The tragedy at Newtown, CT, is a tragedy of biblical proportions. Near Christmas, one thinks of the slaughter of the innocents by Herod after Jesus was born, a story in Matthew’s gospel. Then there’s the family dimension: in the first book of the bible, Genesis, Cain kills his brother Abel.
I’d like to offer a few reflections on the violence of that tragedy and also some suggestions about what to do, besides praying for the recent victims and their families.
A development has gone on in our church over the centuries about violence in every form, from physical violence like murder, the death penalty, torture, rape, abortion, child abuse, war, to verbal violence like lying, bullying, verbal abuse.
The Old Testament is filled with violence. Some early Christians like Marcion (c AD144 ) actually wanted to suppress the Old Testament because God seemed be an angry God who condoned violence and acted violently. The ancient world was indeed a violent world. Yet we believe that God, who always works with what’s there– sought to bring that world gradually to peace and non-violence.
In the New Testament Jesus, the Word of God, revealed that purpose in a unique way. Jesus refused to use violence or force to achieve his kingdom. He rejected the concept of a warrior Messiah. He taught us to love our enemies. “Peace, I leave you, my peace I give you.” In his passion and death on a cross he took on the violence of the world and responded to it with a non-violent love.
Our society, it seems safe to say, is becoming a coarser, more violent place. Violence has become acceptable. Let’s begin with life as the media sees it.
I know you can blame the media too much, but let me give you an example of what I mean. The website of the American Catholic Bishops offers an evaluation of current movies. I was looking at it the other day and if my recollections are right, 8 out of 10 current movies evaluated were considered overly violent.
On television there are programs that critics characterize as “Dark Television.” They’re called that because the characters in these programs are not really “good” people in the real sense of the word. They don’t have much of a sense of morality, or loyalty or justice. They’ve adjusted to the dark world they inhabit every day. They’re not interested in striving for something better. They’re coolly cynical.
I don’t know too much about video games, but from what I hear I wonder if some of them encourage violence as the quickest and acceptable way to win and to get things done.
I don’t think it’s being intrusive, if you’re parents, or grandparents or anyone watching over kids, to know what they watch and tell them if it’s wrong and not healthy.
Our gospel for this 3rd Sunday of Advent is an interesting account of the teaching of John the Baptist. He gives simple directions to soldiers and tax-collectors. To soldiers, “Don’t bully people.” To tax-collectors, “Don’t cheat people.” According to John we grow by giving. “If you have two cloaks give one to someone who has none. If you have food, do the same.”
The other day on National Public Radio there was a piece on kids and empathy. The speakers seemed to say that we’re wired from the womb with the ability to give of ourselves and to empathize with others. Some people have it; some will never have it. I didn’t hear anything said about religion or a moral code or teaching young people how to live. Those things didn’t seem to figure at all.
I don’t buy that. I don’t believe that young man who went into that school was wired from birth to be like that. He may have been severely damaged socially, but did a violent culture also suggest the path he took? Something was missing in his life; someone was missing. We can’t let that happen. The consequences are too horrible.