Friday, December 28, 2012

Mass Shootings in Today's America

From the November-December 2012 issue of Forerunner.

The end of 2012 came with a bang. Many bangs, a reported 152 of them. The December 14 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, not only took the lives of 27 people, including 20 children, but the horror of the mass murder also reverberated across America, immediately spawning a national debate on school safety, mental illness, and of course, guns and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Occurring less than six months after the Aurora, Colorado, "Batman" shooting, which killed 12 and injured 58, the Sandy Hook tragedy seems to have caused many Americans to say, "Enough is enough."

Such a reaction is natural. It is upsetting and disheartening to learn of the deaths of so many children, realizing that they were mercilessly slain by an assailant whose demons were his own. Without defense against the young man's murderous and insane rage, they died essentially alone and without comfort. It chills the heart of any parent or of any feeling person.

The death of anyone at the hands of another is cause for grief and consternation. It should cause law enforcement, government, and those involved to review what happened and ask the hard questions: Did the school, the school system, local police, and government do enough to provide a safe learning environment? Were there lapses in the safety protocols? Were reaction times fast enough? Was the school sufficiently hardened against assault? Were school employees trained in how to react? What additional measures could prevent such atrocities in the future? Responsible citizens consider it a solemn duty to undertake such an investigation to prevent anything like this massacre from happening again.

Some of these questions have been asked, but the final one on prevention has received the most ink. From what appears on the news, it seems as if the only "additional measure" that many in public office want to discuss is banning so-called assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, not to mention tightening licensing guidelines and limiting ammunition sales. Their fellow travelers in the mainstream media also jumped to this conclusion almost immediately, inaugurating a gun-control campaign as soon as the news hit the wires.

In an instant, progressive forces in America decided that the tragedy in Newtown was the perfect crisis to help erase over two centuries of constitutionally unrestricted freedom to own firearms. In defense of their crusade, they also downplayed and dismissed suggestions from Second Amendment advocates to place more armed guards in schools or to arm teachers themselves, as occurs in Israel. Gun-rights groups like the National Rifle Association were marginalized, with many in the media rolling their eyes in disbelief that anyone could defend the ownership and use of firearms.

However, they are the ones who are out of touch. According to a Harvard study, the average gun-owning American household contains about five firearms. America's more than 300 million citizens own more guns than there are cars on its streets. As a whole, these firearms collections comprise nearly half of the world's guns, a real deterrent to both internal tyranny and foreign invasion, as the Founding Fathers intended by including the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights. It is not surprising, then, that those who favor greater governmental control—as progressive political thought advocates—would desire to limit further gun sales and even reduce the number of firearms in private hands. Middle America, though, stands in their way.

Knowing a little about the reported mental state of the Sandy Hook shooter, a thinking person might wonder if some sort of mental-health measure could be effective in preventing similar tragedies. Some have suggested that a psychological checkup be added to the background check required for licensing a gun, but this idea has been dismissed as overly intrusive and open to both wild subjectivity and easy corruption. Besides, a mentally unhinged individual will find a weapon if he wants one badly enough, no matter how illegal it is for him to possess one.

Another factor that is only just beginning to be discussed is the known link of psychiatric drugs to mass killings. The Citizens Commission on Human Rights International reports in "School Shooters Under the Influence of Psychiatric Drugs" (
Between 2004 and 2011, there have been over 11,000 reports to the U.S. FDA's MedWatch system of psychiatric drug side effects related to violence. These include 300 cases of homicide, nearly 3,000 cases of mania and over 7,000 cases of aggression. Note: By the FDA's own admission, only 1-10% of side effects are ever reported to the FDA, so the actual number of side effects occurring are most certainly higher. (See also, "A Brief History of Psychotropic Drugs Prescribed to Mass Murderers";
The article links to 31 school shootings in which such drugs played a part, resulting in 72 dead and 162 wounded. Its findings do not include the Sandy Hook shooting, but its perpetrator had been prescribed Fanapt® (iloperidone), a controversial anti-psychotic medicine used to treat schizophrenia.

