Idolatry and Why Liberal Christianity Cannot Die (or What A Mass Shooting In Aurora Shows Us)

This is not the time to have a discussion about gun rights and gun control policy; that time will come in light of this tragedy, but it’s not right now.

So if this is not the time to talk about gun rights and gun control policy, what should we talk about? May I suggest that the tragedy that happened in Aurora shows us why idolatry is the real issue.

In order to have idolatry, one must have idols. What were the idols in this situation? There are four that I can see  at first analysis:





Let’s look at these one at a time.

Guns…can there really be a debate that this country, more than any other country, has such a fascination with guns that one would be hard pressed to not see that for many people the equation is not God+Guns but rather God=Guns (or more precisely God’s Power=Firepower)?

Individualism…if I really wanted to go there, there is an analysis that can be made that this shooting happened at the opening screening of a Batman movie. However, this country’s dark fascination with individualism (as opposed to individuality) goes back a long way. Look at Westerns, the genre that the U.S. gave the world. From the earliest ones that made it seem as if the only civilized people were white and wore white hats and Wyatt Erp or Shane or whomever John Wayne was portraying is saving the town to modern ones where the only civilized people are white and James Bond or Jason Bourne or whomever Harrison Ford is portraying is saving the town/world/civilization, this country promotes the lone/loner to the detriment of the communal.

Militarism…in what other country would access to standard-issue military or specialized police gear (i.e. full riot gear) be as easy as accessing the basic necessities of life? In what other country is it encouraged that the answer to fear of the other is alleviated by becoming as forceful/equipped as the country’s military? And that we offer training in the use of this equipment to hobbysts?

Celebrity…this country makes celebrities out of people who do horrendously unexplainable things. We spend days trying to figure out why they did it instead of focusing on the victims of their actions. Even more than that, the country remembers their names long after the victims are forgotten.


This is why Liberal Christianity cannot die. Liberal Christianity can preach that love conquers idolatry. Liberal Christianity can preach that where true love resides there can be no idols. Liberal Christianity can preach that idols and idolatry get in the way of love. Liberal Christianity can preach that idols fail, but love never does.

I pray that Liberal Christianity preaches this loudly.



9 thoughts on “Idolatry and Why Liberal Christianity Cannot Die (or What A Mass Shooting In Aurora Shows Us)

  1. What I’ve been brooding over as the news from Aurora has developed, is (maybe not idolatry, but) the undue respect given to anger and fear. Anger is something that needs to be managed, or re-channelled, or used specifically and usefully. Fooey on the Dance of Anger. And fear needs to be identified, and faced rationally and bravely. OK, so I’m way 19th century. 2nd century? But “I can’t help how I feel, and I have to let it out” doesn’t keep a society safe. The shooter in Aurora was crazy, but hadn’t anyone noticed? Didn’t anyone think he and the rest of the world should be protected from whatever demons were driving him? Or was his right to “be that way” idolized so that it trumped everything else? Lord help us! Bunny

    • Hi Bunny (forgive me for not emailing you yet).
      I’ve been thinking about what you’ve written, and I’m still thinking about it. I don’t know about the place of anger in this situation, but I am wondering what is it about being young and male that tends to make this occur. I’ll write more later.

  2. The real story of Aurora? Heroism. Those guys who covered there wives/girlfriends’ bodies with their own- at least three died in the process. And less you think it’s about sex, there was Jarell Brooks, a teenage boy who was shot in the leg while saving a woman he didn’t know from Eve, and her two children. Others who were equally heroic and luckily not injured are being identified the local news in Colorado, even if it isn’t national news. Don’t let one lunatic blind you to the higher nature of mankind he ironically revealed.

    • If what happened in Aurora were a once-in-a-generation event–if it truly were just one lunatic–then I would agree with you that the discussion could be focused on heroism. Unfortunately, on this side of the pond, this is not a once-in-a-generation event (and this year, it’s not even a once-a-year event; let’s remember the school shooting in Ohio)–unlike the mass killing in Norway last year (which is probably more precisely a once-in-a-lifetime event for the Norwegians).

      Heroism has its place, and there are stories of it here. But if we stay there too long, it will bring us back to the individual (and individualism), and this is a much broader cultural story and conversation that needs to happen.

  3. Yet instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded demographic with these changes, the Episcopal Church’s dying has proceeded apace. Last week, while the church’s House of Bishops was approving a rite to bless same-sex unions, Episcopalian church attendance figures for 2000-10 circulated in the religion blogosphere. They showed something between a decline and a collapse: In the last decade, average Sunday attendance dropped 23 percent, and not a single Episcopal diocese in the country saw churchgoing increase.

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