Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tears for America

I couldn't stop the tears from flowing this weekend watching and reading the reports surrounding the shooting of the Arizona congresswoman and other bystanders. As badly as I feel for those killed and injured, and pray for the recovery of the survivors, the core of my grief is for the America that has given rise to these increasingly frequent events. The country has never been perfect, of course—I don't have any such romantic misconceptions. But it seems that, in recent decades, we have changed a lot.

And I don't mean what it seems most commentators are talking about—that it's the vitriolic screeds from the Right and the Left that have created, and are nurturing, senseless acts of violence to convey a political message. The shooting in Tucson was less a political act than a spiritual act; the act of a young man with no moral compass to keep him from veering onto an immoral path.

But how does any modern American find and follow a moral compass, given the schizophrenic, double-minded messages that our culture conveys? The country's lawmakers say "In God We Trust" and fund chaplains for our lawmakers using taxpayer funds, but forbid the same spiritual influences for children and young people in pubic schools or officials in other public institutions.

We hold unaccountable a mother who chooses to kill her infant in the womb yet hold accountable those who kill people outside the womb. While I decry the horror of both, I find it a bit of a double-standard to be horrified at one and not the other when our culture has established dual standards for killing vis-a-vis one's proximity to the womb.

We applaud the commercial success of movies, television shows, and video games that use violence—shooting, maiming, killing—as their drawing card. I know the arguments for using art to portray the human condition, but when young people grow up in a culture that glorifies mayhem as we do, should we be surprised when they decide to to act out the fantasies they have grown up watching? (I was shocked recently to watch the videos, released by the WikiLeaks group, of the U.S. military helicopter attack on a group of "insurgents" in Afghanistan. The videos, recorded in graphic detail by the video cameras on the attack helicopters, recorded the conversations of the pilots and their ground controllers as they moved into position and opened fire from miles away on a small group of men, then did the same when a civilian van arrived to collect the dead. My point: the helicopter pilots' dialogue was akin to teenagers playing a video game—laughter, congratulations, and all manner of machismo overshadowed the sad reality of the loss of life, including injury to two young girls. Yes, it's the fog of war. But it's also war being waged by young adults playing real-time war games with million-dollar weapons after being raised to wage make-believe war in their living rooms with hundred-dollar video machines.)

We write financial checks as a nation that we have no ability to cash, yet are surprised when people write moral checks that overdraw their innate human accounts of morality and integrity. How is one different from the other?

Proverbs 29:18 says, "When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild . . . ."

Psalm 33:12 says, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord . . . ."

Those top-tier principles (fill in the details as you will) suggest at the least that we have ignored the importance of a reason to be better than the events this weekend in Tucson suggest we are. It seems that as America, over her three centuries, has moved God to the periphery of her corporate consciousness, man's baser instincts have gained the upper hand. Sad as this weekend's events have been, they at least have caused me to consider any role I am playing in supporting or promoting values that work against what I know is best for the nation as a whole.

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