A Terrific Take: Bill Muehlenberg on Colorado

“We in the West live in a culture in which our media and entertainment is absolutely saturated with violence, so can we really be surprised to see violence all around us?  Indeed, the really surprising thing is that we don’t see much more violence, given the morally toxic atmosphere we live and breathe in.”  Bill Muehlenberg, Culture Watch, July 21, 2012

On the Colorado Killings

Bill Muehlenberg, Culture Watch, July 21, 2012

It is early days yet so only tentative commentary can be offered here. But we do know this much. Last night at a midnight viewing of the latest Batman movie 24-year-old James Holmes killed a dozen people and injured five dozen more. He is now under police custody and the nation is again in mourning over another senseless massacre.

Until more details emerge we are limited in what we can say, but we can nonetheless look at this from several vantage points. This latest massacre can be examined from a sociological and political viewpoint. For example, a culture of violence tends to beget violence.

We in the West live in a culture in which our media and entertainment is absolutely saturated with violence, so can we really be surprised to see violence all around us? Indeed, the really surprising thing is that we don’t see much more violence, given the morally toxic atmosphere we live and breathe in.

Just take this film series itself. Writing four years ago about an earlier instalment, The Dark Knight, Jenny McCartney recaps the horrific violence found in the film: “But the greatest surprise of all – even for me, after eight years spent working as a film critic – has been the sustained level of intensely sadistic brutality throughout the film.

“I will attempt to confine my plot spoilers to the opening: the film begins with a heist carried out by men in sinister clown masks. As each clown completes a task, another shoots him point-blank in the head. The scene ends with a clown – The Joker – stuffing a bomb into a wounded bank employee’s mouth.

“After the murderous clown heist, things slip downhill. A man’s face is filleted by a knife, and another’s is burned half off. A man’s eye is slammed into a pencil. A bomb can be seen crudely stitched inside another man’s stomach, which subsequently explodes. A trussed-up man is bound to a chair and set alight atop a pile of banknotes. A plainly terrorised child is threatened at gunpoint by a man with a melted face. It is all intensely realistic.”

With not just adults but children soaking up this sort of stuff on a regular basis, no wonder we see so much wanton violence all around us. Also, cheap political points are already being scored here. Early on the leftist media was blaming the conservative Tea Party movement for the killings.

And of course in an instant there were the usual calls to ban all guns. Never mind the fact that last night 65 million legal gun owners in America did not kill anyone. Thus a bit of perspective is needed here, although it is not my intention here to enter into yet another big debate on the pros and cons of gun control.

We can also view this shooting from a philosophical and ideological perspective. For example, it seems this killer was doing a PhD in neuroscience. Now as some of you would be aware, perhaps most of this field of study is based on a completely naturalistic and materialistic worldview.

That is, the mind is said to be directly reducible to the brain, and many of the more radical materialists argue that there are not even any such things as mind, consciousness, thought, or free will. Their materialistic worldview – held as a philosophical pre-commitment, not on the basis of scientific findings – will not allow them to posit any non-material realities.

Thus we have the patently absurd situation of various reductionistic thinkers absolutely convinced that their thoughts are quite correct here as they try to tell us there are no such things as thoughts. Of course this is all tied up with the evolutionary and naturalistic worldview.

We have managed to convince entire generations now that there is no God, no spiritual reality, and therefore no ultimate basis for right and wrong, truth and error. We are simply a collection of genetic replicators and morality as such really does not exist.

Atheists like Dawkins are quite happy to make such claims: “When the utility function – that which is being maximized – is DNA survival, this is not a recipe for happiness. So long as DNA is passed on, it does not matter who or what gets hurt in the process. . . . Genes don’t care about suffering, because they don’t care about anything.”

Quite so, and with the West inundated with materialistic, anti-theistic evolutionary thinking, one should not really be too surprised to see people start acting out what has been drilled into their heads for decades. If we are simply here by chance in a meaningless world of no ultimate value and worth, and are simply survival mechanisms, than why not go on a shooting spree?

