It is now a few weeks after the mass shooting in a Colorado theater, and as many have predicted, the furor has already calmed down. People are going about their business. They have other things to do than obsess about this aberration by one man who didn’t know what he was doing.
I don’t know much how the human mind works, but I have wondered whether he would have attempted such a crazy exploit, even if mentally unbalanced, if he hadn’t been nurtured into violence all his life.
Decades ago, I recall two boys about my age tearing into one another behind the old skating rink. Of course, we children all gathered to watch. As did some parents.
The father of one of the boys, a prominent businessman in town, instead of pulling the boys apart, acted as his son’s second, and stalked around the squirming knot of boys, urging his son to really give it to the other boy. Even when grown men in a drunken brawl on a Saturday night staggered around, jabbing one another, a crowd always gathered. It gave them a charge and encouraged the fighters.
Such incidents puzzled me then as does the present increasing trend to violence to settle disagreements. That father believed his son’s smashing the other boy in the nose was the way to stay on top.
In sports violence is increasing. Consider games like football and wrestling. Recent news reports mentioned one football coach promising bonuses to players who seriously sidelined opposing players. A athletic director shoved reports of sexual abuse aside to keep the university on the winning side.
We are culturally committed to violence and nurturing ourselves into accepting it as normal. I sometimes do an unscientific experiment using my TV remote. I flip slowly from channel to channel, spending no more than one or two minutes on each. If I see a gun, a dead body, fighting, or people blasting one another with words, I move on. Sometimes that leaves me few channels to watch.
More and more shows use the word “war” in them: Storage Wars, Parking Wars, Man Versus Food, and now the new Market Warriors, etc. Even a cooking contest is staged to look like a war: The contestants line up solemnly before the judges looking like condemned criminals, and when declared losers, slink away through a back door as if to a dungeon.
Movies and television and video games are a particularly violent form of entertainment in this age of violence. All these forms of media have a special affinity for violent behavior because they deal mainly with action, and the extreme form of action is violence of any kind.
How much excitement and suspense, the main attraction of movies, can you pack into a film about peace and harmony? Life that is decent, orderly, and peaceful does not attract viewers or readers. Even in some so-called religious films, directors find it hard to stay away from portraying violent incidents to keep the interest up.
TV and videos have a particularly strong effect on the viewer because where they are watched there are no back pews. Everyone has a ringside seat, upfront and central. The bad guys and the insignificant good buys are killed with less compunction than most people squash a mosquito. Motor accidents, war casualties, police beatings, theater mass shooting are all tossed into the same category – and dismissed by the viewer: Now I see it; now I don’t.
This unintended nurturing into violence makes viewers callous to other’s hurts and more ready to inflict injury on others when upset. I find TV characters are always shouting at one another, being less than civil. And no one dies in great agony. Violence on TV is painless.
Can this overload of violence do anything but shape attitudes toward the role violence plays? How can we live watching people shouting at one another on the screen without eventually seeing it as normal? And natural. I see our culture caught in a riptide like a weak swimmer and not struggling to get free. Violence whether in its mild forms or violent ones like the Colorado shooting is becoming acceptable.
Jacques Ellul in Violence: Reflections from a Christian Perspective sets forth rules that to govern violence:
1. Once a person starts using violence, he or she will never stop using it, for it is easier, more practical than other methods of solving problems. Violence is a primitive shortcut to one’s goals. It is simple and effective.
2. There is no distinction between a good and bad use of the sword. “All who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52).
3. All violence is identical whether physical, economic, or psychological. Jesus declares there is no difference between murdering a fellow human being or being angry with him or her through insults (Matt. 5:21-22). Another writer adds that to condone violence of one kind, even psychological manipulation of an evangelist, to persuade people to come to the altar, is to consent to the adversary to use it too, whether a propagandist, advertiser, or murdered.
4. Violence begets violence –nothing else. Not freedom, not liberty, not equality.
5. Persons who use violence always try to justify both it and themselves. Violence is so unappealing, writes Ellul, that every user of it has produced lengthy apologies to demonstrate it is just and morally warranted.
The question is how to persuade this huge elephant cavorting up and down our main streets to leave. It is destroying our structures yet we enjoy watching its antics.