Tag Archives: norms

Passing the Buck to God

In the weeks since the Newtown massacre, opinions about the role of God in what happened have dotted both traditional and social media.  Some people have proclaimed that tragedies like this occur because we’ve removed God from our schools and other public arenas.

Hmmm.

What exactly is that supposed to mean?  Is this a reference to the ban on prayer and Bible reading in public schools?

Lots of folks believe that God is an all-knowing, ever-present, all-powerful being.  That means God is still around when prayer is not.  You can’t remove God.

Many believe that God is also a merciful and benevolent being.  That means God is not the type to seek revenge because prayers went unsaid.

I realize what people probably mean is that we would be better behaved if we paid homage to God in every aspect of our lives.

Really?

I guess we’re supposed to conveniently forget that people have used their version of God to justify the most horrendous behavior throughout human history—while some of the kindest souls on Earth do not believe in God.  People have free will, and they can decide to do terrible or wonderful things whether or not they pray to God.

When people say that the problem is that we’ve taken God out of the equation, isn’t it just another way of saying that they think we should all believe exactly what they believe religiously?  For example, proponents of public school prayer may embrace the Lord’s Prayer, but what about Elohai Neshamah, a Jewish morning prayer?  Or Dhuhr Salah, the Islamic noon prayer?  Or a Hindu mantra?  Or a Buddhist prayer?  Or how about a truly American prayer, an Ojibwa prayer?

It’s pretty clear that the school prayer proponents don’t want just any God; they want Christianity in our public schools.  Christians have a long history of imposing their religion on others in a variety of thoughtless, cruel, and violent ways.  This is a past we can do without repeating.

Whether it’s God or a gun, each of us decides whether we will use what’s before us for good or evil.  We decide whether we’ll profit off the sale of assault weapons to civilians, or super-realistic killing-spree video games to young men, or other forms of violence as entertainment.  We decide whether we will accept, condone, or promote violence through our silence, our wallets, our victim-blaming, our refusal to hold offenders accountable for their actions, our denial, and our lack of self-awareness.  Yes, that’s right—our violence is not about God or Allah or Yahweh; it’s about us.

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Where Violence Thrives

Whether we’re talking about youth violence, sexual violence, or intimate partner violence, all of which can involve gun violence, there are similarities in the lists of risk factors for perpetrating these crimes.

Violent offenders often have antisocial beliefs and attitudes.  They tend to be aggressive and hostile.  They are frequently involved in drug and alcohol use.  Perpetrators have typically been exposed to violence, such as witnessing family violence, being physically abused, or being sexually assaulted.  They commonly hold very rigid gender roles, equate manhood with aggression, and exaggerate their male stereotypical behavior.

Relationships play an important role.  Violent offenders often have families fraught with instability, maltreatment, patriarchy, and other unhealthy interactions.  Gang involvement increases the risk of certain types of violence, while rejection by peers increases the risk for others.  Low academic performance and unemployment are also common among perpetrators of violence.

People who commit violence don’t evolve in a vacuum.  They are influenced by family functioning, friends’ behaviors, and community dynamics.  Impoverished neighborhoods, socially disorganized neighborhoods, and violent neighborhoods increase the risk of perpetrating violence.  Communities that tolerate violence and fail to enforce sanctions against these crimes also increase the risk of violent offenses.  People in these communities live with many stressors, have fears, and lack faith in authorities to effectively address violence, which raises the risk of committing violent acts.

People see the lists of risk factors and still miss the point.  People who perpetrate violence are abusing their power in a particular situation.  In addition, many of the risk factors for perpetrating violence are examples of people and/or institutions abusing their power over others.  Reconsider the father who dominates his family, the law enforcement officer who refuses to file a police report, and the society that reinforces inequalities.

We each need to recognize our own power and refuse to abuse that power.  That would be a good first step to eradicating violence in our world.

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Countless Victims

Depending upon which news account of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting we read or hear, we are told about different numbers of victims.  Some reports emphasize the 20 children.  Many accounts also include the six school personnel for a total of 26 victims.  A small number of stories reference the 26 people murdered at the school, plus the mother killed by her son, the gunman.  Hardly any news reports include the gunman in the death toll.

