If we Americans are completely honest with ourselves, we’d know and admit without relish or doubt that our culture is a culture of death.
Why do I call American culture a culture of death? Well, it’s what I’ve observed in many venues: news media, movies, video games, mass shootings, school shootings, disregard of the unborn and elderly, lack of healthcare for everyone, our foreign policy, and profits before people. This is a huge issue, but I’d like to touch on a few of these as best as I can.
But first, I want to share the bumper sticker on a car my husband and I saw on the way to the grocery store. It read: Fight Crime. Shoot Back. <– This is a perfect example to show it is the epitome of the mindset, generally viewed by those able to look outside the “American lens,” and see objectively, I believe, the American culture.
School Shootings/Mass Shootings
We all know school shootings have increased over the past fifty years. I, like all my fellow American citizens, struggle to understand why this is happening so much, and what can be done about it. Something has changed to cause these mass killings to have multiplied greatly in the past several decades. A few elements people have discussed and that I think contribute to this and make up our culture of death follow.
Some people have said it’s mental illness of shooters that are the root cause of the mass shootings in our society. Of course, it’s logical to come to the conclusion that if a person decides to spray hundreds of bullets through the halls and classrooms of schools or other public buildings that there are probably psychological problems going on with the child/person. But were there no people with mental health problems one hundred years ago? A couple of centuries ago? Did mental health disorders pop up one century and grow from there? I don’t think so. There have always been humans that have suffered debilitating mental illnesses.
In the past decade or two, our younger generation has been suffering specifically from anxiety and depression, and rises in autism and other related illnesses are a tragic fact. Why are these mental illnesses growing?
There are some factors such as heavy involvement in social media and family issues with regards to anxiety and depression in our young adults. But how are these illnesses linked to violent behavior and actions of school/mass shooters?
I think what’s important to point out is that in the article, “The Myth That Mental Illness Causes Mass Shootings,” it says “research over the last 30 years has consistently shown that diagnosable mental illnesses does not underlie most gun violence,” and “only one percent of the population is psychopathic.” Of course, what about those not diagnosed? I don’t know, but according to this article, mental health problems are a very small contributing factor in mass shootings. So, what else is going on here?
Is it access to guns? The parents of the teen/child who shoots up a school were lax in locking their gun cabinet? Failed to teach their children gun safety? Perhaps it’s the issue of the types of guns being used…those that shoot out hundreds of ammunition in a few seconds time. Yes, I agree that’s a problem. The subject of bump stocks that can be attached to a gun and turn it into an alternate automatic weapon has been brought up by the public as a real concern. Certainly, I agree with banning these types of accessories to guns and assault weapons. They don’t belong in civilian homes and are absolutely inhumane for hunting purposes. But aside from these types of semi-automatic, or the ones that nearly become or do become automatic weapons with some tweaking and adding to these guns, guns have been around since the pilgrims stepped onto American soil several centuries ago. Sure, they were single-shot rifles/muskets and such, but I don’t recall reading in our early history of people randomly shooting up a theater, school, or any other public building in nearly epidemic proportions in the first few centuries of our American existence.
How about the message of terminating a person’s life if he/she committed a murder or murders? I’ve touched on this in a previous blog post, but it is relevant to this subject. This, too, shows the element of death as a way to punish people who have committed horrible crimes. The death penalty has existed since America’s inception. For all the proud claims made by some Americans about this country being founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs and values, an eye for an eye ideology is not a Christian tenet.
My dad was an Air Force lawyer and judge for thirty years. When I was a teen, out of curiosity without any real solid opinion on this issue, I asked my dad if the death penalty deters people from wanting to commit a murder. I will tell you that my always supported the death penalty, and still in his honest response (he’s always been an honest man with great integrity) was “No, it doesn’t.” I’ve never forgotten that.
Where’s the Mercy?
There’s an element of mercy missing in many corners of our society, whether it be the death penalty, abortion, caring for the elderly, healthcare, poverty, treating people with mental illness, or helping those with drug addictions. Mercy is absent, generally speaking in the culture as a collective whole. Of course, you can find mercy and goodness in individual Americans, but that information seems to not be the one that permeates the air waves or reaches globally, or is shown in the graphically-violent movies in the United States. There are many reasons why I don’t agree with capital punishment–the wrong person is put to death; killing someone who’s murdered someone doesn’t bring back the person who was murdered, and it cuts the criminal’s chance for repentance. Incarceration is sufficient (although, we need to abolish private prisons for profit).
So, now we segue into the entertainment industry’s production of graphic, violent movies and video games. Are these to blame for the increase in school shootings (and mass shootings?) There has been mixed data on how violent video games and films affect kids and teens, but a majority of the studies thus far in this infant research do show that graphic violence in video games affect children and some teens that may cause them to act aggressive to others, and they become desensitized to the pain of others. A University of Alabama study on the effects of violent video games and film said that the violent behavior of the persons after watching these violent films/video games stayed with them for some time, and didn’t just disappear after seeing the movie/video game. The comments from this study conclude with cautioning parents “that immature and/or aggressive children should not have access to violent films.” That statement is one that all psychologists agree with (according to my son who did his research paper on this subject matter last semester).
