two messages here.

Message One is to Americans. Freedom is a good thing. Freedoms are blessings. America has accurately defined “freedom” as a priority worthy of our deep commitment. But it is not a god worthy of mass human sacrifice. The extent to which it is a blessing worthy of some human sacrifice is another conversation.

My point is to invite you to consider how much is being sacrificed to Freedom and how much blind trust is placed in Freedom’s power to deliver its promise of a good life. Freedom actually has no power. It is gone as soon as it is contrarily defined by a worshiper with a faith in it deep enough to commit a crime in its name. Faith in a god will do that to people.

Man with gun hates people with dark skin, claims freedom to shoot, knowing his own life will be sacrificed during his “worship”. Bye-bye “freedom” if you are “dark skinned”.

And what drives that man to express his freedom in such a violent way? The answer to that is obviously complex, but I propose that disappointment with Freedom’s relative impotence is among the root causes. When an entire culture is built up with the promise that its god can provide the blessings of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, any perceived shortfall among those can easily become a Casus Belli.

Message one, therefore, is a reminder to Americans that freedom, like all created things, must have boundaries. Furthermore Freedom is powerless to provide blessings, freedom is the blessing. And as such it must be regarded as a created thing, one which must be valued, protected, and maintained. Americans must be stewards of freedom, not servants of it.

And before I move on to Message Two, let me also state outright that I am thankful for the blessings of freedom in this country, thankful for the sacrifices that - I believe for the most part have been voluntary - have been made for me. If you or a loved one has sacrificed for our freedom, thank you. I hope you can hear in these paragraphs that I am not diminishing your sacrifice, I am merely begging us all to count the cost and consider how much pressure we are putting on Freedom to “deliver”.

Message Two is to Christians. Remember that the Biblical God does not promise “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Not like that anyway. The “life” our God promises is eternal and isn’t affected one way or another by our dying at the hands of a rogue gunman. The “liberty” God promises is from slavery to sin and isn’t affected one way or another by any earthly government or law. And the only “pursuit” God ordains for our happiness is a pursuit of Him. Pursuing “happiness” is more likely to be contrary to a pursuit of God than in line with it.



Humans are god factories. Because we must worship, we find gods. And from my perspective, any worship not directed at the only actual GOD is a recipe for disaster. In America, our deification of freedom leads to disaster. In other cultures and countries, other not-gods are deified, leading to all kinds of disaster there too.


"A modest proposal for peace: Let the Christians of the world agree that they will not kill each other."

There is a poster that I inherited when I married my wife. I love it. It simply says, “Let the Christians of the world agree that they will not kill each other.” It is a quote from John Stoner who, in 1984 referred to it as a “modest peace proposal”. There is no doubt that “not killing each other” is completely in line with worship of the Biblical God. You might even say that through worship of the Biblical God, one ought to be less and less inclined to kill. And in this, I believe that the Biblical God is able to deliver.

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