On October 5th 2015 Philadelphia area colleges and universities were on alert because of social media threats made on social networking. At the same time some of my old friends from Eastern, who work for peace in Jesus’ name down at The Simple Way, had also received threats which they described with the statement, “we have never received any as dark or as specific as those we received this week.”
The threat mentioned 1PM Central Standard Time, 2PM Eastern, which was the time I first sat down to write these thoughts on Monday.
What is causing these outbursts of violence, and threats of violence, in this country?
We have the “normal narrative,” playing out on social media networks and filling the coffers of 24-hour news networks from increased advertisement revenue. This narrative is all about the need for gun control, or for more guns, or less violence in video games, or whatever else people think will fill up space and generate clicks 1.
All of these things our “normal narrative” have one characteristic in common. They are all symptoms.
Now, that does not mean we shouldn’t treat these symptoms. After all, treating symptoms in a medical context can mean the difference between life and death. I also know that there can be huge disagreements among doctors about how to deal with symptoms. It’s no less true for social ills 2, but it doesn’t seem that any side of the “gun control debate” seem to understand this.
When the NRA says, “The only thing which stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” it fails to ask the question, “Why is there a bad guy with a gun trying to shoot up a school, or Bible study, or university in the first place?”
When a gun control advocates talk about the need for less guns to make us safe, they never seem to legitimately with the question, “Why are the people who do this so angry?”
I don’t want to get sucked into the symptom fight. I’d much rather attempt to address the disease.
I think the root cause of all the violence we experience as a culture is the utter loss of community. As a culture we have jettisoned the idea we might actually be beholden to another human being, or group of human beings. The very idea there might be rules which are in place, and which shouldn’t be crossed for the good of all, is decried as restrictive or prudish. The thought a group might say, “These are our standards, and people must live up to them” is treated as outright oppression. When a group attempts to assert it’s well-being over the rights of an individual’s desires, the narrative evokes an almost universal refrain, “How dare they do that to them!”
I don’t wish to live in a world where my community actively tells me everything I am allowed to do or say. There is no way, for instance, I would have made it in Puritan New England. Yet I am absolutely obligated to my community – and that is a good thing. I don’t simply mean Central Baptist Church, where people may point out I am obligated by a contract. Rather, I’m obligated to the people who live around me and who share their lives with me 3. I’m obligated to treat them well, keep my yard clean, take out the garbage, shovel my walk, check in on them when they are ill, and lend a hand when they have need. This is what community is.
And it’s what we’ve lost.
How many people don’t know their neighbors or, worse, know someone who utterly refuses to “play by the rules” – setting neighborhoods on edge? How often have we heard expressed a lack of empathy for “the other” 4. How frequently do we deride the institutions whose sole purpose is to try to hold us together, and how many of us have suffered abuse at the hands of those same institutions? Over time, we’ve learned how community sucks, and we’ve passed that sentiment on to others though just about every channel possible 5.
Now the vast majority of people who have grown up in this “community sucks” world simply pretend the sentiment isn’t really there. These are the “normal” people who live in their little spheres and “don’t get involved.”
Some others give into and act self-destructively. Needing community, and hating their need for community, they don’t fit in with “normal people” and form bonds which end up doing them even more harm.
Then you have the violent. They hate community. They hate groups with tout the benefits of community. They hate the “normal” people and their ability to live in the ignorant bliss of numb loneliness. They, too often, end up forming bonds which directly harm others.
Here’s the thing. Until we stop our continuous mantra of “community sucks, no one should be able to tell you what do do” we are going to keep producing an over-abundance of people who are numb, despairing, or violent 6. Human beings are communal by nature. The more we pass on the message that communities are bad, the more difficult it will be for us to form healthy ones, where people of all stripes can be invited to real wholeness.
- Yes, I am that cynical. Can you give me a good reason why I shouldn’t be? ↩
- For the record, I am absolutely in favor of sensible gun control, a national gun database, the cessation of selling ammunition online. I am also in favor of telling the gun manufacturer lobby to go to the nether-regions. I’m putting this down here because this isn’t the point I’m attempting to make. ↩
- This is what really obligates me to Central Baptist, by the way. The contract is something about which I don’t really fret. ↩
- And if you’re more “progressive” (oh how I dislike that word) the “other” is Fox News. Look in your own mirror, not someone else’s (by the way, this would be the mirror I have to look in as well). ↩
- Ironically, creating a community of people who despise community. Human beings are weird. ↩
- And everything in between. ↩