Being an American, Christian, or Both: A Fundamental Problem of “Can” v. “Should”

March is a harbinger of spring.

March 2021 has also been an harbinger for some sort of return to normal after a year of living through a pandemic in the U.S. and across the world.

Mid-March now may force us to reconsider what we have wished for since the return to normal in U.S. includes two mass shootings in a week—8 murdered around Atlanta, GA followed by a mass shooting at a grocery store in Boulder, CO leaving 10 dead.

Mass shootings are so normal in the U.S. that they very much define what it means to be “American,” what it means to be a “Christian Nation,” routinely and darkly emphasized after every bloody event: ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.

After the Atlanta shooting and the predictable debates about racism, hate crimes, and gun control, one meme proclaimed “You can’t be a Christian if” by detailing the contradictions between racism and Christian values.

The problem with this claim is that many people in the U.S. do in fact identify as Christian while also actively expressing racism or passively ignoring and allowing racism (see the history of the KKK and Southern Baptists).

The Boulder shooting prompted a similar refrain; “You can’t be pro life and be pro gun,” some posted.

Again, of course you can since the people who identify as “pro life” (a stance that is actually anti-abortion and pro forced birth) are often the exact same people who are pro gun rights.

And here is a fundamental problem in the U.S. that is often lost behind the partisan and angry debates over guns as well as reproductive rights.

Anti-abortion and pro-gun advocates are typically joined, not by ethics or logic, but by fundamentalism—a simplistic and black-and-white approach to issues grounded in authoritarianism.

Trying to unpack or refute this ideological marriage through logic, then, is doomed to failure.

Fundamentalism demands that beliefs remain simple: All life matters, and gun ownership is essential for individual freedom.

That simplicity need not be internally consistent or even consistent from issue to issue. Pro-life advocates do not extend that slogan to plants or animals, and often support the death penalty; thus, their embracing guns as fundamental to individual freedom is not illogical within their fundamentalism.

“All life” and “all guns” are fundamentalism at its core—both in the lack of logic and lack of ethical consistency between the two.

Anti-abortion advocates and pro-gun defenders fetishize the fetus and guns; it then is the fundamentalism that becomes the problem since it necessarily lifts the fundamental truths above everything or anything else.

As fundamentalists, anti-abortion and pro-gun advocates are not motivated at all, ironically, by policies and practices that would actually protect life or improve living. All that matters are the black-and-white causes that have become ends unto themselves.

Banning abortion, for example, doesn’t decrease abortions or unwanted pregnancies; but that ban does erode women’s health and even the lives and living of unborn fetuses.

Those facts are far too complex for fundamentalists, and thus, this never serves as a compelling argument to change their minds. No legal abortions becomes the singular goal regardless of the impact of that law on lives or living.

The same holds for gun regulation. Logic fails against the singular belief that gun ownership of any or all guns is essential for individual freedom.

Guns do not serve as protection (home invasions are incredibly rare, and people are quite bad at using guns, even trained police officers); good guys with guns rarely save the day (a policeman, good guy with a gun, died in the Boulder shooting); and the U.S. is unique in the world for mass shootings although all countries have citizens with mental illness, have access to violent pop culture, and have all types of racism, homophobia, and sexism present in the U.S.

Mass shootings in the U.S. are very clearly most strongly connected to the amount and types of guns available and the ease of access to those guns, especially in terms of the types of guns available (such as the AR-15). Countries that have addressed these situations with policies have greatly reduced and eradicated mass shootings.

But in the U.S., gun fundamentalism prevents a reasonable discussion of gun control.

Like the too often reposted The Onion articles on mass shootings, the ugly truth is that you can be an American, a Christian, or both and act in ways that completely contradict the ideal of either.

We are left with the often fruitless task of arguing that people shouldn’t live contradictions to aspirational ideals (the American Dream, Christian love).

Fundamentalism corrupts entirely everything it touches because fundamentalism becomes its own purpose, self-righteous blinders that shield too many in the U.S. from the bodies piling up around them.