Choice And the Culture of Death

It was predictable that in the wake of the Aurora, CO shooting that tweets, blogs, and news columns focusing on the issues of gun control would start to proliferate.  The logic, it seems, is that if we had laws to make it harder for disturbed people like James Holmes to acquire firearms, we will not have tragedies like the one he caused.  Surely, I am not alone in being suspicious of such logic.

James Holmes was armed to the hilt and it might be wise to question whether guns like the AR15 should be legal.  For the purposes of full disclosure, I am neither a gun rights or gun control advocate.  If I had my preference, I would probably tighten the gun laws as opposed to lessening them.

However, I just think it is naive to pretend that if the AR15 had been illegal this tragedy would not have happened.  That is very shallow analysis of what lies behind our culture of violence.  I suspect, however, it is far easier to talk about than what really ails us.

Someone recently approached me with the irony of living in a society that emphasizes choice while imbibing naturalistic philosophy (the view that there is nothing in the universe beyond nature/matter), which necessarily denies the possibility of choice.  If you believe that we are nothing more than complicated matter, then the concept of choice is actually an illusion.  Your “choices” are a result of your DNA and environment.  There can be no spiritual nature or what we call “will.”  Will implies we can choose something beyond what our DNA and environment dictate, which is impossible in a naturalistic worldview.  Virtues like goodness, courage, integrity are also illusions, as are their antitheses like evil, cowardice, and dishonesty.

In fact, most people do believe in God and that we are more than just matter.  Therefore, they believe in virtue and vice.  People generally believe that choice is real and not simply an illusion.  However, belief in God has been pushed further and further back into the realm of personal belief and private values.  Therefore, theism is not shaping us on a societal level and in that vacuum naturalism necessarily dominates.

This is resulting in a society that is drunk with the insistence on personal choice, but has rejected the fundamental necessity for the basis of our choices, namely the existence of God.  This means people want choice, but have little use for the responsibility or accountability for those choices.  

It is not the lack of proper gun control laws that produces the James Holmes of the world.  A society defined by choice without the counterbalance of responsibility will continue to produce many more like him.  In a society where personal choice is god and personal accountability, shall we say, is the devil, then violence and death are the results.  We begin to objectify other people and value them only for how they serve our personal choices.  Read here for Matt Dabb’s post on how objectifying others leads to violence:

We have seen this most obviously with abortion.  In order to eliminate life it must first be objectified.  We literally changed the meaning of what it means to be a person.  The life to be eliminated is now only a fetus, tissue that can be removed without moral consequence.  Where choice reigns life cannot abide.  We have created a culture of death through our choices and then we act shocked when James Holmes brings our society to its logical conclusion.  

This is what we don’t want to talk about.  Let’s make it about gun control instead.  To be sure, guns contribute to a culture of death too.  And when gun owners enthrone personal choice above the interest of life, they, too, contribute to the demise of our society.

In his book, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, Pope Benedict the XVI wrote the following: “First, there are no ‘small murders.’ The respect of every human life is an essential condition if a societal life worthy of the name is to be possible. Secondly, when a man’s consciousness loses respect for life as something sacred, he inevitably ends by losing his own identity” (60).  

We have lost our identity, because we have lost the sacredness of life.  We have long since stopped respecting every human life and our society is no longer worth bearing the name of “societal life.”  Getting God back into our public conscience will be no small endeavor, but it is the only way we will again grasp the sacredness of life.  We should probably begin my waking up and realizing that we our living in a society of our own choosing.  

You may choose to believe that James Holmes was just some random wacko and has no connection to our societal ills in general.  Okay, but I can’t help but notice that more and more wackos seem to be emerging these days.  You can tell yourself that’s because there are more guns on the street, but I think it might just have something to do with a society that has lost its place for God and consequently forgot that we are all made in the image of God.  If we all really believed that, we wouldn’t need gun control.


About dgkeheflin

I blog about theology, church, culture, etc.
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6 Responses to Choice And the Culture of Death

  1. blairgolfer says:

    I agree that we are losing the sacredness of life. I want to throw in the idea of us losing the virtue of reverence.

    In the opening chapter of his book, Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue, Paul Woodruff says this: “Reverence begins in a deep understanding of human limitations; from this grows the capacity to be in awe of whatever we believe lies outside our control–God, truth, justice, nature, even death. The capacity for awe, as it grows, brings with it the capacity for respecting fellow human beings, flaws and all….Simply put, reverence is the virtue that keeps human beings from trying to act like gods.”

