American Moloch

In a piece entitled Our Moloch, written just after the Sandy Hook shootings, Garry Wills compares the American love for guns to the ancient worship of the god Moloch.

The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?

If the comparison seems hyperbolic, consider this: In the Presbyterian Church that I attend, we host meetings for Mom’s Demand Action. However, we can’t list the meeting in our church bulletin, without changing the name. To admit that you are following Christian teaching, even when it goes against a love for unrestricted access to guns, is to commit a uniquely American heresy. To further illustrate the point, Mom’s Demand Action advocates for safety measures that were first developed by the National Rifle Association in the 1980’s. In that era, the NRA still allowed discussion of gun regulations to an extent that seems unfathomable now.

The worship of Moloch is one of the ugliest traditions depicted in the Old Testament of the Bible. When the text refers to the “detestable practices” that were common among the people with whom the Israelites lived, ritual prostitution and burning children in sacrifice to the god Moloch are chief among those practices. One of the most visceral scenes I have ever read in a novel comes from Salammbo, by Gustave Flaubert. In the book, the citizens of the ancient city of Carthage are trying stave off invasion by the angry and unpaid mercenaries who helped them to fight against the Roman Empire. The water supply to the city has been cut and they are in dire need of rain. In their desperation, the Carthaginians hastily sacrifice their children to the fires of a giant idol of Moloch. It’s a difficult scene to stomach.

The victims, when scarcely at the edge of the opening, disappeared like a drop of water on a red-hot plate, and white smoke rose amid the great scarlet colour.

Nevertheless, the appetite of the god was not appeased. He ever wished for more. In order to furnish him with a larger supply, the victims were piled up on his hands with a big chain above them which kept them in their place. Some devout persons had at the beginning wished to count them, to see whether their number corresponded with the days of the solar year; but others were brought, and it was impossible to distinguish them in the giddy motion of the horrible arms. This lasted for a long, indefinite time until the evening. Then the partitions inside assumed a darker glow, and burning flesh could be seen. Some even believed that they could descry hair, limbs, and whole bodies.

After the Sandy Hook shootings, there was a lack of legislative, or really any, action that followed. Many said that if we allowed this sort of thing to happen to our children without doing anything about it, we would never have the will to prevent these things. So far, those people who predicted our sinful complacency have been right. While other countries take action and are rewarded with safer communities in which to live, we in America continue to trade our security, and that of our children, to curry favor with the false god of unrestricted access to weapons.

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