‘The red line of the unthinkable …’

Image by Miki Yoshihito / Used with permission under Creative Commons licensing

“The red line of the unthinkable has been moved again.”

Those 10 poignant words by a psychologist discussing the massacre of 26 people – 20 of them six and seven-year-old children – at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, sums up the world that we live in nowadays.

This event coupled with a never-ending 24-hour news loop on cable television prompts the same reaction that we have become accustomed to when there is yet another mass killing – revulsion, anger, fear, dread and the inevitable finger-pointing about why.

The bodies of the victims had not been identified on Friday before suggestions on how to prevent another mass shooting started. Talking heads on television, people on message boards and social media and of course politicians always looking to further their cause and re-election all had a variety of answers on how to make life in the 21st Century safe.

And of course passing tougher and more stringent gun control measures is as always at the top of the list. Others want to have an armed security guard at every school and every business in America while some believe that arming school officials, teachers and employees is the answer. Others say add prayer back to our schools and into our daily life and these horrific mass killings will stop.

While all these issues merit discussion I believe attempting to find an answer to what is happening in our country lies much deeper.

Let me explain.

Several years ago I wrote a series of columns about what I called the subtle erosion of America. Certainly, this point of view will be looked at by some as simplistic because I’m from a generation that grew up before Columbine, West Paducah, Pearl and now Newtown. The list of places where a mass shooting can take place has now grown to include any business, any church, any mall, any movie theater and any town, big or small. Close your eyes, point your finger to a location on a map … and that could be the next location for mass murder.

The way this erosion works is a simple two-step process. You see, what once shocked us and made us gasp and recoil in horror now barely merits a raised eyebrow. What once was considered perverse and bizarre is now considered the norm and oftentimes even celebrated. And what once was looked at as outlandish, unheard of and over-the-top is now considered to merely be routine. And this has happened because a silent majority has failed to speak up and voice their opinion and take action when necessary.

The second step in this erosion takes place when every person that does have the courage to offer a differing view is quickly shouted down and labeled as judgmental, moralistic and bigoted … and, of course let’s not forget the pet word of those leading this erosion – intolerant. Not wanting to meet the wrath of this group, who by the way, might be the most intolerant and judgmental crowd that exists, most people do as they’re told and shut up.

And that’s allowed the erosion to take place, one small step at a time. The direct result of this erosion is that we are now a country where God has been booted from the courthouse, the schoolhouse and virtually every other aspect of life. After all, we’ve been told, we must be tolerant and not offend anybody.

Now, here we are in 2012 looking for reasons why a 20-year-old man who has no conscious or value of life could open fire at close range on a group of innocent babies. While all the arguments being tossed out might be symptoms of what is taking place the disease that is causing young men to kill at will I believe, is a cultural issue.

Consider this.

During this erosion we have allowed a culture where a generation of young people have embraced songs that talk about killing, rape and shooting police officers and its celebrated as freedom of expression.

We have allowed a culture of violent video games where people are massacred and slaughtered and these are then gobbled up by parents for their childrens’ entertainment and as a babysitter. Again, freedom of expression.

We have allowed a culture where children think reality television is real, where teen pregnancy is glamorized, where a ‘gangsta’ lifestyle is a goal for some and where 90-plus percent of what is on television is trash and not fit for any eyes, let alone the eyes of troubled young people.

We live in a culture where small children are routinely given anti-depressants and psychotropic drugs even though the effects of those drugs are many times violent, irrational and unpredictable behavior. We live in a culture where mental illness is still talked about in hushed tones and in many instances completely overlooked. Out of sight … out of mind, right? Well, out of sight that is until a mentally ill person opens fire in a first grade classroom, a church or a busy retail shopping center. Again … any town, any place.

