Culture of Death

gun violence in movies

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.

Mental Illness

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?

Gun Problems

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.

Capital Punishment

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).

Entertainment Industry

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.

Foreign Policy

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?

The Solution?

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.

Looking Ahead

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.

 

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Literary Humanness

books and flowers

The literary package—reading, writing, and analyzing literature—is quite crucial in the life of not only a writer, but also a reader and a student studying to become a good fiction writer (or creative non-fiction, screenwriter, etc.).  When we authors write our creative fiction works, it is a sole project in which we delve into our own minds filled with images, ideas, strings of words and sentences, and the bellowing of our carved-out characters.  But in essence, once our work is out there in print and ebook, we connect with the readers, and ultimately humanity.

In writing my stories, I’ve always been drawn to human emotions, the human condition, and the light of hope, to which I weave into my creative works.  Creating fictional characters’ journeys in dealing with real life issues, their relationships with others, and how they get through conflicts and come to discovery and resolution, is something every human being can relate to because we’ve all gone through difficulties, joys, and sorrows in our lives.

renoir dance pic

(Renoir’s Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette)

I don’t have a high self-esteem or much confidence in myself, even with the recent accomplishments in my writing this year. I still wonder if my writing is good enough.  But with all the things I’ve learned, it has only taught me I still have more to learn and that it is an ongoing process that will probably continue throughout the rest of my writing life.

Analyzing and reading the classic and modern stories I’ve read in World Literature, Fiction Writing Workshop, Intro to Creative Writing, Shakespeare, Romantic Literature, Nonfiction Writing Workshop, and most recently, British Literature, have helped me in structuring my novels in the proper manner for the character arc, and appreciate a deeper understanding of the characters.  Delving deeper into the characters revealed the utter humanness of them, their flawed selves, broken and fragile, and I think how brilliant the authors were in creating such compelling characters and their stories.  For example, the most recent paper I wrote was on Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein. The character of Victor Frankenstein depicts clearly the brokenness of human beings.  And through Frankenstein’s and other fictional characters’ choices they make, cause either joy or sorrow and success or ruin for them.

frankenstein outside darkness

Literature also helps us to understand people who have different perspectives than our own, by stepping into these characters’ minds, lives, cultures, watching them deal with their bad habits, and struggles with relating to others.

Having relationships with others makes us truly human. And I believe that’s really the central struggle and most difficult endeavor for many human beings (me for sure!  Introvert here) in this life.  Generally speaking, it’s easier for us to have relationships with and love our pets than other people.  But it is through communion with other people that we become whole.

It is my hope that my writing touches the hearts of my readers (hopefully I’ll have some when my books are published!) and that they feel inspired and satisfied when they are done reading my works.

In wrapping up this blog post, I wish and pray for continued striving and success for all of us writers because writing is one hundred times harder than we thought when we first started out in the craft.

 

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Humanity’s Power

Success

How much power do humans have in this world? Well, it depends on your beliefs and worldview. This is my attempt at sharing my musings on this subject.

From what I’ve observed, here are two beliefs from opposite sides of the spectrum.

Group One: People have the power to change the world through fighting for social justice, cleaning up the environment, and can achieve anything by believing in themselves. It’s through this concerted effort to transform the world into a nonviolent, loving place to live that they believe can truly happen on earth. They don’t need a higher being/God to do this. They just have to desire it and take action to achieve it.

Group Two: No one has any power of his/her own. They go through life relying on God to design their lives, and as long as they follow God’s designs for them, their lives will be good and spared hardships.

Neither of these takes into account natural disasters, wars, sickness, famine, etc. You know the litany of problems people face on this earth. If I add this issue and question the two groups, here’s how they might see this:

Group One: Just about everything can be fixed if humans will just do the right thing mentioned earlier. The natural disasters can be lessened if we took care of our environment and quit using toxic chemicals, relied on clean energy, etc. Wars and famine and sickness would stop because people would unite for the common welfare of all. If enough people do this, we can finally live in peace and love.

Group Two: Things happen for a reason, and that reason is God’s punishing those people who sin and will feel the wrath of God in the destructive winds of the tornado or in the drowning waters of a powerful tsunami. God’s Hand is in all of these actions to make us repent. BUT . . . natural disasters can also just be earth doing its thing, too, because there’s no such thing as climate change.

tidal wave tsunami

Let’s factor in the whole subject of suffering and dying in whatever capacity. Group One would probably see these as cruel, senseless events caused by lack of education, equality, love, and action on our part to stop them from happening.  But sometimes, they have no real answers because death is a part of life. Group Two might respond that it was those people’s time to leave this world. If they’re asked, “What about victims of a massacre or individual murder?” Generally, they don’t have an answer, and for the most part, they’ll be honest and say they don’t.

