The United States is awash in a sea of both faith and firearms,” wrote sociologist David Yamane of Wake Forest University.

At first blush, this lines up perfectly with the prejudices of the Left’s culture warriors and echoes the words of Barack Obama at a 2008 fundraiser in San Francisco. Obama said the white working class was “bitter” and “they cling to guns or religion.”

But Yamane’s research suggests that if you ask the right questions about religious observance, you find that guns and religion largely function as replacements for one another. “Religious involvement does, in fact, have a negative effect on gun ownership across religious traditions,” he concluded.

A person who identifies as a Christian doesn’t necessarily belong to a particular denomination or attend regular worship services anywhere. In America, life is very different for these Christians with a more individualistic faith compared to those whose religious practice includes belonging to a community of fellow believers.

This complicates things, and could inform honest efforts to diminish or transform “gun culture” in the United States. But too many folks on the Left are convinced that churchgoing and gun culture (both of which they hate) are inextricably wedded.

These anti-gun/anti-evangelical progressives point to the simplest correlations, including the one Yamane leads with: The U.S. is the most Christian of the wealthy nations, and it has the most guns. Others will roll out state-level maps to point out that the South is both our most Christian region and has the most guns.

These basic correlations are correct. White evangelicals are more likely than others to own guns and oppose gun control. Also, plenty of conservative politicians pair God and Guns as totems of conservatism.

Plus, the liberal commentariat simply looks around at their social circles: All of their friends and colleagues hate guns, and none of them go to church, synagogue, or mosques.

So, the notion that religious involvement might reduce attachment to guns seems insane to them.

But if you are a sociologist rather than a partisan commentator, or if you are interested in understanding religion and gun culture rather than simply hating both, you will do what Yamane and other researchers did. You’ll examine religion and Christianity with more nuance than simply deciding white Christians all cling to their guns. You’ll ask whether some ways of living out one’s faith might have different effects on attitudes toward guns.

For one thing, Yamane’s study shows that Catholics, black Protestants, and Jewish people all were less likely to own guns than those with “no religious affiliation.” Right away, this blows up the simple lefty media equation of “religion” or even “Christianity” with “gun nuts.”

From data in the General Social Survey, Yamane calculated a value he called “religious involvement.” This adds together attendance at worship services with attendance at other church events, such as social or volunteer opportunities.

Yamane studied handgun owners, specifically, because the GSS doesn’t separate out hunting rifles from more powerful weapons such as the AR-15. He wanted to study the social characteristics of those whose gun ownership was more about defense than about hunting. The same correlations would hold for AR-15s and similar rifles as hold for handguns, Yamane says, because, like handguns, these powerful rifles are primarily owned for home defense.

Religious involvement is negatively correlated with handgun ownership, Yamane found. The more you show up at church throughout the month, the less likely you are to own a handgun.

When he conducted his regression analyses, the correlation became even stronger. That is, given a white evangelical in a particular part of the country, he becomes less likely to own a handgun the more he is involved at his church.

“If you’re involved more in the life of a congregation,” Yamane told me in a phone interview, “you have a higher level of social trust, which reduces that feeling of uncertainty that drives a lot of gun ownership.”

Politics also predicted gun ownership. While conservatism was correlated with gun ownership, individualism was much more associated with gun ownership.

If your faith is very individualistic, you will tend to import your own likes, prejudices, desires, and predilections into your faith. If, however, your faith is very communal, living your faith will require you to sacrifice your own preferences and leanings. That is, when faith is individualistic, faith bends to the individual. When it is communal, the individual is shaped by the faith.

And, in general, church attendance is highly correlated with good outcomes and pro-social behavior. “Churchgoing kids,” Robert Putnam wrote in his book Our Kids, “have better relations with their parents and other adults, have more friendships with high-performing peers, are more involved in sports and other extracurricular activities, [and] are less prone to substance abuse (drugs, alcohol, and smoking), risky behavior ... and delinquency.”

Churchgoing white Republicans have warmer attitudes toward immigrants and nonwhite Americans, pollster Emily Ekins found in 2019. If you are a progressive who wants more tolerance of minorities and immigrants, and less attachment to guns, you want America’s Christians to go to church more.

Yamane’s conclusions on church and guns have been upheld by many studies in the past few years.

F. Carson Mencken and Paul Froese looked at gun psychology for the American Psychological Association. If we’re talking about “gun culture,” of course, we cannot simply look at who owns guns and who doesn’t. We should try to study how people feel about their guns, what role guns play in their lives, and what sort of meaning they attach to or derive from their guns.

“Certain gun owners within specific social groups and under particular economic circumstances find guns morally and emotionally restorative,” the two wrote.

Mencken and Froese found, for instance, that “white men in economic distress find comfort in guns as a means to reestablish a sense of individual power and moral certitude.”

So, how did religion tie into their measure of “gun empowerment”?

“We find that religiosity and gun empowerment are negatively related,” they wrote. The implication: “Religious communities offer alternative symbols and identities that offset the need for guns as a source of self-esteem and moral standing.”

Again, white evangelicals are more likely to own guns or find personal meaning in their guns, but within that population, those who go to church are less likely to find their identity in guns. They’re more likely to find their identity in Christian fellowship.

Many, especially on the Left, see gun culture as the enemy these days. Are they willing to accept the sociology, history, and data showing that churchgoing should be their friend? Or will they get bitter and cling to their prejudices and animosity?