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The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: “Belief” in the Second Amendment

A singer from Nevada believes in the quasi-theological interpretation of the Second Amendment put forward by the NRA.

Everyone thinks of the United States as a nation or sovereign state. They also know it is the most powerful nation — economically and militarily. But they often fail to notice the way in which it is radically different, or “exceptional.” Not content with being a nation, the US is also a religion. If it weren’t for the principle of separation of church and state, it might be called the Blessed Church of America.

As with all religions, it has its share of sacred places, symbols and rituals. No political discourse can end without the invocation, “God bless America.” Although this is nowhere reflected in the laws, many Americans think of themselves as participating in an explicit belief system that is separate from the history of the nations of the world. The story of Alishia Wolcott, a singer from Nevada, provides a simple illustration of this fact.

Yahoo Sports informs us that Wolcott “says she has declined to sing the national anthem before a Reno Aces baseball game because she cannot bring her gun to the game.” Most singers feel honored to be featured at professional sporting events, which always begin with the singing or playing of the national anthem. Not Wolcott.

The article explains that “Wolcott’s reasoning stems from her belief in the second amendment.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:

Belief:

The acceptance of an idea associated with a sacred text, even when the idea cannot be discerned within that text

Contextual note

If the US were just an exceptionally powerful nation, it would see itself as the strongest member of a community of nations, not as something qualitatively different. Its status as a religion differentiates itself from every other nation in the world. In so doing, it encourages the idea that citizens must not only pledge allegiance to a nation “under God,” but that they should believe in its historical mission.

Wolcott claims to believe in the Second Amendment and reasons on that basis. How can that belief be defined? Does it mean she believes the amendment exists? If so, she is on solid ground, because most people know it exists. Does she believe that what it says is true? That makes no sense, because it is not what philosophers call a truth statement.

Wolcott believes in the quasi-theological interpretation of the Second Amendment put forward by the National Rifle Association, which claims that the Second Amendment establishes the inalienable, God-given right of citizens to own and carry guns wherever they go.

Here is how she explains her protest: “I will not sing our national anthem at a place that seeks to strip me of my Second Amendment rights.” The key phrase is “strip me of my … rights.” A psychoanalyst might say this corresponds to a deeper repressed fear, that she feels naked in public places without her gun. But also that she sees the rules of civilization as a form of sexual aggression.

Historical note

The founders called the first ten amendments, appended to the Constitution at the time of its creation, the “Bill of Rights,” This unofficial title has led many Americans to believe that the first ten amendments are in some sense the equivalent of the Ten Commandments.

Historians and legal scholars agree that the explicit purpose of the Bill of Rights is to limit the powers of the federal government, not to establish absolute rights. But the hastily submitted ten amendments suffer from vague and imprecise formulation, the second being the vaguest of them all. This has enabled the courts to interpret it in vastly different ways, ranging from ensuring that the states alone can pass laws severely restricting the possession and use of weapons to the opposite, absolutely preventing them from doing so. It’s all a question of interpretation.

The Protestant tradition of the “priesthood of all believers” challenged the idea that the Church alone was qualified to interpret scripture. This didn’t mean that all Christians were qualified theologians. It nevertheless opened the door to the idea that anyone could decide what they believed. That religious dogma has become part of America’s secular culture.

Wolcott certainly wouldn’t acknowledge that what she believes about the Second Amendment has anything to do with religious belief. But her refusal to respond to what she should logically see as a serious career opportunity reads like a parody of the stance of a conscientious objector on religious or moral grounds. Unless, of course, her very public and patently absurd objection is simply a ploy to turn her into a minor celebrity and help her singing career.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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