Our country is more violent than almost every nation on Earth.
Issues such as whether schools should have an armed person on the premises, whether assault weapons should be banned or restricted with thorough background checks, and the amount of money we spend on mental health support versus, for example, the military, will be debated — at least for a few days.
My perspective here — and I am writing a day after Adam Lanza did the unspeakable in Connecticut, slaughtering children and their adult protectors — is something else: the spiritual climate in our nation.
Why is it that so many young people, dressed in black and armed to the teeth, target schools? Why are there so many angry young men out there? There do not seem to be women mass murders, or old people.
I think that a number of factors come into play here.
Many young people grow up in homes without two parents, or parents that are away much of the time simply to make ends meet. Many homes are not like the homes dreamed of in the wonderful Christmas song, "I'll Be Home for Christmas." That song was written during World War II, and expressed the longings of weary soldiers who dreamed of home, snow, mistletoe and being with loved ones — even if that only remained a warm fantasy on the battlefield. How many people have such homes in reality? Sounds like Adam Lanza was lacking such a home.
Our hearts and minds are largely shaped by our childhood experiences. A warm, loving home gives us a fighting chance to face a harsh, cruel world in adulthood. But many young people today do not have such a loving home depicted, perhaps sentimentally, in Norman Rockwell's paintings.
We love the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life," because of its beautiful ending — with an intact family singing "Auld Lang Syne" in front of the Christmas tree — but most of the movie is about how a family was shattered by economic difficulties. Hollywood and Frank Capra gave us a happy ending. Too many families suffer the depression and even suicide arising from a financial crisis, just as George Bailey experienced, along with his family, in the movie.
Depression and anger are flip sides of the same coin, according to psychoanalytic theory. When depression turns into rage, that rage may be directed at the self, and a suicide may occur (e.g., George Bailey standing on the bridge about to kill himself). That rage may be directed outward (e.g., George Bailey slugging people in the bar before running to the bridge). After mass murderers project their anger out at others with deadly force, then usually they again turn their rage against themselves.
Depression plagues our society. Families are too often broken apart. People — especially young people — all too often do not have a church where they find love and community. Too many schools fail our kids, due in part to lack of resources. So, kids turn to Facebook, Twitter, television, films, etc., to find connection — but the rewards in love and warmth here are sadly lacking
We live in a celebrity-crazed culture, where mass murders know their deeds of evil will be covered 24/7. Does that contribute to the motivations of killers, knowing they will have notoriety? I found it disgusting that the media seemed to be making money from tragedy by inserting commercials for soap, reverse mortgages and drugs in the midst of showing people with heart-wrenching grief.
My last point is that we have confused mental illness with evil. If a person knows the difference between right and wrong, a court's criterion, then a person is choosing evil when killing others. He may very well be suffering from depression and anger, and undoubtedly should be under the care of a mental health professional, but let's not underestimate our capacity for evil.
Genesis 6:5-6 says: "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart."
Perhaps that is how God still feels after all these recent mass murders.
We need more money put into mental health, we need better recognition of depressed angry kids, we need stronger families and churches and tighter communities, we need to make all people feel that they are loved and belong, we need greater compassion and empathy for each other. We don't slaughter people whose shoes we walk in.
Our traditions, such as Christmas, have been watered down and commercialized to the point that we forget that Christmas is about God sending His son into the world to heal us and to show us the way to overcome violence, hatred and all the dark forces lurking in the recesses of the human heart.
All our great religious traditions — and especially Christianity — teach us that God has to be at the center of our universe, not the self. And that love of others is more important than all other moral principles.
We don't murder those we love.
— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune religion columnist