    He shows how we see this lost virtue even in the slow degradation of professional athletes’ are more regularly criticized for losing “respect for the game.” What I love is his contention that participating in rituals, traditions, and ceremonies are a big avenue through which reverence is nurtured society-wide!

  2. dgkeheflin says:

    Chris…good to see you on here. Will be better to see you in Portales! Good points and I agree completely. I can’t help but to think our loss of reverence is tied to our loss of God in our public conscience. So, our thoughts are connected here…I think. Thanks for posting.

  3. campbelld72 says:

    David, I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said. I agree that evil is the root cause of what happened in Aurora and that we can’t look for other scapegoats to absolve ourselves and this culture of the true blame for what happened.

    Still, there’s an uneasiness within me that maybe we’ve made it too simple and that it’s a lot more complex than that. In other words, if we all agree that “guns don’t kill people; people do” then does that automatically negate the need for stronger legislation against semi-automatic weapons?

    I’m not out to make this debate political. But I struggle a bit with all of these cries from Christian leaders basically negating the role that weapons our military uses in combat played in this incident and others because it’s not the weapons that kill people, but the evil that has hardened someone’s heart. And I get that. I do.

    But I still think there is a side to this which Christians (and others) need to acknowledge and that is that these weapons used are military grade and purposed for warfare. As a citizen, it doesn’t make me sleep easier that such weapons are so easy to obtain.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t see this as a black-and-white “either/or” issue — it’s either the fault of too lax laws against guns or the fault of an evil heart. Obviously, if someone is driven by evil intentions to cause harm to others, they will find a way to do that. Still, does that negate the fact that it should be so easy for them to cause great harm?

    I normally don’t like to mix politics and religion on Facebook, so I’m glad we can have this discussion here in the safety of your blog where the discussion can be civil and respectful in tone 🙂

    Glad you started blogging again! Keep up the great posts.

  4. dgkeheflin says:

    Darin, appreciate the comment and by the way just appreciate how you have helped me get a footing in social media. I hope I can use it effectively and resist the narcissistic side of it (and there’s definitely a narcissistic side of me!).

    To your comments, I actually don’t disagree about anything you’ve said. I am in favor of stricter gun laws (as I said in the original post). I am for waiting periods and background checks and banning certain weapons. I don’t see trying round up everyone’s weapons as a practical solution (that would actually probably lead to a mini civil war), but as I mentioned in my post, gun owner/rights advocates add to a climate of violence when they place their agenda and “rights” over the value of life.

    Maybe I have a hard time bringing myself to a complete anti-gun stance, because I know too many wonderful Christians who responsibly own guns. I don’t personally own one. You remember that time the gentlemen we were riding with back from the airport asked you to hand him his gun from the front seat?! Well, that’s the kind of culture I’m living in and that man, by the way, is a very loving, cross-bearing Christian.

    I am not against speaking out for better gun laws after tragedies like this. But I find it interesting how eager people are to talk about guns and not the underlying causes of our culture of violence and death. Popular or not, I’m convinced that our climate of abortion has contributed to violence more than gun ownership ever has. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s the way I see it.

  5. campbelld72 says:

    Thanks for that response, David. Well said. I think we’re both on the same page. I’ve been following the outcries after the Aurora shooting on Facebook and Twitter and I get nervous when I see people boil down complex issues to “either/or” scenarios. Often, these types of tragedies are rarely, if ever, that simple. That’s not what you were doing and that’s one of the reasons I appreciate your blog — you embrace the complexity of faith and culture.

    We’ve been studying “the slavery of death” in our Young Pro’s class at church these past few weeks and it’s been an interesting class to lead. Last week we centered our study in Genesis 3, looking at how sin and death came into the world and the curse that we live under. The Christus Victor theology becomes more apparent when one considers that Christ not only beat sin on the cross, but also he lifted the curse of death from humanity.

    It’s hard to come face-to-face with death in such terrible tragedies like the Aurora shooting. There’s no way to explain why that happened. I cling to the hope that I find in a Messiah who’s already beaten sin and death, and one day will make all things new.

    Thanks again for a thought-provoking and challenging post. I appreciate your response, as well.

  6. dgkeheflin says:

    Pope Benedict says in “Jesus of Nazareth,” “When men lose sight of God, peace disintegrates and violence proliferates to a formerly unimaginable degree of cruelty” (85). I didn’t read this until today, but if I had, it would have been in the original post. It is exactly what I am trying to say, but, of course, he says it better.

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