Like many, I was horrified to learn of the tragedy that happened in Arizona this past weekend when a Congresswoman, along with a handful of others, was shot at a political event. This horrific event seems to have been the work of a man that lacked the cognitive abilities to discern right from wrong. This is a nice way of saying that the man seems to have been mentally/emotionally ill. Nonetheless, his actions were terribly wrong. And now we seek to know why.
It didn’t take long for pundits to seize upon the opportunity to assign blame for such a terrible tragedy. It’s interesting how when political points are up for grabs, blame for tragedy is levied before details can even be sorted out. At the same time, to simply write off this terrible event as “just the work of a crazy person” would shortchange the opportunity we have to look deep within the soul and psyche of the American culture.
When did violence become such an accepted part of our society? I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t find some sort of violence to enjoy in my life. I grew up loving GI Joes and Professional Wrestling. Both of these captivate the imagination by creating story lines of good vs. evil. What we often miss is that it’s just accepted that violence is the only means of behavior in these settings. Children are taught that if someone picks on you, you pick back. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard, “I don’t care if you get in trouble, you don’t let them push you around” from parents. I grew up playing with toy guns and idolized heros in movies whose vigilante violence endeared them to everyone who came in contact with them. I’m of the first true generation to have come up during the video game evolution and one doesn’t have to go very far to find the popularity of violent games.
Our political landscape is riddled with violent rhetoric. In the age of 24-hour cable news, violent rhetoric has now been adopted by personalities who choose not to broadcast news, but would rather build a following of support for whatever cause or agenda they’re pushing.
I don’t blame the Tea Party or Sarah Palin for what happened Saturday. I don’t blame Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh. I don’t even blame CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC. What happened Saturday reveals a condition much deeper than any of these could ever be solely responsible for. At the end of the day, the only people we have to blame for violence erupting, no matter how isolated, is US. We have, for too long, accepted violence as a normal part of our everyday life. Christianity isn’t even absolved from contribution to such a condition. Much of our historical agenda has been centered around a “battle of good and evil.” One could argue that our faith offers the first story as such of substantial impact on the world. For too long we have admired might and power as virtues that exemplify what is considered good in our world.
Saturday is not the fault of one isolated man. It’s not the fault of a few political pundits who wish to score political points. No, it’s the fault of all of us. You see, this man may have been mentally ill-but our society taught him the language and means by which he carried out his insane actions. Only when we stop admiring violence as the only means of justice will we ever have a hope of ridding ourselves of such insane acts. Now is not the time to simply speak out against “them” in response to this tragedy. Now, more than ever, is the time to preach and teach and proclaim the story of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.