A Murder for all Seasons
DALE DEBAKCY examines a crass ‘killing animals for Christ’ trend which has established a foothold in the US and elsewhere – Freethinker, February 2014
JUST when you think that American Christianity can’t be any less self-aware, along comes a movement of such brilliant and crass vapidity as to make all the vile evangelic excesses that came before seem somehow reasonable and under-stated.
The new trend here is a vigorous application of Christian principles to a spirited defense of hunting. Between the gore-soaked ramblings of the Duck Commander and a steady flow of Gun Sport Devotionals, we are told to believe that the wholesale murder of innocent creatures by massively over-equipped and under-contemplative white males is precisely what Jesus always had in mind for the human race.
And perhaps these writers are correct, as their works throw more light on the twisted psychology of Christianity than the more PR-minded works of traditional theology. All of the sweaty-palmed fetishism of religious practice, the idolatry of blood and suffering, are writ with unabashed pride by these authors too far lost to their death-and-Jesus kink to dissimulate.
I spent some time that I’ll never get back ploughing through the ninety chapters of Steve Scott’s Faith Afield: A Sportsman’s Devotional recently. Structurally, it’s a hard book to take. Each of those chapters has the exact same build – take an object related to hunting, explain it in a couple of paragraphs, and then spend the next three paragraphs trying to justify how Christian Living Is Like That Thing.
Chapter 68, for example, starts off talking about scent-eliminating products and how they affect your need to be aware of the direction of the wind, before lunging desperately at a segue with:
I believe we Christians sometimes forget the wind in our lives too. The Holy Spirit is described as ‘wind’ in the New Testament …
Each chapter is therefore a game of Six Degrees, where you start off with a bit of hunting vocabulary and have to leapfrog it through obliquely selected bits of scripture to a standard message about Christian Life. The sheer devotion with which Scott sticks to this construct through 90 almost identical iterations is phenomenal but not surprising for a book that takes George W Bush’s “Stay the Course” as its inspirational leitmotif.
Yes, it’s tedious. Yes, it has nothing to say in its life advice that hasn’t been said in tens of thousands of other pot-boiler devotionals on the shelves. But that’s not why we’re reading it. We’re reading it to see how a man convinces himself that he has the right to take the life of something that never did him any harm. Scott slips up every so often, and lets some tantalising bits of psychology through which have as much to say about the Christian mindset as about the hunter’s doublethink-mortared lifestyle.
The best comes in a masochistically fraught passage detailing the rules of the chase. After a fantastically dishonest section detailing the high ethics of hunting practice (“There are no fences, no unfair advantages, and no guarantees – just passion and pursuit”) he moves on to the real story.
Our god is a god of fair chase. He views us as a trophy worthy of pursuit. He is passionate about his hunt, and our love, affection, and obedience are his most prized trophy … God is relentless in his pursuit of us.
Amazing, isn’t it? Here, Scott is turning his tawdry need to destroy life into something holy by simultaneously playing the role both of hunter and prey, exhilarating in the notion that he is being stalked by God just as he stalks the deer, which of course means that, just as he wants to be captured by God, so does the deer really want to be taken by him. It is a grand moment of imaginative sado-masochism in which a man, in a single moment, gets to experience the thrill of killing and surrendering. That’s potent stuff, and it’s understandable that it becomes addictive to the point of over-riding all other evaluative processes.
Take for example the few parts in this book where Scott honestly attempts to grapple with the horror of what he is doing. It’s a classic moment of scripturing taking the place of thinking at precisely the moment where thinking might fail to give you the result you want:
All sportsmen must grapple with the issue of killing. Without killing there is no authentic hunting. How is it that we can love wildlife yet be able to pull the trigger or loose the arrow knowing that a life will be taken? There is no easy answer, and the role of hunting is not for everyone.
This is precisely the point where a normal person would review arguments, perhaps wonder a bit about where the right to kill comes from, or question how it is that what one wants to do lines up so well with what is celestially allowed.
Scott will have none of that. His very next step is, “The killing of animals is found throughout the Bible,” and that’s it. The Bible says it’s fine, so Scott’s moral responsibility is done. In an earlier chapter, he sums it up even more crassly:
I hunt because it is a privilege. It is a right (see Gen. 9:3). It is a blessing.
And that’s not even the most blatant summation of his position. It’s actually downright responsible when put next to this gleaming declaration of moral self-absolution:
God has instilled in the heart of many people … the desire to match wits with some of his finest creatures. If we do not pursue what God has wired us to do, we do him a dishonor.
This is what Christianity in America has come to – the idea that, if you really want to do something, then you have the right to do it. Otherwise, you’d be dishonouring God, obviously! You want to murder those beavers that have never done you a lick of harm? Great! Have at it – never doubt for a moment that every twisted whim you can conjure from the depths of your sadistic God complex fantasies shouldn’t be acted upon, and constantly. Because constant self-gratification is what Jesus is all about.
We should be thankful that these books exist, really. More self-aware authors might realise that advocating against “unfair advantages” on one page and then going on to describe one’s collection of electronic fish finders, hunting cameras, precision engineered weapons, genetically engineered hunting companions, industrial-grade camouflage, fine honed optics, and extensive array of decoys and scent traps is grossly and grotesquely hypocritical, and avoid putting it in their books, thus depriving the rest of us of that insight into how deeply Christians will allow themselves all manner of luxurious self-indulgence so long as they can gloss it with a baldly disingenuous statement of principle later.
More psychologically informed authors might not want to draw quite so close a connection between their fantasies of being pursued by God and their actions on the hunting fields, but that rich sexual imagery is perhaps the closest the rest of us are ever going to get to the truth of day-to-day religious fervor.
A man with an eye towards public relations might not be quite so blatant about drawing parallels between the need to get kids to hunt early and the need to get them hearing about Jesus early, thereby revealing the latter as every bit as much a process of violent desensitisation as the former.
But Scott, rather than avoiding the unfavourable comparison between numbing a child to death and eroding their soul by the notion of sin, proudly proclaims his role in establishing a combination hunting/preaching youth camp with the express aim of hitting kids from both directions before they can build up any defences against his righteous onslaught.
Some have interpreted this Renaissance of Death Christianity as the herald of a new wave of recreational critter murder in the country, but the more you look at it, the more it seems little more than the Jersey Shore of 2013 – a new breed of loathsome individuals who captivate the country by their unwavering commitment to personal horridness for a little while, puffing themselves up with the great contribution they are making to their cause, not realising all the while that their spirited grotesqueries are cracking the very foundations they’re trying to save.
We have given them as much exposure as they need to destroy themselves with, and so long as their utterances continue to replicate the determined cluelessness of Scott, that day shouldn’t be long in coming.
Editor’s note: Last year we posted a piece about a despicable evangelical South African, Frikkie Du Toit who leads Christians on animal killing sprees via his Provider for Christ Hunting Adventure” business. He is pictured centre at the top of the page.