How You Can Help to Prevent Mass Shootings

Sandy Hook Shooting
photo credit: Daniel M. Reck via photopin cc

It has been several days since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and I am still struggling to process the reality of such a horrible event. Other mass shootings in recent years have scarred communities, but this one has left deep and lasting scars for our entire nation. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 had a similar effect, but there is something different this time around. Those killings were the work of religious extremists operating from halfway across the globe. What happened in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, December 14, 2012 was the product of our own societal dysfunction. That a young man would maliciously murder twenty first-grade students, jolts suburban and rural America with the realization of what inner-city dwellers have known for quite some time:  something is terribly wrong in our beloved nation.

Of course, an intense battle will be fought over gun control. Some will contend that guns should be banned. Those in opposition will argue that law abiding citizens who carry weapons will actually help to make our streets safer. Both sides will support their arguments with various statistics and anecdotal stories. The battle over gun control, however, provides a convenient diversion from deeper, more difficult issues that must be addressed. To say that guns are at the core of the problem is to grossly over-simplify the issue, while avoiding any sense of personal responsibility for the collective citizenry of our nation.

Greed
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The bottom line is that we have become a nation of self-centered consumers. And while I would never say that such a description applies to every person in the U.S., I do believe that it is quite accurate in a general sense. Even issues such as the misappropriation of pharmaceutical drugs or the prevalence of violent movies and video games are closely tied to greed.

Our freedom that was purchased in blood has now become our demise, for freedom only works when the people of a nation collectively seek the greater good. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians was both true and prophetic:

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:13-15 (NASB)

Today, even the Church is driven by a consumer mentality. Unfortunately, many Christian leaders cater to this destructive mindset because they believe it is the only way to get people into their churches and to fund their ministries. Our American gospel is all about what God can do for us, while the true nature of the Christian faith remains relatively untouched.

Money App
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God, it appears, has become an app that we can access in time of need. We have a salvation app, a provision app, a comfort app, and, at this time of the year, a Baby Jesus app. The sovereign King of the Universe, however, will not cater to our self-centered terms. If we want to relate to God, we must fully subscribe to His entire operating system—one that calls us to seek Him with all of our hearts as a way of life. If we would flock to our churches to seek His presence and drop to our knees in prayer with the same intensity of emotion before a national tragedy, there probably would not be the need to do so afterward.

Violence in America began to seriously escalate in the 1960’s. What brought it on? I am convinced that the roots can be found to have materialized just after World War II with our collective pursuit of the American Dream. While our nation held to a form of religion, at that point money became our national god. We honored Jesus with our lips, but the real god of our hearts was materialism. Psalm 16:4 tells us that, “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply” (ESV). Is this not an accurate representation of our grief over the Sandy Hook shootings? The violence of our day is, at least in part, the fruit of over half a century of materialistic idolatry on the part of an entire nation.

Shooter
photo credit: LINUZ90 via photopin cc

On a practical level, our incessant quest for more stuff, combined with the rise of secularism and the gradual rejection of the Christian faith, has precipitated the horrible decay of the nuclear family—the building block upon which a healthy society functions. More specifically still, the growing absence of loving, faithful fathers has led to an identity vacuum in the hearts of our nation’s children. Show me a culture lacking in a healthy sense of identity and I will show you a nation of young men immersed in a climate of violence.

As I consider these things, I can’t help but think of the ancient nation of Israel as they found themselves exiled in Babylon—an exile brought upon by their own idolatry. But the God who they had rejected and ignored spoke to them through the prophet Jeremiah with a message of kindness and hope.

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NASB)

No matter how far we have fallen, no matter how things may appear, and no matter how dark and foreboding the future may look, we can all help to turn the tide of violence in our culture by seeking God with all of our hearts, by putting material possessions in their proper place, and by genuinely loving those around us. Can there be a better season of the year to get our priorities right than at Christmas?

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3 thoughts on “How You Can Help to Prevent Mass Shootings

  1. Thanks Bob – I cringed at the title as I am sure that most people who feel strongly on gun control / second amendment issues do, but I am glad I decided to read – even with squinted eyes.

    I am with you completely and I have written a lot about this, so, i would like to add my two cents (as usual): post WW1 there were a large group of corporations, economists, politicians, and other leaders that decided that we needed to do anything necessary to keep us at the top of the economic mountain. In order to accomplish this, they wrote often about how they needed to make every part of our lives a commodity.

    One of the famous examples is Sigmund Freud’s nephew, psychoanalyst Edward Bernays, was hired by major corporations to change the way the masses thought about consuming. Bernays was the main architect of pro-American propaganda in WW1 and when he came home, his first job was to get Americans to buy more cars and pay more for the cars they were buying. He argued that the first thing we needed to do was sexualize / gender cars in order to sell more of them. He used the same propaganda techniques he used in war time to convince men at home in the US that a measure of their manhood was to be found in cars. He did a massive public relations / propaganda campaign that systematically tied manhood to automobiles. Ever since, guys spend massive amounts of money on automobiles.

    The second major project that Bernays worked on was for clothing stores. They asked him how they could get working / middle class people to buy more than 3-4 outfits. He started a major propaganda campaign basically arguing that you are what you wear and that we show our individuality through the clothes we buy. While this campaign was focused on everybody, he especially targeted women – saying that your entire identity is through the clothing that you wear. Basically, our individuality, our gender are commodities that can only be shown through what we buy.

    Then, post WW2, there were a large amount of Bernays disciples who decided that we needed to turn every other part of our lives into commodities. One of them was Victor Lebow, an economist who described what ended up happening over the next 60 years:

    “Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today expressed in consumptive terms. The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to safe and accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats- his home, his car, his pattern of food serving, his hobbies … These commodities and services must be offered to the consumer with a special urgency … We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption.”

    Since, Victor Lebow, we have created Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas has turned into mass consumption, birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Sweetest day, etc. All built around turning family, tradition, religious beliefs, love, etc. into commodities.

    Of course, I could go on, but all this is just to say I completely agree that this is at the heart of our dysfunction at the individual level, family level, national, and spiritual. Until we accept that it may be okay not to be the number one economy in the world, it is going to be very difficult to change this course. — One text I have my students read is about a region north of India called Ladakh. Instead of Gross National Product, they measure the success of their nation by Gross National Happiness – which has pillars focused on the health of the people, the culture, education and other areas not surrounded by money. While this is a bit too ambitious (it would be like a crack addict turning to milk), I think there are definitely lessons to be learned.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful and interesting post!

    1. Jeff, your first paragraph made me chuckle. The rest more or less ticks me off–not because I disagree with anything you said, but because I believe that we are continually “being played” by the advertising gurus. Thanks for all of the great information!

  2. Thanks Bob, would love to discuss as we meet for coffee – one minor correction about what I wrote at the end, I mixed up two of the texts I teach, the name of the Gross National Happiness country is Bhutan, not Ladakh. Anyways, again, great post for making us reflect Christmas and the holiday season.

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