Have you heard about the Jesus rifles? ABC News broke the story last week. It seems there was this fellow named Glyn Bindon, who used weapons of war to speak for his faith.
Bindon, who lost his life in a 2003 plane crash, was the founder of Trijicon, a Michigan company that has a $600 million contract to provide gun sights to the U.S. military. Apparently he had a policy, which survived him, of inscribing coded references to Bible verses on the gun sights he manufactured for high-powered rifles used by U.S. service personnel. So that, for instance, one sight is marked, 2COR4:6, i.e., 2 Corinthians 4:6: "God said, 'Let light shine out of darkness.' He made his light shine in our hearts. It shows us the light of God's glory in the face of Christ."
Tom Munson, a Trijicon executive, told ABC there was nothing wrong or illegal about the inscriptions and noted pointedly that the issue was being raised by a group (presumably meaning the Muslims who have complained) that is "not Christian." On Thursday, the company agreed to discontinue the practice.
Still, Munson's remarks deserve a riposte. Here it is:
In the first place, the gun sights actually seem a clear violation of a regulation specifically prohibiting service personnel from proselytizing in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the second place, the revelation is a fresh embarrassment for the United States, which has labored for nine years to convince the Muslim world that it is not leading a Christian crusade against Islam.
In the third place, the coded scriptural references provided a recruiting tool to warlords and terrorists who could truthfully tell followers they were being shot at by Jesus guns.
In the fourth place, Munson's airy dismissal of his critics as "not Christian" (e.g., we can ignore them) speaks volumes about the smug, insular fundamentalism at work here.
In the fifth place, there is a rather jarring cognitive disconnect involved in seeing weapons of war used to lionize the prince of peace.
And finally, in the sixth place: is this not one of the cheesiest expressions of religious faith you've ever seen? Not that that would make it unique. On the contrary, we specialize in cheesy expressions of faith here in God's favorite country. Indeed, you could build a tower unto heaven itself out of all the roadside Jesuses, prayer cloths, Ten Commandments rocks, and other trinkets of a cheap, disposable faith that says nothing, costs nothing, does nothing, "risks" nothing, that speaks not of God, external and eternal, but only of the grubby, temporal perspectives and fears of ground-bound women and men.
Last November, the University of Chicago published a study quantifying the blazingly obvious: people tend to create God in their own image, to ascribe to the deity their own opinions, interests and beliefs. But is that really faith, when you reduce God to a bigger version of you?
Mother Teresa's faith drove her to foreswear material riches and spend half a century working to uplift the wretched poor of Calcutta.
Martin Luther King's faith drove him to gamble his very life in a dangerous campaign to win human and civil rights for African-American people.
And then there's Glyn Bindon, whose faith led him to inscribe coded Bible verses on his gun sights.
The point is not that he or we can do what Martin Luther King did or be who Mother Teresa was - we all suffer in that comparison. No, the point is that truest faith is not seen in a secret code on a gun sight, a trinket from a store or words on a rock. Rather, faith is seen in the substance of a life lived in service to others, lived as if God were "not" in fact one's personal echo chamber in the sky.
I submit that this is the only kind of faith that matters. And that it speaks for itself.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him via e-mail at lpittsmiamiherald.com.