Many biblical scholars agree when the Israelites fashioned the golden calf they had no intention of rejecting the God who saved them from bondage in Egypt. They planned to use the calf only as a tangible symbol of their redeeming God. They could not see their God, nor could they see Moses who was up on the mountain with God, but they could see and touch the calf, which served as a vivid reminder of God’s power and presence. They believed this symbol enabled them to tap into God’s power as they struggled in the desert. This young, virile bull also confirmed their own dreams of being virile and powerful, just like their God.
As the golden calf gave the ancients a false sense of security, many twenty-first-century Americans look for security in weapons. When our leaders are absent or fail us; when our God is invisible and from all appearances is absent from our lives; when we don’t know how we can keep going; when we are consumed by our fears and feel threatened by those who are not like us, those are the moments when new idols are imagined and fashioned and desperate people give them their ultimate concerns, devotion, and focused attention.
Our national trust in our weapons has grown exponentially since the Second World War and has led us to purchase more and more of them. Part of America’s national creed is that the tools of violence, be they large, as in war materiel, or small, as in handguns and assault weapons, will keep us safe, secure, and “free.”
America’s military, for example, possesses 3,200 tactical combat aircraft of all kinds. We lead the world in spending more for military preparedness at $698 billion a year, compared to the expenditures of the next nineteen countries combined. The U.S. Navy is larger than the next thirteen navies of the world combined, eleven of which belong to our closest allies and partners. Domestically, we possess more than 300 million guns, almost enough for every man, woman, and child, and an additional three million come off assembly lines each year. Has all this firepower made us more secure? Have these weapons removed or reduced our fear? Suppose we only spent more than the next ten nations combined or if our navy was only larger than the next seven navies of the world combined, would we be any less secure? Are we safer today than we were four years ago when America had twelve million fewer handguns and assault weapons?—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, pages 24–25 (emphasis original)