FIRST-PERSON: Newtown – should we be surprised?
Now that the initial shock of the Newtown massacre is wearing off, our society is looking for something to do and someone to blame.
Something to do? Many are lobbying for stricter gun control laws and bans on assault weapons. Others are recommending that teachers and school officials be armed and ready to fight back.
Someone to blame? The talking heads on television have begun a conversation about mental illness that they are woefully ill-prepared for. I shudder to consider what lies ahead for autistic children and adults with Asperger's syndrome if hearsay and ignorance win the day.
While the tendency in the coming days will be to point our fingers, I recommend we point the finger right back at ourselves. Could it be that we are a violent people? Consider:
-- We are horrified by the slaughter of innocent children in Newtown but we are entertained by children killing children in "The Hunger Games."
-- We react with disbelief at the gruesomeness of the news reports but then plug in our video game consoles so we can shoot, stab and decapitate lifelike people on the screen.
-- We weep and mourn the stolen innocence of our children but the bestselling books in our country involve violent sexual fantasies and sadism/masochism.
-- We sing carols and hymns in remembrance of the victims of violence but our iPods are filled with explicit lyrics of rage that are particularly degrading to women.
Should we be surprised when reality eventually mirrors our fantasies?
Talk to Christian believers in other parts of the world and you quickly discover that we have a reputation for consuming movies, music and video games that promote a mindset of violence. Whenever I have brought up these concerns with my fellow American friends, I have gotten blank stares and then a quick denial that violence in any way represents us.
I remember when I took my son to see "Wall-E," only to find kids in kindergarten going to see "Hulk" with their parents. I know church kids who sat in the front row of "The Dark Knight."
Let me be clear. Even the Bible includes narratives of violence. I'm not opposed to violence as a means of representing evil in books and movies. My concern is that the proliferation of violent depictions has desensitized us to the point that the association of violence with evil is lost within violence itself.
Too often, Christians are so focused on the sexual perversity we see on television or in movies that we forget how a constant stream of media violence also is deadly to our souls.
The latest way for youth groups to attract young men is by setting up video game consoles with violent games like "Halo 4." Ask evangelical youth pastors if they would ever consider using pornography as a way of attracting young people to church. "Of course not!" would be the answer. But why is it we never give a second thought to the video games that bid us into a world of graphic violence?
"It's not real. It's just fantasy," we say, shrugging aside the violence. But could we not use that line of reasoning for pornography as well?
The truth is, even fantasy shapes who we are and what we believe. We would never allow pornographic fantasy into our youth groups, but the gory bloodiness of video games sneaks in under the mask of "harmlessness."
We cannot point fingers. We all share in the guilt of allowing ourselves to be desensitized to violent behavior. We need the transformation of the Gospel to reach into this tender area and change our hearts.
As heralds of the coming kingdom of peace, we Christians should be naturally resistant to the inherent violence of our culture. We must practice non-retaliation in our personal lives, seek to be at peace in the church and decry the thirst for violence that so often marks our entertainment choices.
Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project, a Bible study curriculum line developed by LifeWay Christian Resources for all ages. This column first appeared at TrevinWax.com.