As America reels from yet another devastating tragedy, the message of the ancient Hebrew prophets speaks to us afresh: A nation that is filled with violence is a nation on the verge of collapse. Consider where we stand today.
While grieving families in Aurora, CO come to grips with their agonizing losses, it is sobering to realize that the movie theater massacre was actually the sixth multiple-victim shooting in America so far in July, with a total of 24 killed and almost 100 wounded (again, this represents multiple-victim shootings only).
As we look back over the last five years, the roll-call of horror and pain is overwhelming, especially when we remember that each of these “statistics” represents a precious, irreplaceable, human life (and note that I’m not listing the large number of people who were wounded):
• Jan. 8, 2011, Tuscon, AZ: 6 dead (at a political rally)
• Nov. 5, 2009, Ft. Hood, TX: 13 dead (at an army base)
• Apr. 3, 2009, Binghamton, NY: 13 dead (at an immigration center)
• Mar. 30, 2009, Carthage, NC: 8 dead (at a nursing home)
• Mar. 29, 2009, Santa Clara, CA: 6 dead (family members)
• Mar. 10, 2009, Samson, AL: 10 dead (including the killer’s mother and grandparents)
• Dec. 24, 2008, Covina, CA: 9 dead (at a family Christmas party)
• Sept. 2, 2008: Alger, WA: 6 dead (at several locations)
• Feb. 14, 2008: Dekalb, IL: 6 dead (at a college campus)
• Feb. 2, 2008: Chicago, IL: 5 dead (at a store)
• Dec. 24, 2007: Carnation, WA: 6 dead (family members)
• April 16, 2007, Blacksburg, VA: 33 dead (at a college campus)
And can we ever forget April 20, 1999, the Columbine High School massacre, where the teenage murderers were reported to be laughing as they mowed down their fellow-students and teachers at close range and in cold blood?
Added to this – and perhaps related to this – is the ever intensifying culture of violence in TV and movies and video games, with a whole generation becoming increasingly desensitized to blood and gore. According to a report posted by the University of Michigan Health System,
• An average American child will see 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders on TV by age 18.
• Two-thirds of all programming contains violence.
• Most violent acts go unpunished on TV and are often accompanied by humor. The consequences of human suffering and loss are rarely depicted.
• Many shows glamorize violence. TV often promotes violent acts as a fun and effective way to get what you want, without consequences
• Children imitate the violence they see on TV. Children under age eight cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy, making them more vulnerable to learning from and adopting as reality the violence they see on TV.
• Repeated exposure to TV violence makes children less sensitive toward its effects on victims and the human suffering it causes.
When the Academy Award winning movie West Side Story came out in 1961, I remember hearing my family talk about the fact that it was violent. (I was 6 at the time.) Yes, West Side Story, where the gangs wore ties and danced to choreographed songs in the streets, and where the shootings and stabbings were basically bloodless, was considered violent. Just 6 years later, in 1967, Bonnie and Clyde was the big hit, and the blood was certainly flowing by then. And Bonnie and Clyde certainly looks tame compared to Natural Born Killers, which also looks tame compared to the latest spate of mutilation and torture flicks, all for our entertainment pleasure.
And let’s not forget today’s video games, where the gratuitous, explicit, intense, and utterly sick violence is at the control of the person (probably kid!) pulling the joystick trigger (in fact, as you play the game, you are that person). As a columnist noted, one well-known video game included “using cat carcasses as silencers on your gun, hitting people with anthrax-laden cow heads and playing ‘fetch’ with dogs using the severed heads of your dismembered victims.” And there is a massive market for these types of “games.”
The book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, states that one of the reasons God destroyed the world in Noah’s day was because the earth was “full of violence” (Gen 6:11, 13; even if you don’t believe in Noah’s flood, the moral lesson remains the same). What, then, can be said of a nation like America, a nation so filled with violence, not to mention entertained by violence? And I have not said a word about the violence done to babies in the womb, the ultimate example of innocent bloodshed.
Shortly before Jerusalem’s fall 2,700 years ago, the prophet Jeremiah heard the Lord say these words, which could easily apply to our country today: “Violence and destruction are heard in her; her sickness and wounds are ever before me” (Jer 6:7). Yes, America, a nation with so much potential and such a rich history, finds itself in the spiraling death grip of violence. How do we turn the tide?
Talk of gun control or media censorship is hardly the solution. The fact is that we have lost the consciousness of God and the fear of God, and without a heartfelt, genuine turning to the Lord, our future looks more bloody than blessed. The hour is as late as it is urgent.
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.