Last weekend, Tucson was the scene of tragedy, 6 people killed in senseless violence, including a nine year old child born on 9/11, along with 14 people seriously wounded, including Rep. Grabrielle Giffords.
I sincerely hope Congresswoman Giffords and the others make it. Truly it is a sad and sorry situation.
Watching cable news report and try to interpret tragedy is interesting and instructive. News anchors interview psychologists and professors but rarely pastors, the one exception being Billy Graham when he was younger and healthier than he is today at 92. To do so would, in journalists' minds, violate modern conceptions of the proper place of religion in public life, which is to say keep it private and personal and not really public in any meaningful way.
Journalists, therefore, search for secularized vocabulary to describe essentially religious or moral circumstances. They talk about "his demons," as in “he’s wrestled with his demons since childhood.” This is the go-to phrase media have developed in the past twenty years to describe sin or wrong moral choices, without actually admitting that there are moral choices.
Instead of personal or spiritual or moral explanations, journalists typically look for social explanations for tragedy. For example, it's the political rhetoric of the Right (which should be tuned up and toned down) or it’s the economy or unemployment.
Certainly inflamed or mean-spirited or hateful rhetoric can influence people. So do economic downturns. But to say this is to admit that any and all environmental circumstances of life influence people. Yet not everyone responds to social difficulty by becoming a killer. And to say social conditions influence people is not the same as saying such conditions are deterministic, meaning people are programmed to respond in a certain way and cannot do otherwise. No, people make choices.
Beyond this, journalists talk about mental instability, which certainly exists and may ultimately be the primary explanation behind Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner. Examining mental issues is a legitimate discussion. But not every person who suffers from mental illness becomes a killer. In fact, the overwhelming majority of mentally ill people do not resort to violence.
Perhaps the real reasons for tragedy lie deeper within hearts not taught moral accountability, nor instilled with hope. The culture in which we live celebrates detachment from moral restraint. Many kids grow up thinking they aren’t really responsible for their attitudes and behaviors. Remember? It’s the economy or parents or the environment or poverty or something, anything, other than them or us or me.
Kids grow up in a culture of abundance, whether or not they experience it, together with a sense of entitlement that makes them forever unfulfilled and unsatisfied. Even those who have are taught to want more in a consumer-driven culture.
Maybe more worrisome is our culture’s dying sense of hope, a declining belief that things can or will be better tomorrow. The Greatest Generation believed this. Nearly all American generations before it believed this. But today hope is in short supply.
Hope is a religious or spiritual concept. If human beings have no hope something withers within them. Loss of hope brings in its wake angst, anomie, and alienation.
Social explanations may be helpful in understanding something about tragedy, but social factors are never enough. Sin and evil are rooted in the hearts of humankind. Journalists, if they really want to get to the bottom of tragedy, should open media to spiritual insight. American culture, if it wants to reduce the number of tragedies like Tucson, needs to rediscover a Sovereign God who lives, loves, holds accountable, forgives, and offers a better tomorrow.
To argue tragedy is rooted in sin, evil, and personal moral choice is not to pronounce doom and gloom as much as to pronounce hope. Because for moral failure, there’s a remedy in Christ who personifies hope.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011
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