Christianity, gun violence & the nihilism of Mike Huckabee

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.


Note: This post was updated on Sunday evening to include the quote from Gary Peluso-Verdend, president of Phillips Theological Seminary.

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

  • Great read Phil! I was just working on a paper for school on this very subject when the tragic events happened yesterday. Needless to say, it further strengthened the talking points of my argument.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! BTW You need to get a podcast on iTunes! Would love to here your sermons in Phoenix

  • Another cogent essay from Phil. As always quite point of fact and welcome. Thanks for addressing this moment of trauma and the ancillary issues connected to it…and I would love for Mike Huckabee to read this or better yet, go to that community and deliver his “wisdom” in person to the families of the victims!

  • As always, a good read. I especially appreciate the comment regarding the culture that perpetuates these acts of violence. Gun reform is always off the table immediately after a tragedy such as this, and then it is forgotten, but these shootings have become too commonplace for there to not be some discussion of the problem.

  • Thanks for writing this. I’m trying to track down if there has ever been a resolution about gun control/ gun violence at a DOC General Assembly, and can’t seem to parse the website. Let me know if you’re aware of such a resolution – I’m working on collecting these from different denominations and coordinating a Christian gun control movement.

  • I’m neither a Christian nor a Conservative, but even as a Hindu young adult it brings joy to my soul knowing that there are reasonable Christians who understand and see this issue, who have the courage to not only articulate the problems of here and now, but also have the proper grasp on their spirituality to apply it in the here and now without simply being concerned with entering Paradise or avoiding Inferno.

  • I think your comments were brilliant. Interestingly, when I clicked to read the comments the advert was “The World of WarCraft” video game!

  • A few other Christian leaders also blamed the gays for the Sandy Hook tragedy – meaning that God didn’t protect those little children because gays are in our nation. Was the shooter gay? What would his mental illness & access to guns have to do with that? You stated it well that the real issues involved aren’t addressed in views like that. And that prayer was taken out of school is also blamed as well as abortion. I want prayer in school but if Christian prayers could be led by teachers, parents would need to be willing for other faiths of teachers to voice theirs too. But student led prayer is in schools & God is not completely left out. And God’s love has been shown in the follow-on actions of their community & school. Thanks for addressing this.

  • Hey Phil, I will safe forthright that I am not Christian, but you have become my favourite theologian to read from. Thank you for the post, and I personally, really value your perspective

  • As always, many great points made. We must remember that mr. Huckabees motivations are financial and controversy sells. He is not interested in the greater good created by being a good Christian.

  • Phil, I am catching up reading your blog and I thought I would give a differing perspective on this issue since I am a pretty hardcore libertarian.

    I do hope you are careful in not lumping everyone who believes in the second amendment as people who “glorify the culture of death.” I vehemently disagree with this country’s preemptive unconstitutional wars, the absurd military spending, the drone strikes, the C.I.A. kill list, and the indefinite detention and torture of any persons be they foreign or domestic. I could continue that list to infinitely. I still, however, find myself against increased gun regulation.

    Gun regulation works the same as drug regulation. It keeps law abiding citizens from partaking in the activity, but has no effect on those who do not care about the legality of his/her actions. If drug laws do not detour people from doing drugs then how will gun laws keep people from committing mass murder? The answer is they won’t, which is hard to swallow for a lot of people including myself. The Sandy Hook killer broke well over 40 state and federal laws when he committed his heinous act.

    When drug addicts are trying to kick their addiction it is never government regulation that helps them, but their friends and families taking it upon themselves to help change the culture of the addicts life. I agree with you that the only way to minimize gun violence is to create a culture of non-violence, but no amount of legislation will do that nor will forcing Christianity upon school children (responding to Mike Huckabee). It also does not change the culture if we put a military battalion at ever school (responding to the NRA).

    True gun violence will only dissipate when America comes together to rebuild society based on the ideals of love and liberty.

    Thank You,
    Marcus Krueger

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