Then there are the people who fall in the middle who believe disasters and suffering are sometimes of God and other times just nature doing its thing, like the earth’s natural cooling and warming.

earth

Do people have much power to do anything about these catastrophes in the world? I believe there is nature doing its thing and us doing ours and sometimes they are intertwined.

It all starts and stems from where life began—in the Garden when Adam and Eve were created, whether a representation of humanity, or truly a male named Adam and a female named Eve. God gave us free will. It is a loving and crucial gift for us that gives us the ability to reason and make decisions on everything in our lives, including whether to love or reject God. It is my understanding and belief this was the main purpose God gave us free will—for us to freely choose to love Him or not.

God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit represents Love, Peace, and Relationship. God wants a relationship with us. We are not robots or marionettes to which He pulls strings or programs us to act or do something every moment of our lives. No, we have the freedom to choose just about everything in our lives except choosing to not die. We all will. We have to go through this because of the consequences of sin and death that entered the world that is known as the Fall.

adam &amp; eve expulsion from eden

I believe whatever a person does, good or bad (in the sense we humans understand good and bad), it affects all the world and universe. I liken it to the example used in the chaos theory of the butterfly that flaps its wings, and that act of flapping its wings reverberates and echoes through the cosmos, affecting all things in it. Therefore, when a person does something bad, such as kill someone, this is felt throughout the universe.

There is no utopia on earth because earth isn’t God’s Kingdom, as Christians and most non-Christians know. Adam and Eve fell into the temptation of wanting to be just like God, and through pride (arrogance) and disobedience, that caused everything to change for humanity and all of God’s creation.  Making a decision seems to have a lot of power to change the world, doesn’t it?

When humanity sinned, it took the creatures and plants and all down with it to earth, separating all from God’s closeness and grace. This separation was reconciled through Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Getting back to the issues of suffering, wars, and killings. It is my belief that this all springs from two things:

  • Free Will
  • The Fall

Therefore, killings/murders, wars, and whatever things happen in our daily lives are a result of the choices we make good or bad, through God’s gift of free will. We choose to steal that coat at the department store, shoot and kill people, eat more than our stomach  can hold (gluttony), be mean to the person ahead of us in line at the supermarket, etc.  We choose to start wars because of our greed and desire for power over others, anger, etc.

Having said all of that, this does not include people suffering from mental illness because the chemical balance is off in their brains, and unless they’re being treated effectively by psychiatric medications, their brains aren’t functioning correctly.

pink sunset one person free will

God cannot impede on our free will. Father Tom Hopko used to say this in many of his podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio, for which I’ve listened to several.

Then there are the dilemmas of natural disasters, sickness, and famine. Two reasons:

  1. All of humanity is spiritually ill in need of healing, which for me, is found through Jesus Christ, so that we can be made whole and healthy again as we first were made to be.
  2.  We live in a broken, fallen world.

Remember the butterfly example from the chaos theory? Think of that butterfly as a person, and that person does something that separates him/her from God–misses the mark, sins–that sin reverberates through the cosmos because humanity is the conduit between the material and spiritual worlds.   Likewise, if the person does something holy/good, such as loving his/her enemy, or giving food to a starving person, this, too, spreads throughout the universe.

stardust blue

So, if you look at the world from this perspective, you can see through free will, humans do have a great deal of power, and what we are able to do in this fallen world is a result of what we choose to do daily that sends the waves of holiness or sinfulness throughout all existence in the cosmos.

 

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Miyazaki’s Masterpieces Center on the Human Condition

miyazaki movies collage

Have you ever seen any of Studio Ghibli’s animated movies? In particular, Hayao Miyazaki’s animated movies through Studio Ghibli? I know that many of you probably have, but if you haven’t, this blogpost is for you (and for fans of these movies!).  They are drawn in the anime style and are fantastic.  My family has a stack of them sitting in our DVD bookcase.  What makes the movies so superb is their depth, their artwork, and their focus on the human condition.  Below, I go into detail about two specific movies of Miyazaki’s that portrays the characters, their relationships, and good and evil through the lens of the human condition.

In Disney movies, there is a strong distinction between the heroes and the villains, especially the earlier animated ones.  I would go so far as to say many of the villains in Disney movies are two-dimensional, fail to show remorse most of the time, and lack the full makeup of human beings–good and bad qualities.  But with such movies as Spirited Away, the human condition and the more rounded personalities of the characters are present and great to watch.  

