I wish I could write a nice piece about the miracle of the season, but the Newtown shooting ripped away any remnants of a Norman Rockwell Christmas. Because the primary targets were young children, it was a stark reminder of the madness that exists in this world. Of course, every day, children are forced into war, slavery, prostitution, and extreme poverty… So, Newtown is not a new or unique story. Even the Christmas story itself has a bloody postscript of Herod slaughtering all the male babies in and around Bethlehem.
While Americans have mourned the victims and embraced the survivors, there are disturbing signs that evil continues to thrive among us. Just over the last few days, there have been more threats, some against schools, others railing against the government. Most of these people are probably just venting or seeking attention, but when police investigate, they often do find caches of weapons.
On the weekend after the shooting (December 15th), one person fired off rounds outside a mall in Newport Beach, while another shot up an emergency room in Birmingham. Just down the road from me, in Columbia, Tennessee, a 19 year old posted on his Facebook page: “feel like goin on a rampage, kinda like the school shooting were that one guy killed some teachers and a bunch of students :D” 19 people had “liked” his comment.
There’s a lot of blame to go around, but there are a few factors that directly contribute to the anger and violence in our society… For example, according to Nielson, the average TV viewer witnesses 200,000 violent acts on TV by the time they are 18. While this desensitizes all of us, many kids have also been busy mowing down their enemies in video games. These games are so lifelike, they simulate the experience, giving the player actual skills they can use to kill. Obviously, the vast majority of players never take their game playing into the real world, but it shouldn’t surprise us when a few do.
The mother of the Newtown killer was apparently stockpiling weapons and food in preparation of an economic collapse. This phenomenon has become so popular that it has launched a TV show called “Doomsday Preppers.” I understand someone wanting to protect their family from an attacker, but many of these end-of-the-world “enthusiasts” are preparing for a long, sustained war. If you indulge in a paranoid fantasy for long enough, you might turn it into a reality or, at least, a reality TV show.
We live in a country with approximately 350 million guns, and sales have been soaring since the tragedy in Newtown. For years, the NRA has effectively whipped up the fear that guns will be taken away. While no one is advocating for this, it does seem reasonable to limit the size of clips or implement background checks at gun shows. But the NRA, and its most militant members, refuses to compromise and, despite all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, maintain that even more guns are the answer.
Violent video games, preparing for disaster, and stockpiling weapons all exacerbate the problem, but what is behind the fascination with these destructive tendencies? Of course, there are no easy answers to that question, so I’ll defer to Thomas Merton who, after spending many days meditating on the nature of war, came up with this, “At the root of war is fear: not so much the fear men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another; they do not even trust themselves… They cannot trust anything because they have ceased to believe in God.”
Could fear be at the root of our need to make war on a global scale or strike out against our fellow man? Could lack of faith be at the root of needing to arm ourselves to the teeth? When we need to protect ourselves from perceived enemies, we are really saying we don’t trust God. Throughout the Old and New Testaments – God, the Prophets, and Christ are continually telling us to “Fear Not.” Of course, that’s easier said than done in a world with real, dangerous enemies.
Part of the problem may be that God’s protection doesn’t look like our version of it. God doesn’t necessarily come cloaked in military might. In fact, God willingly sent an innocent baby into a harsh, violent world; a world that would eventually crucify Him. This makes no sense to a world that glorifies power and strength, and yet, 2,000 years later, Christ’s light still burns in the midst of the darkness. When sometimes this world seems to have gone mad, Christ offers an alternative path of love and peace, and that’s the true miracle of the season.