This year a young man gunned down 15 or so human beings in a Colorado movie theater. A few months ago a teenage boy shot his mother and sister and then called the police to coldly tell them what he had done. After Newtown, Connecticut, I think the entire nation is wondering just what is going on with regard to mass shootings. What is wrong with our culture? Why is this happening more often in America than other countries? Why do young men shoot and kill to express their pain? Particularly, why do they slaughter children?
People from all kinds of worldviews have offered diagnoses and solutions. More liberal-leaning types focus on gun control. More conservative folks talk about the culture of death created by abortion laws (see some of the late Richard Neuhaus writing on this topic). Secularists talk about psychiatric disease, particularly schizophrenia as the culprit . . . if we could diagnose and treat accordingly we could solve this problem. Evangelicals and Catholics talk about original sin, or our universal human tendency toward destruction. There is probably some truth in all of these opinions.
I wonder about the mega-hours young people log playing video games that involve shooting and killing. Does that sort of activity blur the line between reality and fantasy? The boy in Aledo, Texas who shot his family noted that they didn’t die like he thought they would. I am not saying that anyone who plays those sorts of games tends towards mass shootings. What I am asking is what role do the games play, if any?
What about the persistent American need to be entertained? Does television distract us from each other, such that we lose touch with those sitting next to us? What about smartphones? I catch myself repetitively looking at my iPhone when home, work and while I’m with our kids. Does that dynamic erode relationships and communication? Does it create cracks in our human connections, those ties that we desperately need?
“Talk to your children as you sit around the table and as you walk along the way. Tell them the stories of what God has done and is doing.” That is my paraphrase of Deuteronomy 6, perhaps the most important text in the Torah. There is so much in that passage that can help us. Don’t we as human beings, particularly as children, want to be heard? Don’t we long to connect, particularly with our parents? What happens to humans when we lose human-human connection? What happens to culture?
Connection takes a lot of work but it is powerful. Yesterday, I spent about fifteen minutes with a patient suffering from lung disease. She was fighting for air, her worn-out lungs not able to push enough oxygen into her system. There was angst on her face, a persistent almost drowning feeling that we call “air hunger.” After I sat down on her bed and spoke with her she calmed and felt better. The oxygen level meter showed that she was improving. You see, it was the human-human connection, in this case the patient-physician relationship that brought palliation.
I love the young actor from the show “Two and a Half Men” who has said publicly, “Stop watching this show. You are filling your minds with junk!” How refreshing and daring! Someone needs to tell me, “Brian, stop looking at your iPhone so much, stop distracting yourself with work to the extent that you are. Re-balance. Connect more with your children who desperately need your deep-down self, thoughts & feelings about them, the world and God expressed to them. They need to speak to you and know that you hear them, and that your are spending the energy processing what they communicate.”
What does someone need to tell you?
My contention is that one of our problems contributing to our culture of death is that we don’t connect in the ways we must. It is our culture’s air hunger, if you will. We can all work to improve here.
What we will tend to do, unfortunately, is point fingers. The folks who aren’t interested in deer hunting will finger the need for stricter gun laws (probably a good idea). The conservatives will blame the liberals. The atheist the theist. On and on. What we don’t want to do is acknowledge our own culpability.
Think about it just a moment. When you have had discussions with friends about Newtown, Connecticut this past week, have any of them (including yourself) discussed their contribution to the problem? Or, have you heard over and again how it is “those other people” who need to get with the program? We humans (myself included) love to distinguish ourselves as the model for a solution and then return to our junk, our poorly-conceived participation in the sinister problem.
The Washington Post writers, mostly liberal in their politics (my assumption) in the past week have written with a jaded style about the need for gun law change. Their has been sarcasm in their tone. Never once though, did any of them write about the abortion laws. Does the permitting of killing unborn children imbue us with the idea that sometimes killing is ok? ”The law is a good teacher,” said Aristotle. These are good people writing these articles; they just can’t get out of the notion that what they are doing is good and that other people are the problem.
On the other side of the spectrum, my good-old-boy, red America, deer-hunting friends who stockpile ammunition are repeating the worn phrase, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” There is a bit of a blind eye there. The gun data seems to correlate the permissiveness and ubiquity of semi-automatic guns with mass public killings. Again, these are good people, but within them & their position there is air hunger. We think we are breathing well, but in reality we are failing to oxygenate.
In my experience as a hospice administrator, a physician, a husband and a father, the diagnosis and solution for problems are often multi-sided and multi-factorial, and I am usually one of the folks who needs to adjust. Jesus, seeing our tendency, advised us, “Before telling your friend to remove the speck from his eye, remove the stick from your own.” I pray that we all do.