Destruction is a tempting force for those who do not recognize the sanctity of life. Darkness pulls on individuals who have turned their backs on the light and have given their hearts over to the god of destruction. Evil worships death, and death worshippers commit evil acts.
When cold hearts and calculating minds release the hounds of hell upon innocents, society seeks a motive. But evil does not run on reason and logic, that’s what makes it evil. Typically, the action is not compulsive but a choice. What stuns us most is that someone would use the divine gift of free will not to glorify God and serve Creation but to end a precious life.
Psychologists and criminologists will offer their assessments, assigning labels such as criminal psychopathy, sociopathy, and narcissism. You think? We don’t need fancy terms where experience and common sense provide all the insight we require into human nature.
We’ve seen it all before: Caligula and Nero in antiquity, Hitler and Mussolini not so long ago. Pick a century and you will find them—sometimes on the world stage, sometimes on their own pathetic little soap boxes, raining anger (from whatever weapons are in the arsenal of their place and time) down upon an unsuspecting populace.
Evil cannot be eradicated, nor often prevented, but it can be predicted as a social phenomenon if we will only look through the lens of history. Societies that revel in destruction tend to devolve until they burn themselves out. Recall the blood-bath of the Roman circus on any day of the week; state-sponsored entertainment for all classes of citizens and a mark of Roman-ness exported even to the farthest reaches of the Empire.
In the Christian era, despite centuries of preaching about the God of love and forgiveness, the Inquisition yielded bonfire festivals of executions as authorities put an end to what they considered heretics. And after the so-called Age of Enlightenment, no brighter than the others as the French Revolution proved, Western civilization still descended to the unspeakable sorrows of the Holocaust.
The Ancient Romans used living humans and animals in deadly spectacles staged for the public. We, meanwhile, have the technology to create virtual reality and indulge in its mind-bending perversions in the privacy of our homes. The fact that we are ever so willing to use our God-given imagination to design, then worship at, altars to the god of death says all we need to know about the state of our own consciousness and the destiny of our culture. Like dying fireworks, such cultures ultimately plummet to the ground, empty shells devoid of either a light to be admired or the power that once sent them soaring for all to see.
Where, then, did the modern world begin to lose altitude? How and when did it submit to the god of destruction? As always in the human story, it was the moment it stopped serving life. Once it turned from gratitude to entitlement, from giving in charity to taking what it hadn’t earned, from creating to tearing down, its trajectory was set. It is a timeless recipe for cultural collapse repeated in every age.
How does a culture make a one-eighty and turn toward darkness—apparently without noticing since it does little to stop it? It is a feature of darkness that those who are in it cannot see where they are headed. Also, it happens by degree: by subtle shifts and the pushing back of the line between acceptable and depraved a few inches at a time.
It happens when we allow ourselves and those we choose to admire, our children and their teachers, and our intellectual and political leaders to settle for less and indulge more. We set the bar lower to make it easier for more people to jump it rather than teach the culture to jump higher. The lowest common denominator is something most can handle, the thinking goes, so why force people to stretch? Exercise, most will agree, is an unpleasant business. Some even rationalize their lack of self-discipline as kindness toward others: we wouldn’t want anyone to strain themselves.
Nothing keeps us from succeeding more than not even trying.
After an attack such as the recent one on the school in Newtown, Connecticut it is always clear that the perpetrator has reduced beings of flesh and spirit to props in his own play—not even a supporting cast but mere scenery. In such cases, people are simply things to be added or subtracted on his whim, like set pieces in his production. Or like virtual figures in a violent video game. In the real world, however, you can’t bring the characters back by restarting the program.
The conditions of the moment speak loudly about the way we apply our imagination and how we direct our attention. But that doesn’t mean we’re listening. Despite a growing body of studies to the contrary, we insist that our obsessions and indulgences have no significant effects on us or others. “Oh, but make-believe isn’t real,” we say, “so it causes no real harm.”
Hollywood nods vigorously in agreement as it rakes in hundreds of millions a year on carefully constructed and lavishly appointed cinematic altars—not so much to the human spirit or the art of creativity but to death and destruction. And there’s no chance hot-shot producers will turn down the volume on their war-games any time soon.
With unabashed hypocrisy Hollywood glorifies violence, desensitizes young minds, and wires brains of all ages for gun abuse even as it decries the Second Amendment and responsible gun use. Leave it to the glitterati, who have benefited more than most from The Constitution’s free speech and other freedoms, to seek to curtail the rights of their audience. Chutzpa doesn’t begin to cover it. But self-service might.
It may be true that “no humans were harmed in the making of this video game or movie.” But can the same be said for the weeks, months, and years that follow repeated watching? A daily regimen of de-sensitizing, de-valuing, and de-humanizing fare must eventually destroy a culture by stripping all dignity from the soul.
Playing with the forces of darkness leads to an inevitable end: it’s a game we can’t win. And we can ill afford the personal or social cost of cultural bankruptcy.
This is but one of many lessons for us to learn from such violation of human life and common decency as occurred in Newtown, and they will all be covered by boundless analysis and philosophical wrangling in the times ahead. School security and procedures, gun laws, how to train citizens to recognize warning signs, the mental health system, the quality and quantity of parenting, the lack of spiritual focus and guidance in an increasingly secular society, and many other subjects will crowd the airwaves and dig into bandwidth.
There will be plenty of time for all that and more; time must eventually be made for it, because we sorely need to address our culture’s broken spiritual compass. But for now, and certainly this week, we can only say, God bless.
© 2012 Ilona Goin. All rights reserved.