The Newtown gunman shot his mother.  This woman is no less a victim of homicide because her son is the man who shot her.  This woman is no less a victim of homicide because she owned the gun that was used to kill her.  A young man made the decisions to develop and carry out a plan to massacre children and women and then to kill himself.  He, alone, committed these heinous acts.

As it turns out, we’re a judgmental bunch when it comes to victims.  We tend to believe that a person must possess the innocence of a newborn and the purity of a saint to be considered a true victim.  We look closely for perceived mistakes and flaws to disqualify people from receiving full victim status and the full warmth of our support.  Very few people emerge from this scrutiny without being blamed in one way or another for what happened to them.

The older the victims, the less likely we will see them as innocent, but some of us will actually find ways to blame children for harms committed against them.  We often take into consideration whether victims are somewhere we feel is appropriate and at a time we deem appropriate, and then we assign some degree of responsibility to the victims for their victimization.  If we think that the victims were engaged in less than upstanding behavior at the time, or ever, we tend to feel they deserved whatever happened.  We like to believe that victims had control over the violence committed against them because we like to believe that we are smart, strong, and good enough to avoid being victimized.

We especially like to blame victims who have been harmed by someone they know.  We are quick to hone in on the victims’ behavior and to neglect a thorough examination of the perpetrators’ behavior.  The victim must have incited the perpetrator to do what he did.  The victim must have known the perpetrator wasn’t stable, but failed to take action.  Why did the victim stay?  We fool ourselves into thinking that we would never allow ourselves to be in such a position . . . until we are.

Our victim-blaming ways offer us a fleeting sense of security while ironically decreasing our actual level of safety.  Victims of some crimes are too vulnerable to deal with society’s misplaced scrutiny that they don’t ever come forward.  We need to hold offenders accountable instead of making victim-blaming excuses for their behavior.  Perpetrators commit crimes because they can and, too frequently, without facing many consequences.  We should expect violent offenders, not their victims, to answer to us as citizens.

The reality is that each of us will find ourselves in circumstances where we do not have the power, where we are at the mercy of others’ decisions and actions.  Whether we are crossing a busy street, buying lunch at a restaurant, or sending our children to school, we make numerous decisions each day that essentially entrust others with our health and safety.  Sometimes strangers do very bad things, but most often it’s the men whom we love and should be able to trust who hurt us.  And then society is quick to kick us when we’re down.

Nobody deserves to be murdered or sexually assaulted or beaten or bullied.  Thinking anything else is just another way of condoning violence.

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Personal Responsibility, Not Selective Passion

People have been moved by the tragic mass murder of 20 children and 7 women in Newtown. People are signing petitions. People are pushing for gun control and other policy changes. Everybody’s passion, as selective as it may be, to take steps to prevent another massacre is heartening.

And yet, the anti-violence advocate in me is feeling less than satisfied.

We aren’t going to fix this problem solely through federal legislation, no matter how good that legislation may be. Each of us also needs to take some personal responsibility for decreasing violence in our world by sending a strong message that violence will no longer be tolerated.

Let’s stop pretending that shooting sprees are unimaginable. Let’s acknowledge that our evening news, our blockbuster movies, and our video games are besieged with massacres and other violent acts. Let’s admit that lots of people have imagined and recreated and promoted violence for their own personal gain.

Let’s stop treating violence as entertainment. Let’s stop glorifying violence. Let’s stop trying to make the killing of characters ever more realistic and gruesome. We may not be the ones producing violent movies and video games, but too many of us are making violence profitable for others. Let’s not waste one more dollar or one more hour on glorified violence disguised as entertainment.

Let’s recognize violence in all its forms. The gunman who shoots dozens of people he does not know. The man who beats his wife. The guy who rapes his date. The kid who bullies his schoolmate.

Let’s make a pledge to never behave in violent ways. Let’s speak out against violence when we see it. Let’s encourage healthy work, school, and play environments. Let’s teach our boys strength through compassion and fairness. Let’s remember that what we do, not what we say, determines what kind of role model we are, and we are all role models to somebody.

Let’s stop our complicity. Let’s do our part to create a world where our young men truly can’t imagine shooting even one person, let alone 27.

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