Wills used the Old Testament figure of the pagan god Moloch, whose worship is portrayed in the Bible as representing the depths of depravity to which humans could sink.
Few crimes are more harshly forbidden in the Old Testament than sacrifice to the god Moloch (for which see Leviticus 18.21, 20.1-5). The sacrifice referred to was of living children consumed in the fires of offering to Moloch. Ever since then, worship of Moloch has been the sign of a deeply degraded culture. Ancient Romans justified the destruction of Carthage by noting that children were sacrificed to Moloch there.
Wills also compared the loss of innocents to the untrammeled gun violence and thoughtless sanctification of gun ownership in this country to a malignant sacrifice or “trade-off” that has become normalized and even ritualized in much of the American population. It seems to be part of the bargain they’ve agreed to pay in obeisance to the most holy of objects: the gun. To bolster this analogy, Wills takes the arguments of the gun lobby at face value.
The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?
Its power to do good is matched by its incapacity to do anything wrong. It cannot kill. Thwarting the god is what kills. If it seems to kill, that is only because the god’s bottomless appetite for death has not been adequately fed. The answer to problems caused by guns is more guns, millions of guns, guns everywhere, carried openly, carried secretly, in bars, in churches, in offices, in government buildings. Only the lack of guns can be a curse, not their beneficent omnipresence.
And as long as the spigot of guns keeps flowing, the god remains content, if not satiated, with the collateral human toll. He notes:
We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily—sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector.
As we mourn another equally senseless mass shooting in Uvalde Texas, The Washington Post columnist Brian Broome continues the same theme of normalized human sacrifice, except that Broome pinpoints the cause of this obscenity as capitulation to fear, specifically the need to accommodate the fears of others. Broome states that “we live in a culture where human beings are randomly chosen to die so that those who feel unseen or who fear the unknown or just love guns don’t have to feel afraid.”
And as long as the tragedy continues to happen to someone else, the rest of us can continue to put it out of our minds, because it didn’t happen to us, to our kids, after all.
We won’t do anything because those among us who think their fears and their rights are the same thing hold all the cards. Because those who believe a boogeyman is lurking around every corner have agents walking the halls of our government to ensure that these shootings change nothing. We rarely note that most of these shooters are men who are angry and antisocial. And, unless we come up with a cure for angry and antisocial men and boys, these mass murders will continue.
We won’t do anything about this problem because we are not the land of the free and home of the brave that we think we are. We have that backward: America is the land of the fearful and trapped. We don’t feel our children are safe. We don’t think we can change this dreadful landscape. But we’ll watch politicians make speeches. We’ll see all the memes on social media and read all the opinion pieces from people like me. But, in the end, we’ll move on until there are new human sacrifices to make us forget about the old ones.
After Beto O’Rourke unexpectedly intruded into the very temple of the god, the inner sanctum where the high priests of the gun cult—call it the cult of Moloch if you want—gathered to perform their ritualistic rending of their robes, as they bemoaned the loss of life and offered platitudes designed to appease their deity. Flanked by burly sheriffs and officials like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott presided solemnly over this most sacred of catechisms, all faces a study in performative concern.
The shocking appearance of O’Rourke impugning this holy mission seemed, at least momentarily, to disturb the assembly, and he was roughly ushered out so the ceremony could proceed, the right syllables could be muttered, and the event consigned to the endless, fickle memory hole always left in the wake of the next news cycle.
The gun lovers’ squealing was truly something to behold, for a fleeting moment, anyway. But it will take many more voices than O’Rourke’s to bring down this priesthood, along with its seemingly insatiable thirst for human sacrifice.
Listen and subscribe to Daily Kos Elections’ The Downballot podcast with David Nir and David Beard