Tuesday, 19 January 2010
ABC News has reported that a firearms manufacturing company, Trijicon, is selling rifle sights to the U.S. military that contain inscribed references to Bible verses from the New Testament. Some of the verses cited are 2 Corinthians 4:6, "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ"; John 8:12, "Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life"; and Matthew 5:16, "In the same way, let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." Although I haven't been able to find a list of all the verses cited, two themes seem evident: light shining in the darkness, and Jesus.
The breach of the First Amendment establishment clause, prohibiting the government from promoting a particular religion, is obvious, and many people have already taken up this topic. I'm more concerned at the moment by the violation not of the U.S. Constitution but of the very nature of Christianity that this practice endorses. Jesus was not an advocate of war or violence, and neither were the earliest Christians. On the contrary, Jesus himself and many of his early followers were killed for their faith, without once taking up arms, even in self-defense. If they wouldn't take up weapons to defend themselves, they were even more loath to use weapons to attack their enemies. Yet this is what inscribing Bible verses on gun sights seems to advocate.
At what point did Christianity become transformed into an aggressive, violent religion? Was it when the emperor Constantine made Christianity the favored religion in the Roman Empire? Was it when the emperor Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the Empire? Was it when Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade against the Muslims? In the wake of centuries of fighting in the name of the Prince of Peace, isn't it high time to stop taking lives in the name of Jesus?
Using Bible verses to encourage killing people is the grossest of perversions of the Christian message. In none of the verses cited above does the biblical author, or Jesus, advocate slaughtering one's enemies. Instead, these verses, read in context, talk about the transformative power of an encounter with Jesus Christ, which results in a new life characterized by love and mercy. I'm against inscribing Bible verses on rifle sights, missile tails, or bombs, but if the practice must continue, I suggest that only one verse be allowed, Matthew 5:44: "Love your enemies."