Random reflections on public shootings and ultimate safety in our time
We can all agree that it is a Very Bad Thing when crazed or terrorist gunmen unleash volleys of lethal bullets against school children, churchgoers, and the general public. But after that, in America at least, the agreement ends. Some argue that it should be harder for people to get their hands on automatic assault weapons (though not all such episodes involve such weapons). Others argue that more private citizens should be armed so that an assault can be terminated (relatively) quickly (as happened in a late 2017 incident at a Baptist Church in Texas).
Peculiar arguments pro and con abound as well. For example, liberals tend to argue that the problem can be significantly reduced by increased regulation, yet there is no evidence that regulation reduces dysfunctionality, and the failure of broad-scale security measures against those determined to circumvent them is legendary. Meanwhile, conservatives argue that the possession of guns may not be unduly restricted because it is a Constitutional right, yet the conditions which made that right meaningful have long since ceased to exist—namely the ability of citizens to resist unjust governmental firepower. That made some sense in the age of muskets. It is fundamentally without meaning now (though, of course, Constitutional issues should be settled...constitutionally).
In any case, deeper questions are typically ignored. It is logical to assume (but perhaps difficult to prove empirically) that the same socio-cultural conditions which have sent the incidence of suicide through the roof would play a significant role in the interior dislocations which lead to the kinds of violent acts under discussion here. Among these, surely, are the following:
- The breakdown of marriage and, with it, family stability, the loss of which creates personal problems which are notoriously hard to address by any sort of substitute process;
- The rejection of the framework of personal meaning provided by both nature and religion, along with a denial of ultimate meaning in any form;
- The emphasis in modern education on an ideological rejection of the past in favor of creating one’s own personal identity out of whole cloth (never mind for the moment that this emphasis insists on absolute conformity to the ideas which drive it);
- A dominant socio-economic structure which places little or no value on familial or communal roots;
- Our increasing dislocation from nature and immersion in virtual reality;
- The “herding” characteristic of modern institutions, especially schools, which are fundamentally designed to maximize the quantitative and the impersonal;
- A largely subconscious refusal to inculcate habits of responsibility in the young, along with unceasing pressure for worldly success.
Surely several more broad issues could be identified, not least our growing “culture of death”. But I will add just one further comment on my last bullet point: I suspect that our broad cultural failure to raise responsible children is rooted in two modern adult aversions: First, aversion to the reality that authentic responsibility is rooted in an acceptance of personal limits; second, the aversion to demanding responsibility from the young on the part of adults living a “mature” lifestyle already profoundly divorced from responsibility.
Expanding the question
One can wonder about many other things as well, and many have. For example, is the ideal form of life to be found in Christian homesteading? Is protection of the young from electronic media essential to genuine personal development? Ought we to turn to religion simply because nothing else “works”? Do large families tend to more often “produce” a more secure and stable next generation? And how can we maximize the presence of fathers in the lives of their children?
But we should also be wondering about the profound links between occasional violent threats to life and limb and the endemic threats in our culture to moral health and human integrity. We may focus on the dramatic risk of being shot down by a mad assassin in a bell tower, who may or may not be aided and abetted by an ill-regulated world. But usually we fail to focus on the equally dangerous perversions of intellect and will by which we are damaged at the very core of our being, and by which our children, at all social levels, are routinely swept into an unregulated culture of sex, drugs, rootlessness and despair.
I believe we must recognize that we are living at the end of a cultural era, in which what is left of the Western worldview is rapidly spiraling down to nothing, with no widespread positive alternative in sight by which we can work together to reassemble the components of personal, social, economic and cultural life within stable communities. If this is true, then for most of us the future lies in strengthening our own families and rooting our overall family life within both the Church (in the healthiest parish and diocesan situation we can find) and a cohesive community of like-minded families and friends.
Note, in this process, that the rejection of public education is critical, as is the rejection of the vast majority of “normal” modes of college and university education. So we are already talking about major sacrifices; but it is utter folly to immerse our children in a hostile formative culture while attempting to form them ourselves, or to send our children off to the typical college or university as soon as they attain the age when they are expected to begin to root their own values more fully in God and their own core identities than in Mom and Dad.
Important as this counter-cultural effort is, it must not be a naïve effort. Even within this positive micro-cultural vision, children must be prepared for the larger world and for the temptations characteristic of the age as a whole. The virtues necessary to remain safe in Sodom and Gomorrah are not cultivated through a refusal to acknowledge the relevant temptations, but by recognizing them, learning their dangers, and developing the habits and strength of character necessary to personal and moral survival. Too much isolation, too much “protection”, can and often does backfire. Prudence and spiritual guidance are absolutely essential to families and to the counter-cultural communities they form, as are increasing personal freedom and responsibility in interaction with the world as children mature.
My title promised “random reflections”, but I should close by emphasizing the word “reflections”, which ought to arise from deep and prayerful thought. The results may be miraculous, but they will be anything but random. For even though our own efforts will include a certain amount of trial and error, they must always be rooted in Christ and the Church. Moreover, prayer for our children is the first and best way we have for making up for our own shortcomings. Prayer for our children and for ourselves is also the only secure foundation for Christian thought, sound personal and family habits, and a life full of meaning that ends in God.
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