By Sonja DeWitt | 24 August 2019 |
Mike Huckabee thinks he has a solution for the mass shooting problem. “’I would posit that the lack of thought and prayers is probably the single biggest factor in what is behind them,” Huckabee wrote. He also said that mass shootings will never stop until “kids are brought up once again to believe that we are all made in the image of God, that life is sacred and superficial differences like skin color are meaningless.”
The LA Times disagrees, stating the facts show that strong faith in God does not diminish gun violence, nor does a lack of faith increase gun violence.
“Here’s one crystal-clear example: Faith in God is extremely high in the Philippines. One study found that the country ‘leads the world‘ in terms of its strength of faith in God, with 94% of people there saying they have always believed in God. Comparatively, the Czech Republic is one of the most atheistic nations in the world, with only about 20% of Czechs believing in God. According to Huckabee’s hypothesis, violence and murder rates should be much worse in the Czech Republic and much better in the Philippines.
“But the reality is different: The murder rate in the Philippines is nearly 10 times higher than it is in the Czech Republic, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
“This same correlation holds true for nearly every country in the world: Those with the strongest rates of belief in God such as El Salvador, Columbia, Honduras, Jamaica, and Yemen tend to experience the most violence, while those with the lowest rates such as Japan, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, New Zealand and Australia tend to experience the lowest levels of violence.
“By any standard measure,” the LA Times continues, “the safest countries in the world are highly secularized nations like Iceland, Denmark, Canada, Slovenia and South Korea where faith in God is very low. And the most dangerous countries include fervently faithful places such as the Central African Republic, Syria, Sudan, Venezuela and Belize—places steeped in faith in God.”
So which is right? Does belief in God protect us from mass violence or encourage it? The answer is… “Yes.”
Poring over statistics about whether citizens of a country say they believe in God gives us very little relevant information. The really revealing question, which was not asked, is “Which God?” What kind of God a society believes in tells much more about a society than the mere claim that they believe in God. And there are numerous diverse and disparate beliefs about the fundamental nature of God, even among Christians.
Some Christians believe in a God who’s an angry, vindictive tyrant demanding perfect obedience on pain of eternal torture. Some Christians envision God as a CEO, offering them easy wealth and financial domination in exchange for their faithfulness. Some Christians see God as their ticket to control and political power, and are working busily to make sure that God’s political kingdom appears on this earth—of course, with them in charge. Some Christians exult in the belief in a God who’s a Divine Avenger raining lightning bolts down on their enemies. And some Christians see God as the ultimate vindication of their own rightness, and the wrongness of everyone who disagrees with them. Each of these “Gods” has its own unique social consequences, and creates its own unique type of social structure, as history demonstrates.
A claim of belief in God has been used to justify many horrific actions—the Inquisition, the Crusades, the execution of “witches,” the jailing and torture of dissenters. So, saying a society believes in God tells us very little about the true nature of a society.
There is only one genuine source for understanding of who God really is—the Bible. Every belief about God that is contrary to the clear teachings of the Bible is a false belief about God. Of course, there are numerous diverse interpretations of the Bible, but some of its teachings are crystal clear.
- The God of the Bible is, first and foremost, a God of love for all people—all races, ethnicities, and cultures.
- The God of the Bible is a God of the downtrodden and oppressed, not the rich and powerful.
- The God of the Bible gives all his creatures freedom of choice.
Although Huckabee talks a good game about believing in a God of love who sees external factors such as skin color as unimportant, observing the behavior and listening to the rhetoric of many American Christians—even Christian leaders—casts doubt on the sincerity of their belief in these fundamentals of the faith.
The nasty rhetoric used by many Christians, demonizing brown-skinned immigrants as drug dealers, rapists, murderers and terrorists casts significant doubt on whether they actually believe in a God who loves all people, regardless of race, color or culture.
The political positions of a segment of Christians who excuse oppression of the poor and vulnerable, and exploitation and destruction of the earth in the name of corporate profits call into question the sincerity of their claim that they believe in a God who is the champion of the stranger, of orphans and widows.
The well-publicized campaign by Christian political groups to use the power of government to expand the rights of Christians at the expense of others in areas such as religion in schools, LGBT rights and women’s rights belies their claims to believe in freedom of choice.
And the bold-faced refusal of these Christian leaders to take even the most fundamental steps to keep weapons of mass violence out of the hands of dangerous people reeks of self-centered political opportunism rather than God’s self-sacrificing love.
On the other hand, the official policies of many of the countries cited by the LA Times for their low rates of violence are much more consistent with the above principles than the beliefs of many Christians in America.
In most such countries, concern for the individual and the oppressed has led to a social safety net to provide citizens with the fundamentals of survival such as health care and education. This allows a greater equality among citizens, keeps corporate power in check, and increases the power of the individual. Greater equality of opportunity fosters an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation.
In most of these countries, a strong respect for the equal rights of all people allows different races and ethnicities to live together with minimal friction or discrimination.
Most of these countries have a long tradition of placing a high value on freedom of thought and religion. They have a history of openness and acceptance of a wide range of religious perspectives. This allows members of diverse religions and no religion to live together with mutual respect, and without coercion by either side. This is the legacy of America’s greatest innovation and import—separation of church and state. Unfortunately, it is true that some of these countries have recently started exhibiting increasingly hostile attitudes toward religion. This poses an imminent danger to the open-hearted religious freedom which has made these countries prosperous and peaceful.
To me, this confirms that the fundamental principles of love and individual freedom taught in the Bible are a universal recipe for a healthy, cohesive and free society. When a society follows the principles of God’s government, it will thrive, regardless of whether its people acknowledge Him by name. However, when a society claims the name of God, but acts contrary to God’s principles, invoking the name of God as a magic incantation will not save them from the consequences of their ungodly attitudes and behavior.
Paul had something to say about this: “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law.” Rom. 2:14
So did Jesus. “What do you think?” he asked the Pharisees. “There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”“The first,” they answered.” Matt. 21:28-32
It is not those who say, “Lord, Lord,” who are approved by God, but those “who [do] the will of [the] Father who is in heaven.” Matt. 7:21. I think it is fairly self-evident that the will of God is that we take every available action to ensure that these unthinkable tragedies do not recur.
James made it clear what God thinks of Mr. Huckabee’s unctuous invocation of “thoughts and prayers,” while he adamantly refuses to take or urge any concrete policy action to prevent easy access to weapons capable of causing such horrific destruction. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have work.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” James 2:14-19.
And John had very much the same message, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18 Mr. Huckabee’s facile expression of his “thoughts and prayers” is not the kind of active, redemptive, self-sacrificing love John had in mind.
Sonja DeWitt is a civil rights attorney with over 20 years of experience handling Equal Employment Opportunity cases. She has a strong interest in religious liberty and has worked with the North American Religious Liberty Association, for which she received an award. She blogs about religion, politics and government, and social justice at www.voicesfromthewilderness.net,