“Either God is identified with the oppressed to the point that their experience becomes God’s experience, or God is a God of racism.” —James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation
I’ve recently been thinking about the connections between beliefs about God, guns/killing, and privilege/power.
My views on guns/non-violence/killing humans have changed quite a bit over the years. The same is true about my views/beliefs about God. To make a long story short, suffice it to say that both my views about guns/non-violence/killing humans and God have sort of followed the same trajectory: from ignorance/antipathy/agnosticism/ambivalence early on toward both subjects to —-> dogmatic certainty about both subjects to —-> what I like to think is now a more nuanced, comprehensive, humble and mature attitude/stance toward both subjects.
A big contributor to my shift from dogmatic certainty to a more nuanced, humble, comprehensive stance on both of these subjects was my engagement with schools of thought like post-modern/continental philosophy and critical theory, post-colonial theory, feminist thought, and South American and Black liberation theology. I can’t say how indebted I am to thinkers in these fields for broadening and deepening my understanding of the world. Perhaps one of the most important single realizations to come out of my engagement with these schools of thought is the notion of power hierarchies and cultural hegemony. Specifically in relation to this post, I’m thinking here of white, straight, male privilege as it exists in my particular context in the U.S. Regarding this, Cornel West once wrote that “White supremacy was in fact the reptile wrapped around the legs at the table upon which the Declaration of Independence was signed by the Founding Fathers.” I think West was attempting to describe the inescapability of white hegemony in the United States. By reading and listening to marginalize voices, I have come to see that white people (straight, white, middle-class men in particular) in Euro-American Western societies enjoy advantages that non-whites do not experience. Peggy McIntosh describes this sort of privilege as being “an invisible package of unearned assets.”
Now, knowing that I am a straight, white, privileged, middle-class American male who is pretty close to the top of the power hierarchy in my context, I resonate deeply with liberation theologians who point to Jesus as an example of how power and authority should necessarily be employed in service of others. In other words, the fact that Jesus, who was in a position of power and authority in his day (culturally as a Jewish man, and religiously as a rabbi and the “Son of God”), relinquished power willingly inevitably has wide-reaching political implications for the powerful today (as it did back then as well). If nothing else, Jesus’s example challenges the powerful to voluntarily yield their power to bring about a more equitable and just society (obviously this notion of relinquishing power willingly is violently opposed to many people’s common sense; humans don’t tend to give up power voluntarily).
Considering all of this then, when it comes to owning a gun and deciding whether it’s ethically/morally ok to kill a human being or not, I personally feel (as I’ve written before) that the ONLY position I can take on this as a straight, white, middle-class white guy who wants to be in concordance with Jesus and the post-colonial, feminist and liberation criticisms that I take so seriously, is to make myself vulnerable and give up my power/authority to take a human life; I feel white Euro-American guys have done enough killing! This entails (among other things) not keeping deadly weapons around my house, like guns, and being conscious not to fixate on “prepping” for a home invasion. It also means that I should attempt to embrace life, and it’s uncertainties, with open arms and strive not to live in fear of my fellow humans. It means that I am compelled to actually get to know and love my neighbor and my enemy. It means I cannot horde wealth at the expense of others, and It also means that I attempt to actually live a life of compassion, mercy and aggressive peacemaking.
To be clear, I don’t think all people should have to give up their guns and declare themselves to be anti-violent, aggressive peacemakers like me. For instance, I think James Cone is correct to say that “it is especially problematic for oppressors [including all who benefit from systems of oppression] to urge the oppressed to keep their cool and walk in the nonviolent way of love.” Therefore, I think the oppressors are the ones who are most obligated to willingly relinquish their power and make themselves vulnerable.
Accordingly, this is where the connection to theological affirmations/convictions about God come in. Notions of God as a transcendent, all-powerful, unmoved, un-changing, white patriarch in the sky can be hugely problematic for so many reasons that I don’t even know where to begin. For the purposes of this post (and in the interest of brevity) I’ll just point to the numerous feminist, liberationist, radical and process theological criticisms of transcendence which implicate it as being linked to difference-denying oppressive forms of hierarchy (e.g. colonization, patriarchy, slavery, sexism, classism, etc., etc., etc.). Essentially, it could be said that the idea of an all-powerful transcendent God has been weaponized in the dominant white Euro-American forms of Christianity and used to oppress, abuse, and enslave. This is not debatable in my mind. James Cone sums this up well in his book Black Theology and Black Power:
“Racism is a complete denial of the Incarnation and thus of Christianity. … If there is any contemporary meaning of the Antichrist (or “the principalities and powers”), the white church seems to be a manifestation of it. It was the white “Christian” church which took the lead in establishing slavery as an institution and segregation as a pattern in society by sanctioning all-white congregations.”
For folks who take this criticism seriously, it means that one must radically rethink the idea of God as not just NOT male, but also not white, not all-powerful, not removed, and not on the side of the oppressors.
Hopefully it’s evident by now where I’m going with this. In short, I think my position on guns and killing humans applies to particular weaponized beliefs about God as well.
To sum up: Euro-American, upper and middle-class, straight white men have done enough killing. Period. They are at (or near) the top of the cultural power hierarchy, therefore, in an effort to create a more just and equitable society, and following Jesus’s example, they should relinquish their power and give up their authority to kill human beings. So, no more guns and no more killing for white guys like me.
Similarly, Euro-American, upper and middle-class, straight white men (that look like me) have done enough killing, enslaving, abusing, oppressing, and destroying in God’s name, therefore (again staying true to Jesus), it might be a good idea to consider willingly giving up (or radically re-thinking at the very least) their God that demands these things; namely, the traditional, all-powerful, un-changing, impassible, transcendent, blood thirsty, sacrifice-demanding, white, weaponized God of Christian monotheism.