Spirited Away

This movie is long, engrossing, and deep.  So deep that you forget you’re watching an animated feature (this is the case for all Miyazaki’s films).  Chihiro, a young, 10-year-old girl is riding with her parents in their car heading for their new house in a new city.  She possesses a bratty mentality who is not happy about moving, which is typical for children who like to stay where they grew up, for the most part (says the daughter of an Air Force officer who moved every two to four years. Haha).  Anyway, her parents and she end up going through a type of stone tunnel that opens up to green hills and a little village with a bunch of shops.  Her parents get caught up in the smell and devouring of delicious food, and their gluttony takes over, transforming them into huge pigs.  Chihiro is left alone, desperate to help her parents.  Later, she becomes an employee at a bathhouse run by a nasty witch who steals people’s names.  Still, aspects of good show through this witch, which makes her more “human” and interesting.  

A teenaged boy, Haku, aids Chihiro using his special powers, as he’s also a white dragon.  And then there’s No Face.  This character doesn’t speak, and appears and disappears in and around the bathhouse where Chihiro works.  He followers Chihiro and tries to give her handfuls of gold, but she isn’t interested.  All those that do take the gold blocks are eaten by No Face.  He becomes gluttonous, and can’t stop eating.  He’s miserable, and he sees Chihiro as the person to save him from this.  Instead of kicking him to the curb for his destructive behavior, she eventually helps him, and his passion is squelched. Also, the witch softens towards the end of the story.  

Through helping others, learning to be independent and resourceful, Chihiro matures and loses the brattiness and ungratefulness that had been part of her at the beginning of the story.  There’s the element of redemption in this that I love–that people aren’t all bad or good, and that they repent and change.  All of these elements in this Japanese movie show Christian aspects but are globally understood because it’s part of humanity and its ability to transform through the love of others that shines the light of Christ, from my perspective.  If you haven’t seen this epic film, I highly recommend it.  Although it’s a “children’s movie,” (I wouldn’t say very young children), it’s for adults, too.

Howl’s Moving Castle

This movie is enchanting.  It, too, is long and engrossing.  Again, you forget this is animated. Main character, Sophie, is a young woman who works with her sisters in her since deceased father’s hat shop until she encounters Howl, the Wizard, and then The Witch of the Waste.  The latter casts a spell on Sophie, turning her into an old woman.  Sophie did not consider herself beautiful, and so, although she isn’t happy she’s been turned wrinkly, it’s the struggle with her aching body that causes her the most difficulty.  She finds herself inHowl’s magic, moving castle and works for him as a cleaning lady.  Throughout this is a war going on in the country where she and the others live.  

Howl suffers from vanity.  He is particular about his hair color, his clothes, and how he looks.  If something comes between him and his appearance, he crumbles, and this happens in one of the scenes.  Black forms of demons slither out and around him while he’s melting in the chair.  Why?  Because he’s allowed his vanity to overtake him, causing him the danger of being destroyed.  But Sophie is there to talk to him and help him.  

Ultimately, Sophie’s compassion toward Howl, the Witch, and other characters brings about remorse and repentance for those characters that were doing evil.  Sophie does not have a high regard for herself and believes herself to be unattractive.  But she grows through dealing with the curse of being old.  I don’t believe she cared that she was old because she didn’t think she was beautiful anyway, so she didn’t lose anything in appearance.  But she learns through helping others, and these people’s respect for her, that she is truly worth something and she learns to like herself.  In return, Howl tells her she’s beautiful and helps her get back home.  If you haven’t seen this one, please do.

Whenever watching these movies, everything around you melts away, and you’re sucked into the storyline, the characters, and the beautiful artistic scenes.

There are plenty of other spectacular Hiyazaki movies that are just as deep, and some a little lighter in content.  Below is a list of the DVDs we own that are all fantastic and enjoyable.

Princess Mononoke (my oldest son’s favorite, and very profound)

Kiki’s Delivery Service

My Neighbor Totoro

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (profound)

From Up On Poppy Hill (my favorite lighter film)

Castle in the Sky

Whisper of the Heart

The Secret World of Arrietty

Porco Rosso

Incidentally, if you’re in to real tear-jerkers, watch this Studio Ghibli movie called Grave of the Fireflies.  It’s a twenty-tissue film, and one I doubt I’ll be able to watch again, but it was incredible.

Take a look at this video that explains Miyazaki’s theme of the human condition in his works.

 

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