In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, many ask what possible rationale exists for the unprovoked, evil killing of the most innocent souls in the bloodiest way imaginable. As some commentators have pointed out, evil has always existed and has no simple explanation. Further, the killer seemed to suffer from an abundance of mental problems which many have used to explain away the deadly assault.
And yet something much bigger is involved in this tragedy. Most American adults are aware that our culture has morphed into something entirely different in just a few decades. And these changes have resounded across our country in many unpleasant and alarming ways. The change is signally related to our national religion, how we communicate, and to what extent the counter-culture has been allowed to deliver a violent, degrading, antisocial and nihilistic world view. This, in addition to the recession of the church into the shadows, has allowed the culture of revenge to blot out Christ’s role model of forgiveness. Such is the real meaning of Christmas—potential for peace on earth, and the Savior who came to bring peace to the world and light into darkness. On this, Isaiah and the Apostle John agree:
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned…
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:1,6)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5).
What exactly occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School—What caused the carnage? CNN reports the events in Connecticut on Dec. 14th, 2012:
Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, then grabbed three guns and headed to the elementary school. Classes had begun, 700 students present. The door was locked, so Lanza shot his way into the building. At 9:30 a.m. he started shooting into two classrooms of kindergartners and first-graders, hitting all 14 students in the first classroom. In another classroom, he shot the teacher and six students. The gunman killed himself in a classroom as law enforcement officers approached. Twenty students, ages 6 and 7, and six adults were killed at the school.
What caused Lanza to suddenly explode in a rage of violence against innocent school kids? Some sources indicate he suffered from Aspergers Syndrome, a kind of mild autism. Some authorities claim Adam was driven to violence by bad psychiatric medication. One source suggests his mother Nancy was putting in paperwork to have him committed to a state facility. While not on the payroll, she was apparently a volunteer at Sandy Hook Elementary. It is thought that Lanza was jealous of the kids his mom spent time with as he was very isolated. Says one source,
Days before the shooting, 20-year-old Adam withdrew from his family, especially his mother, Nancy Lanza. His parents divorced in 2001. Nancy claimed she intended to always care for Adam, who had Asperbger’s syndrome. Adam cut ties with his father, Peter, a successful GE executive, after he took a second wife in 2010. Peter continued to support Adam, but had not seen or heard from his son since. Nancy Lanza may have begun filing papers to have her adult son committed. A friend claims Adam was aware of this and that he was “very, very angry” and this is what “set him off.” Others say Nancy volunteered with young children at the school. She was close friends with the principal and psychologist, some of Adam’s first victims. Adam was reportedly jealous of the attention his mother gave these children, and angered that she wished to send him away.
While the highly intelligent Lanza’s rage may have been irrational, was he closer to insane—or evil? And do free-will decisions ever come into play or are all murderous acts simply presumed to be the result of chemical imbalance or sheer insanity? In fact, the Sandy Hook massacre opens the lid on the debate in the neurosciences over whether mankind has free will, or whether we are simply the results of what happens when our genetic predispositions encounter random circumstances. And could any of this have been avoided had Lanza taken Christ as a role model?
(After initial publication, a reader sent in the following—that Adam Lanza was an actual Devil worshiper and had a website devoted to this—see UK Daily Mail: ‘I am the devil’: Former classmate reveals school gunman had ‘online devil worshiping page’ )
In modern America, a toxic brew of dysfunctional elements has brought our once proud and highly efficient society to its knees, as many individuals struggle with personal demons. The changes are too vast to wholly catalog, but it is patently obvious some factors tend to destabilize residents more on average. But as the church loses its central position in society, the vacuum is filled with the other elements swirling around—mindless pop culture, political religious creeds and the violent rejection of polite society by the disenfranchised—driven by anger and revenge. Unsurprisingly, in a culture where mindlessly violent video games and music are consumed under the blare of Hip Hop extolling guns, drugs, murder, riches and sex, youth struggle to adapt to traditional mores. So is it any wonder the most unhinged feed off this obscene and violent milieu? See Most Mass Murderers Are Revenge Killers, and The “pseudocommando” mass murderer: part I, the psychology of revenge and obliteration, etc. Authorities believe mass killers are often driven by revenge, not insanity:
Those who commit mass murders are often angry and isolated, but usually aren’t mentally ill, violence experts said Friday after a shooting during the midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. James Holmes was arrested as a suspect in the shooting that killed 12 people and wounded 59 others. “It takes a certain degree of clear-headedness to plan and execute a crime like this,” said James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University in Boston, who has written several books on mass murder and school violence.
So why are there so many angry people in America, today? If one were to simply focus upon the astounding changes wrought on the family in the last 50 years, one would have a splendid window into why we are demonstrably worse off today than a half century ago. For example, the NY Times recently reported that out-of-wedlock births in under 30 women have reached 50%. The upshot of this is the staggering amount of dysfunction, violence and failure by adolescents directly tied to such parenting decisions (see America 2013: Return of the Kinsman Redeemer? & Are the Sins of the Fatherless the Root of Obama’s Tyranny?)
