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A Heathen Take on Gun-Ownership

I work with people who are, pretty much without exception, radically anti-gun. I also work with people who, again pretty much without exception, have never owned nor even handled or shot a gun. Most of them are deeply committed to faith traditions that promote non-violence and most of them are very liberal. From their religious perspective, it is right and good and proper to hold an anti-gun stance. I cannot fault them there. As much as I like most of them, I wouldn’t want them at my back in an emergency. Mind you, I cannot fault them, but I don’t trust them when violence was required). They are doing as their conscience bids. So am I, which is why I stand firmly against any and all anti-gun measures.

While I don’t currently have a concealed carry permit, I do have several guns at home and a pacel of bladed weapons (among other things, I collect WWI and allied WWII knives). I don’t get to the range for practice enough to feel it proper to have a concealed carry permit and anyway, I work and teach in NYC where such a thing is nearly impossible to get. Still, from both a moral and a religious perspective, I believe it is the obligation of every right-minded adult to stand ready, willing, and able to defend their homes, their families, and themselves. When I carry a weapon, I do so in a nod to my ancestors who survived thanks to their skills with such tools (not guns specifically but weapons. With any weapon, the tech is a tool, nothing more) and in full awareness of being part of a religious worldview that values frith– right order—over peace.

After the last few days of learning about various depredations against polytheists (some historical, some happening today), I realize that I am likely moved by one other reason too: I am a Polytheist. Specifically, I’m Heathen. In both cases I practice a religion whose lineage includes being colonized by Christians, conquered, having our religious spaces forcibly violated, our holy relics destroyed, our children stolen away, and our adults murdered when they resisted forced conversion. That is our lineage. The day we forget that is the day we do not deserve to practice our faith anymore. It’s the day we spit in the eyes of every ancestor who fought and died for their Gods, for the space to practice their devotion unfettered and unharmed. I carry a weapon in part as a nod to those men and women, and a promise that should anyone step into my sacred areas with intent to violate them in the name of their God or for any other reason, they’ll very likely exit on a stretcher.

The space of my home is a sanctuary – literally given that I have multiple shrines on the grounds and inside the actual house. It is sacred space. It should be inviolable space for me and my family, just as our individual bodies should also be inviolable to outside attack. As a pious adult, I have an obligation to my Gods to do everything I can to protect that which has been given into my care. Being ready to defend those spaces and the people in them is part of that covenant. It is part of the agency involved in being a rational, right-thinking adult. For me, it is also a religious obligation.

It is foolish to rely on the goodness of strangers and it is foolish to rely on the government for our protection. No one wants violence but to live one’s life blissfully unprepared for it to occur is equally problematic.  Being facile with a weapon is, to my mind, no different than knowing how to lock one’s door at night. In my perfect world, all children would be taught hand to hand fighting and how to use a gun from elementary through high school. Upon graduation, they would have the legal right to carry a gun. (If this sounds crazy, consider that through the sixties many high schools had rifle classes and gun clubs on school property and during school time. Whatever has gone wrong in our society, the problem isn’t guns. It’s just easier to demonize guns than to deal with the social and economic problems that actually lead to gun violence). There is a self-control, a sense of deep moral responsibility that comes with carrying a tool that has the immediate potential to end a life. It changes everything about the way I choose to interact with those around me and makes me far more mindful of my words and deeds. It makes me more aware of how I move in the world. It also makes me more mindful of my responsibilities to my home, family, ancestors, Gods, and community.

Many anti-gun advocates are unwilling and perhaps incapable of looking at guns unemotionally. Many things have been misused and abused in our modern culture and guns are certainly one of those things. It’s all the more disgusting how both guns and bodily sovereignty (esp. for women) have become political talking points by parties that in reality care nothing for their citizens. There is something very, very diseased with our society when young men think it ok to pick up a weapon and murder children. That is not a sign that more gun laws are needed (I think we need less laws and regulation on just about everything) but a sign that our society is sick perhaps beyond healing. It’s easier to fault the symptom than find a cure though but when in shock and pain after yet another mass shooting, I can well understand why many, many people would call for gun bans. I don’t agree, but I understand it.

I for one do not believe it is morally good to put responsibility for my safety in the hands of another. As a pious woman, I cannot do that. As a woman, I would not do that (I saw a post recently that gun rights are women’s rights and I fully support this). The only regulation that I would back is one requiring training and perhaps regular recertification of that training. I belong to a God who is called weapons-wise. When I carry a weapon, I am honoring Him. Yes, bearing a weapon can be a holy act, but needs to be treated with that respect in turn. I have found nothing in the theology of our tradition that would encourage me to disarm and quite a bit that encourages self-sustainability and personal defense. I stand by that. I encourage other polytheists to do the same, in accordance with their conscience and beliefs.

I will add that for the first few decades of Paganism, there was a marked tendency of various denominations to downplay their religious practices and to present themselves to the secular and/or monotheistic world as innocuous, maybe a little quirky, but essentially harmless. It was a survival technique but at some point, that has to stop. We are dangerous. We will collaborate with each other. We will stand up and fight for the right to exist. We will demand parity in public spaces. We will not back down. We are not helpless. For those of you thinking I exaggerate, think on this: a couple of years ago, a priest of Jupiter was hospitalized when his temple to Jupiter was attacked by Christians. Last year, an elderly Greek woman was injured protecting a shrine to Demeter when again, Christians interrupted a religious rite. Temples are violated and desecrated almost weekly in parts of India. Earlier today I posted an article about aboriginal sacred objects being burned by Christians. Last year a practitioner of Candomble was murdered by Christians when he refused to desecrate his own shrine. There’s a Roman saying: si vis pacem, para bellum that I fully agree with. We cannot depend upon the kindness of strangers to protect our sacred places. If we want to have those things, to nourish those things and see them grow into the future we need to be ready, willing, and able to protect them ourselves. I’ve heard it said that people own guns out of fear. I would say that is not generally the case. People own guns because they know they have the wherewithal to protect themselves even when they’re afraid (and for those living rurally, it’s even more of a useful tool. I sure as hell wouldn’t go into the woods without a gun. I have no desire to become something’s lunch).

For all of these reasons and for the simple fact that I don’t see a gun as anything more than a useful tool, I don’t see it as something to fear in and of itself, I don’t see it as the agent of destruction (the gun isn’t doing anything on its own after all), I support gun ownership, responsible gun ownership by people who have taken the time to learn how to use and respect this tool.

To give you an example of how big the divide is on this issue, I’ll share a snippet of a conversation I had today. A lovely woman with whom I work truly, deeply believes that people own guns because they all are at heart white supremacists afraid of the modern equivalent of a ‘slave’ (by which she defined it as anyone the gun owners consider beneath them) uprising. I had to have her repeat it three times because I still can’t see her logic there but then this isn’t a subject upon which people apply logic, not when hyperbole and sentiment will do. This person (and I like her. She’s creative, interesting, and a pleasure to work with) truly believes that the world will be better if guns are banned. I very much do not hold that view. How the hell do you find middle ground there? For me, guns are like condoms and attorneys: better to have it and not need it than the opposite.