Finally, some biblical and theological thoughts can be offered here. Such atrocities always raise the issue of theodicy: why does God allow evil and suffering in the world? The truth is we do not have all the answers to this latest massacre, and never will, but it seems disingenuous to somehow seek to blame God for it.

We know who killed all these innocent people – it was James Holmes, not God. Holmes pulled the trigger, for whatever reason. Now could God have prevented this from occurring? Yes, in one way he could have – he simply could have stripped Holmes of his free will.

Indeed, he could end all evil in the world if he wanted to. He could decree that at midnight no more evil will transpire on planet earth. But the question that then arises is this: where will all of us be at a minute past midnight? The only way he could stop us from freely choosing to do evil acts is by eliminating us altogether.

That is one solution to the problem of evil, but hardly a satisfactory one. Real love is only possible with real free will. But sadly, real evil is also only possible with real free will. If we wish to see God eliminate evil overnight, then we must also insist that he eliminate love and those very things that makes our humanity worthwhile – even possible.

In a sinful world in which men and women have shaken their fists at God and screamed at him to get out of their lives, God has had to say, “OK, your will be done”. He is too much of a gentleman to crush our free will and our desires, so he allows us to do as we please, even with all the ugly consequences which come forth from that.

Dr. Jerry Newcombe offers similar thoughts here: “I can’t help but feel that to some extent, we’re reaping what we’ve been sowing as a society. We said to God, ‘Get out of the public arena.’ Lawsuit after lawsuit, often by misguided ‘civil libertarians,’ have chased away any fear of God in the land – at least in the hearts of millions.”

He continues, “Tens of millions of young people in this culture seem to have no fear of God. It’s becoming too commonplace that some frustrated person will go on a killing spree of random people. If they kill themselves, they think it’s all over. But that’s like going from the frying pan into the fire. Where’s the fear of God in our society? I don’t think people would do those sorts of things if they truly understood the reality of hell.

“I’ll never forget what an Alabama black pastor said to me one time when I interviewed him about judge Roy Moore, the Ten Commandments judge. He said: ‘All across American people should stand with Judge Moore about the Ten Commandments. Why? Because when they took prayer out of school, you didn’t hear about kids killing each other, about them bringing dope to school, shooting the teachers, you didn’t hear about that. You see what I’m saying? That’s what’s wrong. We need more God-fearing.’

“The founders gave us a system where voluntary God-fearing was the underpinning of civility in society. The more internal restraints people have, the less need they have for external restraints. (And the converse is true.) That’s why I can’t understand the ongoing crusade of those who want to remove any vestige of Judeo-Christian in the public arena. All they’re doing is making everything worse for everyone else.

“Religion and morality were key to the founders’ vision for a civil society. In his Farewell Address, George Washington highlighted the source of morality: ‘Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.’ Will somebody please tell that to these civil libertarian lawyers always suing against public displays of the Ten Commandments and the like?”

The secularisation of society, the rise of naturalistic evolutionary worldviews, the new militant anti-theism, the violence-saturated entertainment industry – these are all just some of the factors which seem to explain what happened in the Denver suburb last night.

Sure not one of these factors alone may account for what we witnessed last night, but taken together they do offer a plausible account of why Western society is in such a frightful state, and why it seems to be getting worse with each passing day.

Until we embrace again certain core truths, all this will simply escalate. One such truth was expressed by Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.”

And the other core truth is that Jesus Christ came to perform open heart surgery on all those who would let him: to remove our sin-encrusted hearts and replace them with hearts full of God’s love and reconciliation. In our sinful condition we can only expect more such massacres.

But if we admit our need and allow Christ to bring newness of life, a fair amount of this evil we find in the world today can be eliminated or reduced. Indeed, one can simply ask this question: how much worse would things be, and how many more innocent people would be killed, if it were not for the restraining impact of the gospel, with millions of men and women made new in Christ?





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