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Did you know that some American gun manufacturers, even those who make weapons like the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, claim that the manufacturing and selling of their wares is a “religious calling”?
In June of 2022, the author Peter Manseau, who is also the founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s Center for the Understanding of Religion in American History, wrote in The New York Times that:
The AR-15-style rifle used in the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, last month was made by an arms manufacturer that regards selling weapons as part of its Christian mission. …
Daniel Defense, the Georgia company whose gun enabled the slaughter at Robb Elementary School, presents its corporate identity in explicitly religious terms. At the time of the shooting, the company’s social media presence included an image of a toddler with a rifle in his lap above the text of Proverbs 22:6 (“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it”). For Easter, it posted a photograph of a gun and a cross resting on scriptural passages recounting the Resurrection.
Its weapons have now been found at the scene of two mass shootings — Uvalde and Las Vegas — that left a combined total of 81 people dead. …
In Florida, Spike’s Tactical (“the finest AR-15s on the planet”) makes a line of “Crusader” weapons adorned with a quote from the Psalms. Missouri-based CMMG (“the leading manufacturer of AR15 rifles, components and small parts”) advertises its employees’ “commitment to meet each and every morning to pray for God’s wisdom in managing the enormous responsibility that comes with this business.” And in Colorado, Cornerstone Arms explains that it is so named because “Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of our business, our family and our lives” and the “Second Amendment to our Constitution is the cornerstone of the freedom we enjoy as American citizens.”
How did these arms manufacturers arrive at such a bizarre, twisted interpretation of Christianity’s peaceful original teachings? How did our society go from regarding guns as tools used to feed our families to seeing them as objects of veneration, devotion, and even worship? How can anyone who actually believes in Christ’s main message make weapons used in the mass murders of children?
After all, Jesus Christ told us to love our enemies, asked humanity to turn the other cheek in his Sermon on the Mount, and said, in John 13, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”
O ye beloved of the Lord! Commit not that which defileth the limpid stream of love or destroyeth the sweet fragrance of friendship. By the righteousness of the Lord! Ye were created to show love one to another and not perversity and rancour. Take pride not in love for yourselves but in love for your fellow-creatures. Glory not in love for your country, but in love for all mankind.
That profound passage from the writings of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, defines the true purpose of all people. We human beings exist, not to slaughter others with weapons solely made for destruction and death, but to embrace life, truly love and cherish one another, and work to create a non-violent world where every child has hope for a peaceful and productive future.
For many, though, the possession and even veneration of weapons now represents both a religious and a patriotic duty.
These kinds of strange, hypocritical, and contradictory aberrations happen, the Baha’i teachings say, when religion loses its way – when it decays and diminishes in its power and potency. Like every living thing, religion is subject to the universal pattern of all life. Nothing but the Creator lives forever. Each individual creature and each entity – governmental, societal, professional, religious – participates in the “law of cycles.”
The Baha’i writer Horace Holley summarized the law of cycles this way:
We take for granted the existence of this law whenever dealing with natural phenomena: the cycle of life operating for the tree from seed to fruit, for the human being from birth to death, even for the stars of immensest magnitude. …
The law of cycles operates in the case of religions and nations no less imperatively than in the case of trees, animals, planets and human beings. …
When the creative power of spirit is withdrawn from the community as a whole, and the parts of the community engage in mutual struggle for predominance or survival, the life cycle of that social order has run its course.
… the fundamental reality of the divine religions must be renewed, reformed, revoiced to mankind.
From the seed of reality religion has grown into a tree which has put forth leaves and branches, blossoms and fruit. After a time this tree has fallen into a condition of decay. The leaves and blossoms have withered and perished; the tree has become stricken and fruitless. It is not reasonable that man should hold to the old tree, claiming that its life forces are undiminished, its fruit unequaled, its existence eternal. The seed of reality must be sown again in human hearts in order that a new tree may grow therefrom and new divine fruits refresh the world.
Baha’is believe that Baha’u’llah’s renewed Faith has sown the “seed of reality” once more, and that his message of peace, compassion, and love will once again transform human hearts and bring us into a new cycle of human unity.
But before that massive change in human society can happen, we’ll need to reckon with and reduce our reliance on deadly weapons. In this short series of essays, we’ll explore why and how the Baha’i teachings ask humanity to disarm, de-escalate, and limit the terrible damage modern weapons of war can do.