“Nothing to fear but fear itself”

Oh great! News from Russia gives us something else to be afraid of: a meteorite explosion. The roofs of our houses could cave in, destroying our beds, our sofas, our computers and cell phones. We could be killed.

Americans already have plenty to worry about: car accidents, theater shootouts, heart attacks, cancer, homosexuals, and socialists. And a more recent one: a tyrannical U.S. government. You can buy a Hummer so you’re less likely to be killed in a car accident. You can avoid going to theaters, stay at home and rent Netflix instead. To ward off heart attacks people ingest a daily dose of aspirin, eat flaxseed, and take fish-oil supplements. To prevent cancer they eat whole grains, tomatoes, broccoli, and drink green tea. Those afraid of homosexuals picket churches and businesses who accept gays. Folks who watch Fox News can identify the socialists then write letters to the editor to warn everyone else.

Recently we’ve been hearing that to protect ourselves from intruders and a tyrannical government we should buy an arsenal of AK-47s and glocks. Where can we get hand grenades?

As I recall, my father had fears too. He feared that if Kennedy was elected, the Pope would run our country. He was scared of communists. He was positive they had infiltrated the highest levels of our government and that it would be better to be dead than Red. He worried that if I danced I’d get pregnant, and if I went to college, my professors would teach me about evolution and destroy my Christian faith. I guess he took his own life because he was afraid to live it. That’s where fear can lead.

Sure, there are appropriate times to be scared: when our lives or the lives of others are imminently threatened. We should be cautious: buckle our seatbelts, install smoke detectors, avoid dark alleys late at night. But we need to remember that demagogues gain their power by appealing to our anxieties. It is to somebody’s advantage (and not always clear whose) that we organize our lives around those fears.

What is the alternative to a life dominated by fear? One grounded in joy and trust. Joy in the life we’ve been given, trust in a higher power and in each other.

Or we can move into a bunker so that if a meteor comes, we’ll be safe. Maybe.

Of Loyalty Oaths and Gun Rights

To get a teaching job in the 1970s I had to sign a Loyalty Oath. Oaths usually included something like this: “I do not believe in the overthrow of the Government of the United States by force or violence…. I am not a member of any organization or party which believes and/or teaches directly or indirectly the overthrow of the Government of United States by force.” I’m not writing here to defend such oaths or my decision to sign one. (In 1961 the Supreme Court unanimously voted in support of my favorite junior high teacher, David W. Cramp, Jr., in his claim that Florida’s loyalty oath was unconstitutional.)

Back then right-wing citizens feared that individuals and organizations (i.e. communists) wanted to overthrow the government of the United States. Today they’re—surely I’m not hearing this correctly—are they actually claiming the right to overthrow the U.S. government? A tyrannical government, they say. That’s why the second amendment guarantees that they can own guns. As many as they want. With as much killing power as what the military has access to. Like in a Hollywood movie, True Patriots will take on the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.

But who decides when the government has become tyrannical? “Thus always to tyrants,” John Wilkes Booth is said to have shouted in Latin when he killed President Lincoln. (Timothy McVeigh wore a t-shirt with that logo when he was arrested.) Booth couldn’t accept the fact that history was moving the country in a direction different than what he wanted. The terrorist cell he was part of lived under the illusion that through its efforts the Confederacy and the southern way of life would return to the way it had been.

These days we’re hearing a lot of talk about good people with guns and bad people with guns. As if telling the difference between them is all that easy. Booth would have been counted among the good men. He was described as being from the “best of society.” He was chivalrous and charming. Likewise I’m sure that those convinced today of the need to fight a tyrannical government are also good people.

There will always be citizens who don’t agree with the decisions of a democratically elected government. But if the Civil War taught us anything, it was that violence among ourselves will not solve the issues that separate us.

A Gun for Jesus


Nativity (Photo credit: gurdonark)



When Joseph looked down at the tiny infant nursing at Mary’s breast, he saw how vulnerable Jesus was and vowed to protect the baby from all evil forces. Joseph traded his chisel for a sharp dagger but soon learned that King Herod, who had ordered all baby boys killed, had armed his forces with rifles. Being a devoted father and desiring to protect his family, Joseph went forth and bought a rifle too. Every night he slept with it beside him, confident that his wife and child were safe.

He feared intruders who would steal his family’s valuables. Understandably, he also hated the Roman government, which occupied the land and oppressed the people. Joseph was prepared for the day when there would be an armed uprising.

The couple had more children. To ensure their safety Joseph bought guns for them all, rifles for the boys, handguns for the girls, and set up a target resembling a Roman soldier just outside of the city gates. Being in every way an exceptional child, Jesus, of course, had a sharp eye and an aim that never failed to send a bullet right to the heart of the target.

When Jesus grew to manhood he gathered around him a group of twelve men. “It is essential,” he said to them, “that we are able to protect ourselves. There are always thieves along the roads we travel, and of course Roman soldiers set on our destruction patrol the area.” He and the twelve spent hours by Lake Galilee practicing their shooting skills.

One day Judas said to Jesus, “I hear the Romans have new guns, more powerful than an ordinary rifle. Their guns can shoot bullets in rapid succession.”

“Then we must have them too,” Jesus replied. “Here are enough coins to pay for them.”

When Judas returned with thirteen AK-47s, Jesus and the twelve had confidence that these guns would provide the protection they needed. Besides, holding such a weapon and firing it made them feel like real men.

It was at about this time that crowds of people began to gather around Jesus. He spoke to them in parables. “One time,” he said, “there was a wealthy merchant. A robber came to his place of business, but the merchant had a gun and was able to kill the robber. Behold, we live in dangerous times when we must protect our families and ourselves. Only with powerful weapons are we safe.” And the crowds believed him.

One evening, while some disciples slept and some played cards, Roman soldiers burst upon the scene. Jesus reached for his AK-47, but a soldier kicked it out of his hands. He was taken away. And killed.