Swallowing a Camel: Society’s Response to Violence

Our country has been plagued with mass shootings, usually perpetrated by young men. The terrible massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School rekindled the political debate over gun control laws into an ongoing campaign. This is a reasonable reaction to such violence. It is painfully difficult to imagine 20 little children being killed indiscriminately by piercing projectiles, tearing into their fragile young bodies, amid terror and screams. The suddenness and finality of those gunshots coming, as it seemed, from out of nowhere, overwhelms our senses. This is beyond human, out of human scale and, in thinking about it, we, like the children, scurry for some place to hide. Right now, for us, that place to hide is behind legal bans on assault style weapons.

The ease with which a young man can kill so many frightens us so that we seek to take away the ease from others. But… what of the desire? Why would a young man WANT to kill so many innocent little children? Why would a young man want to kill perfect strangers in a movie theater, or a college campus, or a shopping mall? Why would any young man want to murder his fellow human beings and then, as so often happens, murder himself? There is something wrong here. Something beyond human, out of human scale; there is something broken and damaged to such a degree that an individual human person is capable of committing a senseless, atrocious and horrifying act. This is what should terrify us. And it does.

This lust for violence terrifies us so that our minds become paralyzed and we don’t know what to do. We don’t understand the desire to kill little six and seven-year-old children. We don’t understand why anyone would choose to deliberately murder over and over and over and over again and again and again and again…. and, so, we look for something easier, something that we can understand. Guns are mechanical devices that humans have invented. They are bought, sold, manufactured, and destroyed. If we get rid of them and the terrifying image of lethal bullets flying indiscriminately from them, then our apprehension will decrease, our fears will calm down, and we will believe that we have control. Gun control. That is how we end violence.

But, of course, it is not. Politicians and talking heads are arguing about what guns citizens should rightfully be able to own and what guns they should not; how much ammunition is too much ammunition and what gun permits should look like. They discuss what kinds of ratings should be placed on video games and what kinds of control can legally be put on the entertainment industry. And, meanwhile, no one cares about the young man, somewhere in America, whose mind is so damaged, whose thinking is so broken, that all that he wants to do is taste as much death as possible before he dies. He is the loaded weapon beyond human scale. What are we doing about him?

That the majority of these young shooters end up turning the guns on themselves gives us insight into the deeper problem at hand. Suicide among the young is always frightening. In the last several years, we have seen teenagers and pre-teens take their own lives after being bullied. We say that the bullies are the problem – which is certainly reasonable, and the bullies do need to be addressed. However, all of our national conversations and legislative acts have been aimed at controlling the actions of the bullies. We seem to be blind to the lure of death in these terribly sad stories – here, again, are young people that want to die. They see death as a good thing, as an answer to a problem. And the victims of bullying don’t usually use guns to end their lives. What are we honestly doing about that? Can we not see that depression, and other mental illnesses, may be why people turn to violence – violence against themselves and violence against others?

Mental illness has many forms and they all need to be handled as early as possible. All people begin as children, children in the care of their parents – children in the care of public school systems. Every child in America has 10 years of mandatory schooling – the vast majority of them in government-run schools. We lobby for legislation and funding for police officers at every school, armed with guns. But, what about psychologists? What about school counselors that are actually trained as counselors, who may be able to spot the psychopath or sociopath before he does violence? While we periodically check our school children for lice and scoliosis, why don’t we periodically check them for mental health? Along with exams to test hearing and vision deficiencies, why don’t we also test for depression and anxiety disorders? Mental illness is a severe problem that none of the politicians or talking heads are seriously discussing in our society. While we will not be able to detect every psychological illness in childhood, we, as a people, need to address the pain and suffering that does begin at an early age and move forward in finding ways to help children become truly healthy adults.

For, how well are we, as a society, protecting and nurturing human beings when we ignore mental illness? Are we truly trying to equip people with ways to deal with the real problems of real life – like loneliness, isolation, self-loathing, boredom, jealousy, rage, etc.? Or are we merely trying to ensure that they aren’t equipped with guns? Surely, we must make sure that we are not “blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.”

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” Matthew 23:23-24

© 2014 Christina Chase

This was inspired by a Bible Burst.  See the original here.