In all this finger-pointing, do we, as Christians, see anything missing from the discussion? To most of the politicians and pundits pontificating on the issue, the problem is inadequate safety measures, firearms, mental health, or drugs—or other factors like violent video games, a violent culture, or societal inequalities. We see that, yet again, they have left God entirely out of the picture. America's once staunchly Christian value system is fast eroding, and in its breakdown, its citizens have lost most of the internal controls that keep atrocities like these from occurring so often.

So comes to pass in modern America a fulfillment of one of the most horrifying of the Bible's prophecies: "Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children" (Hosea 4:6).

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Christian's Information Filter

We live in the Information Age. News hits us from the four corners of the earth, making the journey in mere minutes. Images flash before us on the screens of televisions, computers, and phones. The Internet hums and thrums in and out of our lives many hours every day, bringing us data on a million subjects, major, minor, serious, absurd, useful, and useless. We have access to more timely information than we know what to do with.

It is becoming harder to remember what it was like before this incessant glut of information enveloped the world. Children and even some young adults have lived their entire lives "plugged in" to the digital universe, facts and figures and fun at their fingertips at any time, day or night. To them, using all the new gadgets and gizmos is as natural as running and jumping. How many grandparents call their grandchildren to help them when the computer or DVR "acts up"? Today's technology is intuitive to them, almost organic and simple.

Even so, it was not very long ago when we were doing things with paper and pencil. Perhaps the big corporations and learning institutions had mainframe computers to crunch heavy data and store important information, but most of us were still using rotary phones and real card catalogs. Many older folks have had a difficult time making the transition from analog to digital. Some refuse to conform at all, conceding only when they have to and only as much as they have to (some may have given up the corded phone but refuse to touch a cellphone). In any case, while the computing and communications industry giants urge us to purchase the newest and fastest technologies, not everyone is so eager to join the information revolution.

And it is no wonder. The level of information inundation is already higher than most people can handle. While the human brain is far superior to any computing device ever made or even imagined, because it is part of a conscious, critical, organic entity, it easily overloads. Unlike a computer, which uncomprehendingly stores all data as strings of ones and zeros, the human mind is aware to some extent of the value, ramifications, and usefulness of the information it receives. People make judgments—sometimes consciously, but probably more often unconsciously—about what goes into their minds, and this has an effect on them over time.

Speaking of good, helpful information—particularly, God's instruction—Solomon advises us about this in Proverbs 4:20-23:
My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes; keep them in the midst of your heart; for they are life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.
Other proverbs bring out a similar thought, along with its opposite:
  • "The mouth of the righteous is a well of life, but violence covers the mouth of the wicked" (Proverbs 10:11).
  • "The words of the wicked are, 'Lie in wait for blood,' but the mouth of the upright will deliver them" (Proverbs 12:6).
  • "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit" (Proverbs 18:21).
The principle that derives from such scriptures is that good words—good information, truth—has a beneficial effect, while bad words cause problems. The Bible, then, supports the well-known catchphrase, "Garbage in, garbage out." We have to make sure that the information we allow into our minds is true and good, while filtering out and rejecting what is false. This has probably never been more critical for Christians to do than in this information-heavy age of the world.

One reason that this is so vital to do is because we are required to make moral and ethical choices on a daily basis, and we make such decisions based on the information we have at hand—or, more correctly, in our minds. If we make a decision—a judgment—based on faulty data, it is probable that our decision will itself be flawed. If we are constantly hearing from the world that 2 + 2 = 5, and we have allowed that information to pass uncritically into our minds and thus into our daily life, then it will not be long before 2 x 2 = 10 and fifteen apples make a dozen.

Such a flawed judgment has happened in the recent mass murders in Newtown, Connecticut. A troubled young man, said to have been a social misfit and prone to rages, gunned down his mother with her own weapon and then proceeded to the local elementary school to kill six adults and twenty students. Hearing of this terrible and tragic event, the nation poured out its sympathy and its desire for justice. In the aftermath, the news has been full of debate about the Second Amendment to the Constitution and the need for stricter gun-control laws. Social media have been inundated by advocates on both sides of the issue, many of them stridently pushing their views on their friends.

