Take a look at this Twitter post.
The writer here — AdolfJoeBiden — is mocking Obama, supposedly on his position for limited control of firearms in the United States. Implied here is the argument that we should hold people responsible, and not blame guns, which are strangely innocent in the gun control debate, for the harm they cause. But to make this smug observation, the writer has to take contradictory positions. Let me explain.
AdolfJoeBiden clearly disagrees with Obama not holding Islam responsible for terrorism. Perhaps Obama is straining too hard to distance himself from drawing a parallel between Islam and terrorism. Let’s face it, the terrorists identify with Islam. ISIS (or ISIL) declares itself an “Islamic State”, an Islamic caliphate. So it isn’t true that there is no connection. There clearly is.
But do we really think Obama is saying there is no connection? For politically and socially pragmatic reasons, he isn’t even going there. Instead he is saying something very different. He is saying “no religion is responsible.” He has not said terrorists are not acting in the name of Islam. They are, and these are very different points.
Religion has been used to justify terrorizing people from the very beginning. The terrorists that concern the writer may indeed be Islamic and even feel a genuine connection with their religious beliefs. But it is essential to separate the person and their actions from the religion with which they identify. Claiming to represent Islam does not make it so.
Furthermore, when Christian terrorist groups commit atrocities – and I’m not talking about the Crusades of the Dark Ages – do we blame Christianity? No, of course not. The argument is absurd. A Christian society will recognize the crimes being made in the name of Christianity as a fraud. Why can’t the same be said of Islam?
So the very target of this tweet — Obama and his tolerance of Islam — doesn’t hold up to common sense. But the tweeter is doing something else as well. He is calling out Obama on his position regarding gun control. So this is kind of a two-for, one that is supposed to make Obama look like he respects Islam (and that’s supposed to be a problem) and at the same time expose him as a hypocrite.
The tweeter relies on the tired old trope “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” for the logic supporting his criticism. If Obama doesn’t condemn Islam, how can he argue that people don’t kill people in the gun control debate? Well, he doesn’t make that argument. But the argument fits nicely on bumper stickers.
What fits nicely on a bumper sticker, however, rarely has room for nuance. Guns alone don’t kill people. Agreed. But no one suggests that guns kill without someone – either deliberately or accidentally – using the gun. What is the point of “people kill, guns don’t” argument? Are we supposed to conclude that because guns don’t have any agency, don’t autonomously kill, per se, they should not be regulated? I don’t follow the logic. And if the gun is registered or somehow connected to an owner, where is the harm in that? If you are not involved in illegal activity, why worry, right? Isn’t that another argument we hear about crime and law enforcement? What is the harm, therefore, in registering your handgun if your intentions are legal?
All of this is about politics, plain and simple; and sloppy premises with disjointed conclusions. It also is about the political symbolism of the gun and the right to possess them. In fact I would go further and suggest a truer comparison here would be one where some strong gun rights advocates — those who are literally fanatical or damn close — are in many ways one and the same as members of a religion. In this case the religion venerates the gun.
It really is not a stretch to think of the gun as a totem, one that for many represents overall freedom and independence. Gun rights for some is a matter of political principles, not necessarily a tool they really need or even want. They support gun ownership rights for philosophical, not practical, purposes. When you look at numbers measuring support for Second Amendment rights, for example, that number is far larger than the number of people who own guns in the United States.
Furthermore, within this group of Second Amendment supporters and gun owners, there are different priorities. Many support some level of responsible control of guns. Others haven’t any tolerance for any gun control whatsoever. I would suggest it is that latter group that views guns quasi-religiously. For this same group, politics and religious beliefs frequently overlap and mingle anyway.
So if people who have claimed their Second Amendment rights commit terrible crimes, should we then condemn all people who support the Second Amendment as criminals when crimes occur? If we’re going to start holding a religious faith accountable when people self-identifying with that religion commit a crime in the name of that religion, it raises the question: Who is similarly held accountable for secular killings? Perhaps the guilty are all the members of the Church of the Gun, regardless of whether they pull the trigger or not.
Doesn’t that conclusion follow from the AdolfJoeBiden’s tweet? These are the contradicting positions that AdolfJoeBiden asks us to embrace.
Religion exist in the abstract. Religion coheres around a set of beliefs that people share. But the beliefs of some do not necessarily represent the beliefs of the whole, even if there are some beliefs legitimately shared by all. This is so common that we forget it. Where do we the multiple sects of Christianity originate? Differences, often subtle, in belief and faith. That’s the abstract.
Actions, however, are not abstract. Guns and terrorists are not abstract. Attacking the real tangible problems — whether they are people, violence, guns — is not inconsistent with respecting the beliefs of those who do not pose a threat. Conflating those who do not pose a threat with those who do simply because they share a cultural or religious identity is meant to demonize them all. It is an old and dirty trick to ostracize the other en masse. Twitter often is an irresponsible free for all, and that tweet is nothing less than a dirty trick.
Ultimately, all of this is about beliefs and where beliefs coincide. Thank heavens we are sometimes better than blindly accepting all claims made in the name of a religion. We should remember to hold our secular beliefs to the same standard of scrutiny.