U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Dear God

godngunIn a recent Facebook post Ben Park observed caustically and entirely appropriately that the gun functions as a deity in American life. His statement is strong and concise and necessary—you can read it:

Perhaps America truly has a national religion. It’s not a particular Christian denomination, though, or even Christianity itself. Rather, it’s the religion of private, unregulated gun rights. This is why we are willing to sacrifice hundreds of lives, even innocent children, at the altar of the jealous and vengeful god of individual gun ownership. This is why we are willing to dismiss common sense and rational reform ideas as defiled “politicization.” This is why we reject reason in favor of blind faith and devoted obedience. We do not question the almighty commandment to bear arms. As long as we seek salvation in this cold deity’s embrace, we can justify just about anything.

The faith Park described is a cartoonish one, built on a fallacy that belief is flat and linear and asks almost nothing of those who use it. It is the stuff of fantasy in popular culture: a version of the avenging angel who possesses not merely transcendent knowledge but the ultimate power to mete out justice properly against evil as one-dimensional as the good that vanquishes it. While I don’t believe that popular culture makes society coarse or numbs us to the difference between bloodshed in reality and fantasy, popular culture can and often does offer a way to address or respond the inanities of reality we create.

Park identifies a god that should be rejected, not because we can’t find the will to believe in something but because we should find the will to reject this particular faith. He reminded me of the similar sentiment from the pop-British band XTC, who asked us to reject God not out of some Sam Harris rationalism but because we shouldn’t believe in God we burden with the sins we make all on our own.

I won’t believe in heaven or hell
No saints, no sinners, no devil as well
No pearly gates, no thorny crown
You’re always letting us humans down
The wars you bring, the babes you drown
Those lost at sea and never found
And it’s the same the whole world ’round
The hurt I see helps to compound
The Father, Son and Holy Ghost
Is just somebody’s unholy hoax
And if you’re up there you’ll perceive
That my heart’s here upon my sleeve
If there’s one thing I don’t believe in

It’s you
Dear God

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