Perhaps this essay by Garry Wills published in the December 15th Blog section to the New York Review of Books will be viewed in "due time" with curiousity rather than anguish, as it captures the childlike faith in the power of guns that has permeated this country over the past several decades. Perhaps one day we will be blessed with the relief of detached hindsight because the horror in Connecticut unfolding over the last three days finally shook the country, so inured to a removed view of violence, so accustomed to taking in violence as a bastardized form of entertainment from the safe distance of its living rooms, into revulsion at its own complacency. Perhaps this will be the moment that finally motivated this nation to grow up and accept responsibility for living so long under a grievous illusion.
Or maybe his words will be seen as just another heresy in the continuum of our worship of the gun God.
Wills sees Americans' relationship to their guns as directly tied to the idea of guns, an idea that he compares to the worship of the pagan God Moloch of the Old Testament:
Few crimes are more harshly forbidden in the Old Testament than sacrifice to the god Moloch (for which see Leviticus 18.21, 20.1-5). The sacrifice referred to was of living children consumed in the fires of offering to Moloch. Ever since then, worship of Moloch has been the sign of a deeply degraded culture. Ancient Romans justified the destruction of Carthage by noting that children were sacrificed to Moloch there.In a pained condemnation of an American gun culture Wills draws the parallel between Americans' attitude towards guns, demonstrated by our historical passivity and validation of the gun lobby's credo and the unquestioning, Biblical-era worship of a malevolent pagan god. And although he names the leaders of this modern cult as the Pope-like figureheads of gun-worship, Wills implicitly blames us all for allowing ourselves to be willingly deluded--by the NRA and by ourselves.
That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily—sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines...The picture Wills paints is one of mass, public self-delusion, honed over the years by a barrage of ready media and selective history that elevates the gun to near-mythic powers. It's a history that equates our national narrative with the use of guns, that glorifies gun usage and the magical, protective powers of gun ownership against an omnipresent enemy. Like a deity, the gun has gradually become an extension of our being as we have devoted decades to justifying its existence:
Its power to do good is matched by its incapacity to do anything wrong. It cannot kill. Thwarting the god is what kills. If it seems to kill, that is only because the god’s bottomless appetite for death has not been adequately fed. The answer to problems caused by guns is more guns, millions of guns, guns everywhere, carried openly, carried secretly, in bars, in churches, in offices, in government buildings. Only the lack of guns can be a curse, not their beneficent omnipresence.From my perspective as a parent of school-age children and a hunter who has never regarded possession of an automatic firearm as an inherent "right, it's been gratifying but also depressing to finally see gun control issues come to the fore in American discourse when the problem has been aggravated by those (including myself) who by all rights should have known better in the first place.
Adoration of Moloch permeates the country, imposing a hushed silence as he works his will. One cannot question his rites, even as the blood is gushing through the idol’s teeth. The White House spokesman invokes the silence of traditional in religious ceremony. “It is not the time” to question Moloch. No time is right for showing disrespect for Moloch.
And I can't help but think that when all this attention evaporates we will be back to the status quo. Because excising guns from our culture at this point is something akin to excising our own genetic makeup.
Joan Didion famously wrote "we tell ourselves stories in order to live:"
"We tell ourselves stories in order to live....We look for the sermon in the suicide, for theWills recognizes that Americans have told themselves stories about guns for a long, long time. As Anton Chekhov said, if you put a gun in a story, even if just to hang it over the fireplace, the gun must, at some point, go off. In order for the gun to go off it must be pointed at an enemy. If the enemy doesn't exist, it must be invented, even if, as Wills is saying, the real enemy turns out to be ourselves.
social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see,
select the most workable of multiple choices. We live entirely, especially
if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate
images, by the 'ideas' with which we have learned to freeze the shifting
phantasmagoria which is our actual experience."
The White Album