Do Americans trust guns more than God?

Matt McClain FOR THE WASHINGTON POST AURORA, CO – JULY 21: Pastor Mary Lu Saddoris, center, prays with Isaac Pacheco, … Continued

Matt McClain


AURORA, CO – JULY 21: Pastor Mary Lu Saddoris, center, prays with Isaac Pacheco, right center, and Courtney McGregor, right, near a makeshift memorial that sits across the street from the Century Aurora 16 movie theater in Aurora, CO. The theater was the scene of a deadly shooting that claimed the lives of twelve people early Friday. Pacheco and McGregor knew Alex Sullivan, who was killed in the shooting.

The National Rifle Association is still winning the gun control debate. They and many others believe that the latest shooting massacre in Aurora, Colo., will not change American attitudes toward gun control laws long term.

Are they right?

All the other gun massacres in this country did not significantly move polling on gun legislation. How does this make sense? The fact is, it doesn’t make sense from a purely political standpoint.

I believe this seeming contradiction reveals a spiritual crisis. The politics of gun control will not change until we get a lot clearer that the American trust in guns is a failure of trust in God. Religion is about what you trust in an ultimate sense, and I believe staggering from gun massacre to gun massacre without changing gun laws reveals many Americans put their ultimate trust in weapons, not God.

View Photo Gallery: A look at some of the 12 people who were slain in the July 20 shooting at Century Cinema in Aurora, Colo.

“In God we trust” is the motto adopted in 1956 that Republicans love to reaffirm over and over. This is starting to sound like a version of Hamlet’s mother who protested “too much.”

But if we trust God so much, why do we need all these guns?

Some, like Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, think it is more guns that will save us. Commenting on the shooting, Gohmert said, “Well it does make me wonder, you know with all those people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying that could’ve stopped this guy more quickly?” Never mind how many more innocent people could have been killed in a movie-theater shoot out among many heavily armed theater-goers.

Guns provide the illusion of safety and it is an illusion. People who own guns are more likely to die from gun violence than those who do not own guns. But the gun lobby would love you to believe guns will keep you safe.

But let’s be clear. Ultimate trust in God would not have kept any individual audience member in Aurora safe from the shooter. It’s not that simple. Trust in God means obedience to what God wants for human life; it requires that believers act together with others, including people of other faiths and humanist values, to create a society where guns are regarded as the problem, not the solution.

Jesus’ teaching on this could not be clearer. As I noted during Holy Week this year, when Jesus is about to be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, one of his followers pulls out a sword and tries to defend Jesus with the weapon. “Put away your sword,” Jesus commands, “for those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) And those who live by the gun die by the gun.

The politics of gun control is clearly not working. I believe what is missing is a faith conversion.

More Americans of faith today need to be challenged by a very direct question: do you trust God or guns more? This is Jesus’ challenge to Christians: put away the guns.

View Photo Gallery: After gunfire killed 12 and injured dozens at a midnight movie screening in Aurora, Colo., residents console one another. Meanwhile, authorities dismantle booby traps at the suspect’s home and search for evidence.

Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), Susan Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.


Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • B2O2

    Most Americans have no clue how sick our society is because they’ve never been to a healthy one, such as most European countries. If you’ve never seen health, you can’t see the illness.

  • jhnjdy

    WoW! This is quite an article. The liberals want gun control, the liberals want God removed from everything in this country, yet we are blamed for gun deaths because of our lack of faith in God. Come on now, are you realy saying that Guns in the hands of Liberal Non-Believers is realy a problem? You may be on to something there, just look at the Liberal Occupy Movement, guns, drugs, rape, assault and all in one little friendly protest because Obama didn’t give the poor little liberal rich kids enough handouts for being failures.
    Gun Control? I don’t think so. I need to protect my family from you liberal UN loving American Terrorists.


    Guns are real. They kill for real.

    Gods are unreal.

  • cgreen3

    As B2O2 below wrote, this article sounds like it’s written by someone who’s never traveled outside the US. Our rate of violent death exceeds that of nearly every country in the world. In particular, it is far in excess of European countries.

    And yet the level of religious fervor is far lower than ours in Europe.

    So if more religion would save us, and less religion would save us, I get the sense that maybe religion doesn’t have a whole lot to do with it one way or the other.

    Which would suggest this article is quite wrong.

  • mammyyel

    Who would Jesus shoot?

  • PhilyJimi

    What are you going to do when you need something that actually works? God or a Gun? I know what one actually works for you in a pinch. We have all heard the expression there are no atheist in foxholes. But you’re not even getting into a foxhole with god if you don’t have a gun.

    Besides, guns don’t kill. It is the bullets that kill.

  • bryan1700

    Europe is the sick one. Hope we never become like cesspool Europe.

  • jimfoxvog

    Thank you for this excellent analysis.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    Sounds like your family could use protection from your primordial brain. Idiocy and guns go together almost as well as idiocy and religion.

  • larryclyons

    How about an even closer comparison, Canada and the US. Canada is much less religious, and has much stricter gun control laws. And the level of violence in Canada is much much lower than what you see in the US.

    Lets see all that librul stuff, single payer heath system, strict gun control, same sex marriage, a much more socialistic economy, and its going great economically.

  • larryclyons

    How about an even closer comparison, Canada and the US. Canada is much less religious, and has much stricter gun control laws. And the level of violence in Canada is much much lower than what you see in the US.

    Lets see all that librul stuff, single payer heath system, strict gun control, same sex marriage, a much more socialistic economy, and its going great economically.