In short, what shattered the tranquil setting of the small New England town of Newtown is a cultural issue caused by the erosion of America and no amount of gun control legislation or armed security guards can protect any of us from a deranged shooter hell-bent on killing. Shootings in malls, movie theaters, crowded street corners and even churches is proof of that. Ironically, the morning after the shooting I read a story in the Chicago Tribune with the headline: 10 people including four teens shot overnight on South Side.’ And Chicago has the strictest gun laws in the nation.

As a footnote, let me add that I think the prayer in school issue certainly adds irony to what has taken place in Newtown. In my life I have watched as God was literally booted out of the schoolhouse by a small minority of people – part of the erosion of America group. And again this erosion has taken place because the majority stood back and allowed it to happen. And perhaps the Christian community is the most at fault because they have sat on their collective hands and ‘shut up’ as they were told.

But, isn’t it ironic that nearly every comment and every plea from everybody involved in the Newtown massacre has asked that the victims of this horrific and senseless act be remembered in prayers. I also found it interesting that when the crazed gunman was in the building that teachers and children turned to God and prayer to protect them and in the days since the killings there have been countless prayer vigils. There used to be a saying that stated ‘there are no atheists in foxholes.’ I guess the 21st Century version of that is that ‘there are no atheists in schools and its OK to pray in the classroom when a deranged gunman is hunting for somebody to shoot.’

Gun control, armed guards, armed school administrators, prayer in schools and beefed up security are all items that merit attention but only after the cultural issue — the root of this problem — is addressed. Because, if this is life in the 21st Century there is no place of safety — let me emphasize that again– there is NO PLACE OF SAFETY — that exists and God help us all.

If we continue on the path we are on, as horrific as it is to imagine, that ‘red line of the unthinkable’ will move again one day – because the erosion will continue.

Silent night, heartbroken night

I suppose that I may have started this- another Christmas column- with contrasts anyway, this week.  Warm southern Illinois temps, melting our preconceived ideals of a white Christmas. a calmness of a true silent Night as contrasted with the hassle and bustle of any major department store. We try so hard to close our eyes and hear the distant, traditional Christmas bells, in a cell phone world. But, I never planned to contrast the fervent holiday hope for Peace on Earth with the shattering headlines of mass murder in school. I may have mentioned Mideast turmoil, our troops in the field still, or some such more general reference. But, never did I plan on having to address funerals of precious innocents gunned down in cold blood so near the birthday of the Prince of Peace.

If you are expecting a logical, general, or moving explanation of how something like the Sandy Hook masscre can occur in a universe governed by a loving God, I am destined to disappoint you. I do not have a clue. I do not mean to be skeptical, irreverent, or seem anti-God in any way. But, the smallness of my mind can not fathom how a God who parted the Red Sea could not jam a gun, divert airplanes from Twin Towers, or strike down mass murders in their tracks.
Maybe some day I will be able to ask Him in person- quietly and with tears- how this could be. I am versed enough to expect some of these tears will be His when he explains it all to me. All I have to accept now is the always offered; “God had a purpose”. and, I don’t doubt that this is true. That about sums up what great theologians with all their books, and the neighborhood barber both can concur  for an explanation. in short- we just didn’t know why these things are allowed by the God of supreme Love to make us endure supreme heartbreak.
I come from a town that buried its dead at Black Christmas. The 1951 Mine Disaster saw funerals all through the Christmas holidays. Wreaths hung from doors..but they were black. A life is a life is a life- young or older.
But, the comparison becomes all the more heartbreaking when it is twisted little bodies with no hope of a future.
Methane caused our Mine Disaster. Evil from a place we dare not imagine in our own human hearts took the lives of young children and their teachers that horrible Friday morning. I can not answer why. I can only add in some small way, our town understands.
As citizens of the world, we all grieve. Newtown, you have the prayers of a West Frankfort resident. We will grieve with you each of your Black Christmas’ and seek an end to any other community having to share our mutual grief. Until then, we hold each other, we cry together, and we look to the Heavens together for a reasonable explanation that never comes.
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