The bottom line for families deprived of fathers is a crisis in leadership. America’s elites have been so insistent fathers are less important than other member of society that it has finally taken its toll. The result has been fatherhood mercilessly mocked in popular culture, like sitcoms—Married With Children, dismissed as unnecessary by single mothers—Murphy Brown, and had public policy make them redundant—Black culture. The question is, if Jesus is God’s representative on earth, and therefore the Father of Mankind—how can He be taken seriously if fatherhood itself is deemed redundant, irrelevant? Further, this logic makes God the Father an anachronism. Frank Ancona writes in Crisis in America: Father Absence:
Violence—Senseless violence. Gangs, Rape. Crime. Murder. Substance abuse. Denigration of women. Racism. No conscience. No remorse. Reckless promiscuity. Irresponsibility. Divorce and single parenting. Babies having babies. Abortion as birth control. Dependence on government as a way of life. Rebellion. Hatred of authority and authority figures. An educational system in crisis. Victim mentality. The loss of religion and spirituality. Polarisation. What does this describe? Unfortunately, the behaviours and attitudes of an ever-growing segment of America’s youth. Why? How did this happen? Many blame the dissolution of family. But that’s incorrect. The dissolution of family is most certainly a tragedy; however, it is merely a symptom, not a cause. The cause is the loss of paternal function. But what is a father? What is the paternal function? Why do we need fathers? How did we lose our fathers? And most importantly, how do we get them back?
Every culture suffers from its own kinds of failure and moral blindness. But the war on fatherhood seems to have special implications, which carry spiritual overtones of grave import. The fact that the Bible portrays God as a male figure, as well as His Son, means that any sustained assault against fatherhood is a veiled attack against God—a deicide. What happens to humans when fatherhood disappears? One writer comments:
When male youth do not have a father figure in their lives, they often join gangs to fill that emptiness and look to gang leaders to fill that “fatherless” void in their lives. There is a critical connection between a father’s absence, juvenile delinquency and anti-social aggression in our youth. The likelihood that a teenage male will engage in criminal activity doubles when he is raised without a dad. In fact, 72% of adolescents charged with murder grew up without their father (Characteristics of Adolescents Charged with Homicide, 1987).
Adam Lanza was angry at his father for remarrying. He never talked to him again. Two years later, the son unleashed Hell on earth in revenge against life. But didn’t Lanza’s father have a pre-existing duty to stay connected to his disturbed child and try to help him adapt to adult life?
Furthermore, other studies show that school systems with above-average rates of father absence have nearly double the rates of school violence compared to those with below-average rates of father absence. Children who do not live with both parents are also more likely to carry a gun, assault another student and assault a teacher. To put it mildly, father absence could be the single strongest predictor that a child will grow up to be violent or fall victim to violence (Father Absence and Youth Incarceration, 1999).
Can a culture of forgiveness, based upon the life-story of Jesus, return to America to replace the ugly, vicious and self-destructive spirit that has overcome the arts and pop culture? Under the theory that anything is possible, of course this could happen. But realistic religious authorities would undoubtedly point out the work of God, aka revival, must precede this move. Bearing in mind the history of America and our not infrequent revivals, versus the hideous death spiral we now seem caught in, perhaps this is the most realistic hope for us?
The most trenchant observation one can make today of violence in America is that it seems to exist in a puzzling cultural vacuum which refuses to take a deeper look at the causes of chronic violence. Further, and returning to the theme of a recent essay—Is America Becoming a Pagan Kingdom?—we must ask if the seeming tribal element of lex talionis, or eye-for-an-eye revenge has really become the spirit of America? After all, so many instances of seething and angry persons who demand their “pound of flesh” after being wronged, we must assume that the spirit of Christ is largely absent from many in the USA.
The abbreviation WWJD stands for What Would Jesus Do? The query is a good one and demands an answer—What would Jesus do to heal the spirit of mindless violence and general sense of disease which haunts formerly-Christian America? We can start be trying to better understand Christ and His Words:
First, let’s recall that we are told Jesus came to earth in order to permanently heal the rift between God and mankind. He did this by offering to lay down His life so that all men could end their war against God and accept His own Son’s infinite sacrifice to pay off all people’s sins who took up this offer. This, then—from a theological perspective, rights the entire universe by curing the rift, even if the universe is still affected by sin.
Jesus came as the Word incarnate. Christians believe His perfection extended into every word He ever spoke and any conversation he ever joined. In this way He becomes the embodiment of role models for proper communication. Further, His standards for dealing with conflict are peerless. Here are Christ’s commands on revenge, hatred, murder and how to treat your enemies—from Matthew’s Chapter 5 Sermon on the Mount:
1. Anger & Murder (Matt 5:21-24)
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
2. Revenge (Matt 5:38-42)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
3. Enemies (Matt 5:43-48)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
4. Model for Interpersonal Peace (Matt 18:15-17)
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
One could claim Rap is the voice of the aliened fatherless, which Jackson Browne once described as like the tapping between jail cells. But the real question is whether Jesus can be established as a peaceful role model in a society that rejects fathers, and perhaps in doing so—is attempting to stamp out all masculine traits, as well? Needless to say, if America were more Christlike, it would be less sinful, and therefore less violent. Since the standard of forgiveness and reconciliation with enemies is no longer a cultural norm, it is up to each individual Believer to show how it is done.
(More statistics: The Human Carnage of Fatherlessness)
Kelly O’Connell is an author and attorney. He was born on the West Coast, raised in Las Vegas, and matriculated from the University of Oregon. After laboring for the Reformed Church in Galway, Ireland, he returned to America and attended law school in Virginia, where he earned a JD and a Master’s degree in Government. He spent a stint working as a researcher and writer of academic articles at a Miami law school, focusing on ancient law and society. He has also been employed as a university Speech & Debate professor. He then returned West and worked as an assistant district attorney. Kelly is now is a private practitioner with a small law practice in New Mexico. Kelly is now host of a daily, Monday to Friday talk show at AM KOBE called AM Las Cruces w/Kelly O’Connell
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