Why are evangelicals and Catholics the opposite on guns?

A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute has some very interesting statistics on gun ownership and opinions about gun laws according to religious affiliation. 62% of Catholics and 60% of religiously unaffiliated Americans favor tougher gun control laws, while only 35% of evangelicals do. With regard to gun ownership, 32% of Catholic households and 36% of religiously unaffiliated have guns, while 58% of evangelical households do. Now here’s the most interesting stat: 18% of religiously unaffiliated, 14% of Catholics, and 32% of evangelicals think Americans should be allowed to carry concealed weapons into church. What do you think is the basis for these differences? That’s all I’m going to say. You talk.

15 thoughts on “Why are evangelicals and Catholics the opposite on guns?

  1. Here’s a guess based in history. The nature of Protestantism (distilled in evangelicalism) is to be on guard against rulers–there is an intrinsic distrust of authority began in the Reformation and continued through a culture of splintering away whenever they feel authority is being abused. The American Revolution was fueled predominantly by Protestant theology that even spiritualized the act of rebelling against corrupt govt. Catholic theology, on the other hand teaches from day one acceptance of authority structures and sees them as beneficial to spiritual flourishing. (This is also why during the French revolution the Catholic church came under attack while during the American Revolution, the Protestant Church did not.)

    What does this have to do with gun-control laws? Most of the folks that I know who oppose gun-control couch their arguments in the 2nd amendment right to defend themselves against tyranny. This reveals an intrinsic disposition to actually expect tyranny from their rulers; they are disposed to think that they will need to protect themselves. Those who don’t fear that their leaders will turn tyrannical, those taught to trust leadership don’t understand this as an issue personal freedom but one societal good.

  2. Possible factors:

    1.) Catholics long for he day when the Pope rules the secular world again, and so want to get rid of guns so the populace wouldn’t be able to protect themselves against a Theocratic coo. (I know I don’t know how to spell coo).

    2. ) Maybe like I said before, Protestants say “I’m justified by faith alone, so I can kill people and still go to heaven.”?

  3. Up until I started reading your blog I would have (tentatively and partially) identified as Evangelical. I am anti-gun. Very. No qualifications. I would say its mainly cultural. I’m Australian and we don’t have quite the historical attachment to ‘bearing arms’ that you do over there. Though we are certainly not without our own historical hang-ups (!) this is not one of them. I’m not sure its a theological thing except perhaps that being a ‘good citizen’ seems to be part for many American Christians (not just Evangelicals) of being a good Christian. And in the US, being pro-gun and pro-war (sorry to be simplistic) just feels more patriotic, and patriotism seems to be part of being a good citizen. Don’t get me wrong, the good Christian = good citizen thing is not without biblical warrant, but I think the uncritical acceptance of this equation (or perhaps conflation?) is where the problem lies. For this reason, I think that the pro gun thing in the US has less to do with ‘premillenialist ethical nihilism (if I have actually understood this phrase correctly – a big if!) and more to do with an unthinking patriotism. Just a thought.

    • Hmm… maybe you’re right. I guess I just had it hammered into me so hard to be scared and suspicious of the outside world that it makes me think the same paranoia about premarital sex happening at middle school dance parties applies to “those (brown) people from out there” invading our houses and harming our families. It’s also true that anything involving government regulations or programs is the “secular humanism” that evangelicals are supposed to define themselves against.

      Also don’t be ashamed to identify as an evangelical. I will stubbornly own that label for myself no matter what happens because I believe in sharing the euangelion of Jesus Christ with everyone. It’s because I’m an evangelical and I always have evangelism on my mind that I’m scandalized by these statistics. They just don’t seem like a good witness. Of course, I know lots of people who own guns and that mere fact doesn’t scandalize me; I’ve enjoyed shooting their guns before. But it still bothers me that evangelicals like guns more than atheists do. I just don’t like what that says about us.