  • macnietspingal1

    More important question is Are Bullets more important than Books? I thnk the National Rifle Association should support an option to the Spanish language in the public schools. I think the National Rifle Association should support God’s Books originally written in the Hebrew Language and therefor we can choose between Spanish and Hebrew. . Even God’s real name is shot down by bullets. The Vatican won’t let their membership use the Tetragrammaton when they see it in prayerbooks that quote the Bible.

  • DigitalQuaker

    That is clearly NOT the more important question.
    I suggest you relect on this more before posting out of reflex.

  • DigitalQuaker

    No one.

  • DigitalQuaker

    No one.

  • DigitalQuaker

    Prove it?

    I thought so.
    Same old tripe from the same old hole.

  • DigitalQuaker

    Many liberals I know are quite religious, and spiritual.
    Many conservatives I know love to talk about God, but act otherwise.
    You sound like the later, but this is something you should consider, deeply.

  • DigitalQuaker

    That is a sad, racist opinion you have choosen to share.
    The assumptions and logic are so flawed, it leaves nothing but a mark of anger. This is a problem that affects all of us. if you don’t believe me, look at the victims of this latest violence and consider the demographics you wield like a hammer, instead of looking for the truth.

  • allinthistogether

    Might I suggest that indulgence in internal hate and online verbal violence does no one any good? Anyone who believes that gun laws should stay as they are needs to take some responsibility for making sure that they are enforced effectively, and for making sure that guns are used and stored safely. Those of us who believe that there is no sane reason for any civilian to have an automatic weapon (recognizing that paranoia does not qualify as sanity), have the responsibility to work for stronger gun control laws, and recognizing that it is our elected officials who make the decisions about gun control laws, make this a priority issue for the election.

    I extrapolate from the Gospels and say “He who lives by hate and verbal abuse causes his own spiritual/psychological degeneration and death.”

  • XVIIHailSkins

    Jesus would shoot himself if he ever encountered his modern day ‘followers.’

  • WmarkW

    About 16 million people saw The Dark Knight its opening weekend, and twelve were killed, or one in 1.33 million.

    There were 250 homicides the first six months of the year in Chicago, which works out to one per 0.67 million residents every three days. Living in Chicago is twice as dangerous, per person per day, than seeing The Dark Knight this weekend was.

    Since almost all those 250 and their killers were African-American, what is gained by calling such facts “racist” and not discussing them plainly?

  • tony55398

    The NRA is the mouthpiece of the weapons manufacturers who make a great deal of their money from war and killing. The more war and destruction the greater their profit. Hatreds and distrust feeds their bottom line. Of course people trust guns more than God, that’s why we have all the wars and the destruction that guns and weapons of all kinds help to create. Death and destruction is their reward. Although people would kill regardless, if they had guns or not, but guns make it easier, and I am not against the ownership of guns for hunting and recreational use, just against trusting guns more than God, because God is Love.


    Actually, it’s up to you believers to prove the existence of your sky pixies – you assert their existence, it’s up to you to prove that they exist.

    There never has been any proof, otherwise you wouldn’t need to “believe” – or force others to act in accordance with your angry old man in the sky’s rule. It would be like guns. Real.

  • pretax

    I’ve always found it odd that Ms. Thistlethwaite continually avoids a core tenet of Christianity which is the concept of voluntarism. Now she says that, if people had faith, they would support gun control legislation. Pardon my question, but wouldn’t it be just as true that if they had faith they would trust God to solve the problem rather than themselves brandishing guns through the proxy of government to force their will on their countrymen?

  • persiflage

    ‘All the other gun massacres in this country did not significantly move polling on gun legislation.’

    Mass murderers are very much a part of the gun culture in America – the dark side that no one likes to talk about. How anyone can argue against outlawing the ownership of assault weapons points to the extreme and irrational ideology that drives the NRA and it’s minions – including the poiticians that oppose renewing this now expired law.

    Onward Christian soldiers………….

  • SSG

    Luke 22:36 Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.
    This is Christ talking to his disciples. The disciples were about to embark on longer trips away from home. Jesus knew the perils and dangers of robbers and wild beast roaming the countryside of their day.
    The Holy Word of God teaches us that we will be surrounded by danger and gives us the right to lawfully defend our lives.
    Why do you think banning guns will save lives? The “Gun Free Zones” (I call them slaughter zones) do not work! Wherever murder takes place in gun free zones you will have a higher mortallity rate. (Virginia Tech and Aurora are examples of this).
    This is not the first time Aurora has experienced a shooting experience. Remember New Destiny Christian Church where a convicted felon began to open fire killing one person, before he himself was taken out by a member of that Church.

    Crime in Kennesaw, Ga has plummeted since they enacted the law that all heads of household should posses at least one gun.

    This was written not in anger or to knock anyone.

  • Mrs-Weasley

    No it is going better economically because our banks are regulated and we did not have the huge fallout from derivatives and so on that the American banks had. As for the rest – at least we do not have to worry about going bankrupt if we end up in the hospital with a catastrophic illness or accident.

    Banks must be regulated so that the larger economy is protected from them running roughshod over people and creating disasters like the one the American economy is still struggling to overcome.

    Canada is moving farther right and that is worrisome to many of us who see what is happening south of the border and do not want that happening here and will do what we can to stop it. Our motto is peace, order and good government – without the NRA, the free wheeling capitalism without regulations, inclusive, and acceptance of all.

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