Guns, Madness, and Death in the City of Man and the City of God

Achieving security is a primary human concern.  Security against disease, oppression, hunger and ultimately death (both natural and unnatural), drives religion and civilization so that every earthly city and religion claims validity by securing, incrementally, against an originary chaos.  What distinguishes Christianity is both the mode in which it secures us and its overturning of this imagined originary chaos as chief orienting factor.  In the Kingdom of God an originary peace (found in Trinitarian love) is the foundation of an alternative City and an alternative set of peaceful practices. Primacy given to anarchy and chaos results in a life given over to the futility of securing itself. Where God is recognized as the source of life, the violence of the zero-sum game – presuming there is only so much life or being to be had – is displaced by a generous forgiveness whose resource is God. (The 70 x 7 posed by Cain’s mode of vengeance and countered by the extent of Christ’s forgiveness depicts inexhaustible vengeance displaced by inexhaustible forgiveness). 

Security from the chaos of warring gods, of enemies – natural and supernatural, or simply from disease or violent death, is secured through a sacrificial exchange which amounts to a process of self-terror (sacrificing  to Moloch or allowing for regular mass slaughter).  Mutually assured destruction (MAD) is the self-confirming bind (originary violence proving itself in its end) of nation against nation, tribe against tribe, and individual against individual. The arms race, local or international, idolatrous or political, presumes final security is gained through a proliferation of killing capacity. Size matters with the phallic idol – the prototypical idolatrous image – as size is equated with power and there is the need for an ever-enlarged symbol of power.  (The size of King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, “sixty cubits high and six cubits wide,” as with every idol, is what makes it remarkable and it leads directly to his super oven. Bigger phalluses or guns or ovens heated up to seven times normal capacity (Cain’s and Jesus’ number of fullness) presumes the necessity of escalating power so as to maintain balance.) The madness of sins self-antidote – the ever-increasing need for power – is the idolatrous cure from which Christ’s Kingdom saves.

Slavery to the fear of death is a self-imposed principle in which death reigns through the attempt to ward it off.  Moloch’s protection required the Jews to pass their children through the fire but every form of self-procured security comes through subjection to fire power. Abel, Joseph, the victims of Lamech, generations of the sacrificed, and ultimately Christ are offered up to stones, pits, swords, and the cross so as to secure against dispossession and death. Absolute security invested in the idol or state requires worshipers to bow to Thanatos. The Roman cross was meant to be the symbol of the final power of Caesar just as Nebuchadnezzar’s unusually hot oven symbolized his killing power.

In the U.S. the gun is, for every armed citizen, the equivalent of Caesar’s and Nebuchadnezzar’s lethal power.  The cross, the hot oven, or the big gun,  trade in death – the death of the young, the weak, the foreigner, the stranger – as a means of warding off death.  The tribe, state, or individual, as idol, no less than Moloch, require sacrifice. Bow to Caesar, Nebuchadnezzar, the state, or prepare, like Lamech and the generation of Noah, to avenge yourself. The idolatrous security of greater fire power requires complete obeisance to the economy of death. The biggest gun wins but children will be sacrificed. The organized slaughter of state and religion displaces the psychopathic killers of Lamech’s and Noah’s generation but history is an arms race toward Armageddon.

The story Scripture tells is of an alternative to exponential violence. Where Joseph’s brothers would, at first, sacrifice Joseph the brothers are restored (“I am Joseph your brother”) when they would sacrifice themselves for Benjamin. The identical women arguing over a single baby before Solomon represent two sacrificial systems: one would sacrifice the child to establish her rights while the other would sacrifice her rights that the child might live. Solomon’s wisdom is in dangling the necessity of sacrifice (“split the child in two”) as the test of who would demand and who would relinquish their rights. “I’ll give you my child when you pry it cold and dead from my hands.” Or, “I’ll relinquish my rights that the child might live.” Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, neither bow to the great golden image nor oppose Nebuchadnezzar with greater fire power. Theirs is a radical subordination which faces the fire and walks into it. The Bible tells a simple story about security and sacrifice: one can sacrifice his brother, demand their rights, create fire power, or one can trust in the security of God.

Joseph and his brothers, Solomon, Daniel and his friends, are a type of the Kingdom established by Christ which does not presume to put people on crosses but takes up the cross.  The Kingdom of God, the Church, does not establish itself through rights received, or violence, resistance, and domination.  This Kingdom does not secure itself through armies, tanks, or guns, but through a defeat of death. The way of the Cross accepts death as Christ has defeated slavery to the fear of death; he has defeated assertions of an original anarchy which precedes and justifies the terror. Sacrificing self for the other, relinquishing one’s own rights, a willingness to walk into the fire, and take up the cross, describe the practices flowing from an originary peace.

This is not a recommendation to the cities of man but a mandate for those who count themselves part of the City of God. The Church is not dependent upon the violence of man for its security. To entrust God to secure us and our children is to relinquish the security of the idolatrous violence of Moloch. Trust in God precludes trusting in the proliferation of crosses and guns. If you worship at the altar of Moloch – trusting a flag or gun will save you – give up the pretense of following Christ.[1]

[1] Thank you Scott, Matt, and Jonathan for the conversation which inspired this blog and which probably borrowed from all of you.


Author: Paul Axton

Paul V. Axton spent 30 years in higher education teaching theology, philosophy, and Bible. Paul’s Ph.D. work and book bring together biblical and psychoanalytic understandings of peace and the blog, podcast, and PBI are shaped by this emphasis.