It is clear that the American Constitution gives citizens the right to own and bear arms. The Second Amendment was specifically included in the Bill of Rights to allow citizens to fight against, and if successful, overthrow a tyrannical government. The Founders believed that an armed citizenry was the best deterrent against overreaching federal power. Of course, citizens could also own firearms for hunting, shooting, and collecting.

Into this fray have plunged a good many members of God's church, almost all of them on the side of gun and self-defense rights. Christians have the right and freedom to own guns, and many do, using them for hunting and shooting. There is no problem with that. However, some church members have no qualms about owning guns for self-defense, and it is at this point that some serious moral questions arise. If a Christian has a weapon for self-defense, and he and/or his family were attacked in some way, would he use it and would he be justified in doing so? How would God judge his actions, whether he killed the attacker or not? Is killing in self-defense willful murder? Unpremeditated murder? Voluntary manslaughter? Involuntary manslaughter?

Perhaps to begin answering these questions for ourselves, we first need to ask, "Have we ever truly considered what God thinks on the matter, or have we just absorbed what the world says about it?" On questions like these, we need to filter out all of the world's chatter on the subject and find out what information God has provided to us in His Word that reveals His mind on it. If we fail to do this, can we be sure that we have reached a godly decision? As God says in Isaiah 8:20, "To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." There we will find true words to steer us right.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

RBV: Matthew 24:12

"And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold."
Matthew 24:12

That this verse "randomly" came up in the random verse generator seems none too coincidental today. Yesterday saw the senseless massacre of twenty kindergarten children an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, plus six other adults. A day later, we still have not been informed of the shooter's motives, although we have been told that he was "troubled" and perhaps "autistic" and "weird." His grade school classmates and neighbors are not surprised at all that his life ended this way. He seems to have been a time-bomb just waiting to go off.

Obviously, his actions in killing so many people--and children especially—show no love at all. One would have to be "cold," without feeling, to do such a thing. It brings up another verse, II Timothy 3:2, where the apostle Paul prophesies that the last days would be dangerous because "men will be lovers of themselves," and in verse 3, "without self-control, brutal." It seems we are seeing this prophecy fulfilled in ever-greater frequency, as people seem to have less and less compunction about terrorizing and taking the lives of their fellow human beings. Under the grip of a merciless narcissism, many are losing their humanity.

Even so, Matthew 24:12 is not speaking about such people; it is not addressed to the people in the world at large but directly to Jesus' disciples and their spiritual descendants. How do we know this? Jesus uses the word agape for the love that grows cold. Such spiritual love, godly love, is unattainable by those driven by the spirit of this world. This agape love—the love of God—is the kind that is "poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit [which] was given to us" (Romans 5:5). Jesus, then, is warning His church that the wickedness of the world will increase to such an extent that it would sap the spiritual heat out of His own people, causing their love to grow cold.

This has two major ramifications: 1) People in God's church will love Him less, and 2) they will love each other less. These are the two recipients of godly love. We will see the effects of this drop in the temperature of our love in reduced time and respect for God and in deteriorating relationships between brethren. We will ease off in our prayer and study, relax our formality before God, and behave carelessly ("sin in haste and repent at leisure"), assuming that He will forgive us our every trespass. Yet, we will gossip about our church friends, take advantage of their kindness and forgiveness, betray them when convenient, and judge them mercilessly even for their most minor faults. None of these things express godly love; they all portray love growing cold.

Late in his life, the apostle John wrote almost exclusively about agape love. Most of his audience probably thought it was an obsession with him, and they likely turned a deaf ear to him, complaining that the old man was ranting about his pet subject again. But perhaps John remembered hearing these words from Jesus' lips decades before and realized that love was what the church needed to be reminded about. "This is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another" (I John 3:11). "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" (I John 4:20).

Clearly, he saw the practice of godly love in the church as critical to those living in his day. How much more critical is it to those of us who live so much nearer to the horrors of the end time and the return of Jesus Christ? The horror of the murders in Newtown, Connecticut, should remind us that we need to stoke the fires of God's love as we see the Day swiftly approaching.