The idea of child sacrifice evokes primal horror in believers and skeptics alike. We like to think of the practice as an abhorrent relic of a long-forgotten past.
But Americans continue to practice child sacrifice.
Every year, we offer up our children up to the god of the gun and to the NRA - the high priests of the American gun cult.
The gun has become an absolute and unquestionable object of American idolatry. It demands from us blood offerings, and we oblige daily.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence reports that 46 children and teens are shot every day resulting in 6 deaths by way of murder (4) and suicide (2). By the numbers, then, Americans have reckoned that 312 children a year amounts to an acceptable yearly sacrifice.
Consider Sandy Hook and its aftermath. After 20 children were gunned down while in elementary school, Americans decided ... to do absolutely nothing. Like parents in ancient Canaanite culture who stood powerless before priests or who willingly offered up their children to them, American parents now stand powerless before the gun cult and their paid congressional devotees.
Now, 59 more people have died and nearly 500 wounded in our latest recurring ritual of blood sacrifice in Las Vegas. And, in true cult-like fashion, Bill O'Reilly throws up his hands and intones, as many an ancient priest might have: "This is the price of freedom ..."
This is the price of Moloch. We dare not disobey.
Who is Moloch? Moloch is an ancient Near Eastern deity to whom children were offered. On account of child sacrifice, the Hebrew Bible depicts Moloch worship as a particularly barbaric form of idolatry. Moloch worship ceased millennia ago, but the connection between idolatry and child sacrifice offers us a helpful test to discern between worship of the true God and the false. If child sacrifice is required, then what you worship is not God but an idol.
The Bible routinely repeats its prohibitions against idolatry - so often, in fact, that the repetition suggests that idolatry remains an ever-present threat. That threat still abides. We moderns may not any time soon melt down our gold to build a golden calf, but most forms of idolatry are subtler - so subtle that we are captured by them before we realize it.
The German-American theologian, Paul Tillich, argued that idolatry is a matter of ultimacy. He defined faith as, "the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern." The object of your ultimate concern is your god. A Christian community might affirm that they worship Jesus, but in practice, its true ultimate concern may be the gun. Worse yet, we might confuse the two and invoke Christ's blessings on the gun as we routinely do when we conflate God with flag and country.
In all these cases, idolatry is in play because the true ultimate, God, is replaced by something penultimate. Tillich is, in a modern idiom, channeling John Calvin who famously called the mind a perpetual factory of idols.
How can we determine whether we are in bondage to an idol? Intensity of reaction is a sure-fire marker that we traffic with the sacred. We know that the gun has become a sacred object because it commands unquestioning reverence. Interrogating its sacral status triggers anger and even death threats because the sacred calls for unconditional loyalty and obedience.
Theologians sort out true worship from false by insisting that the true God demands justice and mercy, never blood sacrifice. By contrast, the flag, the market and the gun - the true American trinity - cannot be questioned, and all three require blood.
Only by recognizing the gun as an idol can we explain why we stand in helpless thrall to it even though more Americans have been killed by it, children included, than in all of America's foreign wars combined. Idols are bloodthirsty; they are never satisfied.
Apart from a religious analysis, the NRA's power defies comprehension. Money alone affords insufficient explanation. Campaign contributions from gun manufacturers funneled through the NRA exercise powerful influence over legislators, but for the 3% of the American population who own 50% of America's guns, and others who read the Second Amendment as holy writ that sanctifies the inalienable right to individual gun ownership, something more primal is at work.
On Sunday, many Americans may worship in church. But the rest of the week, the God whom Americans actually worship and in whom they find refuge, is Smith & Wesson.
Note: This piece was originally published at http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2017/10/12/4748791.htm