Continuing on this subject matter, the American Psychological Association’s earlier studies (2003) match the above findings, in the increased aggressive behavior from playing violent video games. It stated, “Myth: There are no studies linking violent video game play to serious aggression. Facts: High levels of violent video game exposure have been linked to delinquency, fighting at school and during free play periods, and violent criminal behavior (e.g., self-reported assault, robbery).”
Of course, people will report that there are other scientific studies that don’t show concrete facts on the overall effects of violent film and video games on people, but it is incontrovertible that children and teens are affected by these.
From a personal point of view, I do not see the purpose of these violent, gory video games (or movies). They contribute nothing positive or healthy to our society. Of course, I know I’ll get pushback on that, and I expect it. But it’s just how I see this. I did not allow my sons to play or watch violent games or movies throughout their childhood and early teens. Even in their teens, they don’t play “M” games or watch R-rated movies, unless the movie isn’t centered on gratuitous violence, but there is a valid, non-gory reason for it, and there is mercy and redemption involved in the storyline. To speak frankly, our movies and video games are both a promoter and reflection of our death-centered culture.
From a Christian spiritual point of view, what our eyes take in affects our souls. If we take in good things, it brings joy and light to our souls. If we take in violent things (since this is the subject matter of this blog post), it darkens our souls. If we continue to pile on the viewing of such matter, along with other dark things, the darkness can overcome us, where the Light is not able to flicker, and then we are in bondage to the darkness, and it’s not a good place to be.
A little bit more on the gun issue because it ties into our foreign policy. There are many Americans on one side of the gun debate that would like a ban on assault rifles/weapons and stricter gun laws, and then there is a small group of citizens who want all guns banned. As I said, this is a very small number. You would think it was a large number or majority the way people’s views are twisted all across social media. In any case, I’ve thought about this issue. I fall in between. I agree with banning bump stocks and having stricter gun laws but believe people should be able to have guns to protect themselves in case of home break ins and such.
So, I imagined the scenario of all guns being banned from the public. Now, of course, I know that criminals will always get them through the black market, etc., but not even going down that path, let’s just say, the guns are removed, and they aren’t present in the society. Wouldn’t it be extremely HYPOCRITICAL of the United States?
I mean, think about it. Here’s a country’s entertainment industry laden with shoot ’em up movies, and in many cases in today’s movies, the lines of who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy are blurred. There’s no shortage of bloody video games. Our government’s leaders and intelligence community with the help of our military topple other countries’ elected leaders and replace them with horrid dictators, turning the countries into chaotic, desolate death pools, with millions of people killed and injured and their towns leveled. And then the most glaring component–America’s top, number one position in guns manufacturing and selling to other countries so we can help them obliterate vast amounts of people (have you been following the heartbreaking devastation in Yemen?). That is the epitome of hypocrisy in my book.
Does that mean I don’t think something should be done about the guns? Of course not. But what can we do that would make sense and not be hypocritical?
Well, it seems the answer is that we’d have to have a total overhaul of our culture’s death mindset and transform it to a life one. I do find it quite ironic that our culture of death that is seen throughout the electronic venues at the same time is afraid of death and does everything it can to avoid it through changes in how we bury our loved ones and finding ways to constantly increase our life expectancy so we don’t meet death too soon, but that’s a subject for another post.
Therefore, in order to change our mindset from death/darkness to life/light, it would entail:
In the foreign policy area: putting an immediate end to committing regime change in other countries (which I’d think would be illegal acts) and stopping the selling of arms to other countries, especially ones that aren’t friendly. We need to stop the wars for profit, the prisons for profit. Basically stop worshiping money and the never-ending desire for perpetual profits above the welfare of our own people.
On the entertainment front: scaling back graphic violence in video games and movies. The classic movies were able to show war scenes (The Great Escape is an excellent example) and Hitchcock did well in his thrillers without explicit gore and mayhem.
Guns: ban bump stocks and remove loop holes in gun laws (among other things).
Incorporating mercy and respect for life: possess true and honest and respectful discourse and reconciliation tools in conflicts.
More access and treatment for people with mental health problems. Mental health facilities for convicts diagnosed with a mental illness instead of prison. Drug treatment programs for addicts that have been arrested for possessing drugs, instead of prison.
And since these are all my personal opinions, God is much better to worship than money, greed, lust, envy, pride, anger, etc. In order for us to be healthy all around, it requires an attentiveness to not only our mental and physical state, but also our spiritual state. All must be worked on to find harmony, growth, and peace.
At this point, I’m not feeling too optimistic in seeing our culture changing. But the younger generation does show some spark of interest in wanting to uproot a portion of this sick culture of death. Will they succeed? I hope and pray so for our children and the generations after.