  4. Oh, I should clarify the reference to European Catholics arriving as immigrants. Obviously, white Evangelicals did, too, but more as immigrant “settlers” in a quest for land rather than as immigrants to urban cities.

  5. I know theology plays a major role here. I’m curious, though, as to what role ethnic identity has. A small majority of white Catholics voted for Romney, while Latino Catholics voted very strongly for Obama. I wonder if those differences would carry over into gun control debates. I spend a fair amount of time reading Catholic social media, and I’ve noticed that very many “conservative” Catholics, including many “pro-life” political advocates, emotionally express strong anti-gun control views. In contrast, of course, more “progressive” Catholics support gun control. I suspect many Latino progressive Catholics support gun control. As for Evangelicals, their US history that involves Manifest Destiny and a belief in US exceptionalism likely plays a role, as does their advocacy for patriarchal “muscular Christianity.” Arriving mostly as immigrants to the US, Catholics’ experiences have been different. Moreover, of course, the hierarchy and the Pope himself express open support for limits on gun ownership.

    • Right. I get what you’re saying about the immigration factor. Catholics are newcomers to the “patriotism” of white America because they used to be the “greasy” Italians and “drunken” Irish that “patriotic” Americans looked down on. It’s only been one generation or maybe two that Catholics have counted as “white” people. So it would make sense that older Catholics wouldn’t share the “Brown people are out to get us; we must protect our families” metanarrative.

      I also wonder if premillennialist ethical nihilism is a factor and the view of human nature that I would call the “total depravity of everybody else.” This all seems like something Neil Young should write a song about. I’m more than a little scandalized by these statistics if it isn’t completely obvious. I really do consider myself an evangelical. Call me crazy but I thought it was about Jesus.

  6. Isn’t the straight forward answer that evangelicals are more conservative (e.g. Republican) and the survey shows clearly that this topic is clearly a partisan Democratic/Republican issue. In other words, there is no chance anything reasonable will result from Congressional action. The 1994 to 2004 Federal Assault Weapons Ban was a Congressional mess. It was watered down, had all kinds of ridiculous attachments to ensure it would not work, and was nothing less than a Congressional feel good act to say they did something. It wasn’t renewed in 2004 and this Congress will do nothing real or significant to really address this issue. Watch this video to see the comments about the 1994 ban and just how ineffective the ban and Congress was then: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/newtown-connecticut-shootings-assault-weapons-ban-work/story?id=18000724#.UNEqO6XRffg

    • But why should conservative mean pro-gun? That makes no sense to me. And there are plenty of conservative Catholics. I’m interested in the theology. In particular, what is the Biblical foundation for the 32% of evangelicals who want to carry guns to church? That’s what I’m interested in knowing.

      • I apologize if I sound dismissive, since Evangelicals have an astoundingly rich history, but what I often hear from Evangelicals is that the Bible demands an “eye for an eye.” If they have more to say, it would be to point out that the Hebrew Bible (seemingly) condones capital punishment for certain offenses. Also, they’ll say that Jesus came to bring not peace but a sword (Matthew) or they’ll remind us that Jesus demonstrated violence when he cleansed the temple of the money-changers. (Personally, I’ve heard that the whip he carried was not for the moneychangers but the cattle, but I’m no Bible scholar.) Anyway, their readings of Scripture leave much to be desired, which is sad, since they cite Scripture with such extreme self-confidence.

        • I know. It’s just farcical to call that “conservative.” The word has no meaning. “Suburbanite” is the word that should be used instead of “conservative” because the eclectic combination of values that are called politically conservative today are not rooted in any real loyalty to the Bible or Christian tradition. They are derived in the instincts of suburban living.

      • I think if you looked at this geographically, you’d find that the Bible belt of evangelicals in the South. The South is much more pro-gun and much more Republican. Catholics are predominantly in the North, are Democrats, and live closer to cities. Those in cities don’t feel as strong of a reason to have guns. They don’t hunt with them and they see too many killings with them in the cities.
        I don’t think most people (Christians or non-Christians) see guns as a theological issue.

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