My Appeal for a Real Solution
Simple facts sometimes make a simple truth. Guns are not new, but lone gunmen on killing rampages are becoming more common. The obvious truth, then, is that guns aren’t the cause. More gun laws won’t fix what guns didn’t cause. Guns, if you will excuse the irony, are an easy target, and banning firearms is a popular idea in some circles, though those circles are still well in the minority. Focusing on guns is a convenient distraction away from the cultural changes often advocated by the same people.
Instead of blaming the teeth for the aggressive behavior of a mad dog, how about we look at the lone wolves who carry out these attacks. What creates such people? Why does there seem to be more of them than there once were? If they are insane, mentally deranged, are there getting to be more crazy people with an itch to kill others? Can we identify a reason?
Before you go there, I am not writing a psychological treatise. I have done my fair share of counseling as a pastor and in private practice for a short time; I have also worked in interpersonal mediation and Biblical peacemaking. I am not, however, going to try to analyze the dysfunction of people I have never met nor had occasion to hear speak beyond a few news bites. Rather I would prefer to consider the broader environment that I suspect may be responsible for creating “mad dogs.”
We have known for some time that a child who is left in isolation will not develop normally. We also know that a variety of factors are the probable cause of what we usually refer to as psychopathic or sociopathic personalities—people without consciences. These solitary killers are generally described as loners, often played violent-sounding, nihilistic music, and have had few if any real friends. They were or became distant from their families who may or may not have been nice people. Either they have been rejected, see themselves as outcasts, or have made themselves so. They may have had some “trigger” kind of experience that “set them off,” in cases where they have a personal grudge against someone they perceive as having done them harm.
My question is this. Is that all it takes? I don’t think so. Lots of unpopular nerds survive the experience and become successful and sometimes even find a way to become well-liked. Many people who tend toward books and solitary interests are perfectly or largely content in their way of life. Most of us have been mistreated or unfairly judged, and few of us seriously considered murder, let alone a killing rampage.
Professor Don Perini, a speaker at church, read several passages from the Bible describing the kind of relationships we are meant to have with other believers, and he went on to discuss the importance of the right kind and number of relationships as critical to our psychological, social, and even physical health (Sorry, both links seem to be defunct). Before he ever got fully into his message, my mind had jumped to this thought, one not really new to me. I recalled a book by Larry Crabb called Connecting: Healing Ourselves and Our Relationships, where he makes a similar point about the need for connectedness for personal emotional health. Dr. Crabb is a psychologist so he can speak authoritatively on the matter.
So, here’s the question: What happens when a culture of “rugged individualists” becomes a culture of narcissistic hedonists? If life is all about self-centered personal pleasure, pleasure often gained through casual sexual relationships and material and monetary gain, what happens to those deprived of the things thought to make one happy? What happens to those who are surrounded by seemingly “happy people” who are not “happy” themselves? Depression and its flip-side anger are obvious results. What happens then, in such a cultural environment, to angry, depressed people who see themselves as having no path to happiness, who come to believe that someone else is responsible for cutting them off the path to happiness, or who just resent any happy folks anywhere?
Sadly, most unbelievers and anti-religionists perceive Christianity as rituals and rules. Nothing could be further from the truth. As important as personal salvation is, perpetual evangelism isn’t fully the truth either. The truth is represented by the Great Commandment: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Man was intended to be connected by relationship with God and with others. This is how our relational God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—designed us to be. Without these connections, we are cut off from necessary interaction, support, encouragement, and love—all things the Bible directs us to do. Too many inside and outside the Church, the connected Body of Christ, focus on the individual to the near exclusion of the community, as if relationships are a nice but unnecessary option.
Remember the words of God just before creating Eve? “It is not good for the man to be alone.” People often end their consideration of this statement with the creation of a mate and of marriage and family. We often hear (I may have even preached this) that the joining of man and woman completes them, but I don’t believe that is correct. One person, however much we may love him or her, is not all we need. The creation of Eve was the beginning of the human race. Adam and Eve became the parents of all humanity because it is not good for any person to be alone. It is not healthy for any person to be cut off from the necessary interaction of family, fellowship, and community. “People who need people” are not lucky; they are merely human. People who deny their need for meaningful connectedness to other people hurt themselves and deny others of an essential need. Rugged individualism may have its place, but if it perpetuates a belief in self-sufficiency, then it isn’t just wrong; it is dangerous!
I find it regrettable that so many Christians focus on the individual. We talk about community, but we do not really practice community. I appreciate the caution Professor Perini recommends in saying we all need a cross-section of kinds of relationships from public and social to personal and intimate, while at the same time recognizing we cannot be intimately connected to everyone. This brings us back to the community; we need meaningful and peaceful relationships at various levels throughout the Body of Christ. We also need to be the “salt” that seasons the culture around us that desperately needs to break from its hyper-individualistic isolation, its increasingly hostile aggressiveness, and its misguided quest for happiness apart from God and community.
To those who have steered clear of Biblical faith for fear of its rules and rituals, I would encourage you to investigate what I’ve touched upon here. Check out Dr. Crabb’s Connecting: Healing Ourselves and Our Relationships. Watch or listen to Professor Perini’s thoughts. We are not alone; we don’t have to feel alone. God created us for relationship and provided the basis in his Son Jesus Christ for us to be able to enjoy them without the sin that often disturbs and prevents them. Even with its faults, the Church provides some measure of needed connection. I’m not interested in arguing, but if you have honest questions, just ask them.
To those already in the community of faith (Have you noticed that even the Church uses community as if it were nothing more than a bunch of similarly-thinking people or of people with the same affiliation, stripped of any real and meaningful connections?), let’s get off the over-emphasis on rules and rituals and the insistence on perfect agreement on uncritical matters, especially to the exclusion of or rejection of love, which is clearly our very highest, God-given priority. We need connected relationships, too. Love as exemplified by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the very essence of both discipleship and relational communities. We have no right, no authority, to set other priorities. No matter how critical a particular doctrine or undeniable a commandment may be, we have no permission to reject a person for disagreeing with us. The most objectionable reprobate is still a human, created in God’s image, and one we are to respect and love. We may confront sinful behavior, but we may never, in Jesus’ name, stop loving another sinner. When we do, we are nothing more than guilty sinners ourselves. When we refuse to love a person, we are denying the most wonderful aspect of God’s design, connected, loving, human relationships. When we pretend to “love God” but use that pretense as a basis for not loving others, we show how little we know of God’s love or of truly loving him. When we dare not to love, we cut off that rejected person from the very healing that loving relationships will bring!
In my opinion, a solitary gunmen who goes on a killing spree or any human who has been cut off from the most basic need any man or woman has, need not to be alone, feel alone and unloved, or be permitted to stew themselves into violence. This is a problem we must address as a culture, or it will surely worsen. Trying to keep guns out of their hands—an effort I regard as likely as keeping drugs out of the hands of addicts—will not solve the problem; their anger will find some other violent outlet (as in the most recent case, hand-made explosive devices). Instead, we must begin to work toward a cultural, social solution, one not likely to come from passing laws, but one that must come from us. We must begin to work away from self-focused individualism, materialism, and narcissism and toward a more mutually involved and supportive, relational community. I don’t expect that our media, celebrities, or politicians will do this or even try. I doubt anyone other than Christians, or those who have similar commitments to community, will have the desire or willingness to try. I am encouraged to hear a message like Professor Perini’s and to read a book like Dr. Crabb’s. I see indications of some striving to move more toward genuine community. However, I know one thing; it’s not the guns!
(Edited to add links to Professor Perini’s July 29th message)