Epidemic of Violence
8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
9 Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.
On Saturday, January 8, 2011, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with constituents in a Safeway supermarket parking lot in Tucson Arizona. Suddenly Jared Lee Loughner walked forward, pulled out a pistol from beneath his shirt, and started shooting. Twenty people were shot, six of them fatally. Killed at the scene was the chief judge for the U.S. District Court for Arizona, John Roll. Giffords, a Democrat representing Arizona's 8th congressional district, was shot through the head at point-blank range, and is in critical condition.
Jared Lee Loughner was arrested at the scene. Police reports reveal he had purchased a pistol at a Sportsman's Warehouse store less than six weeks before, bought additional bullets for the pistol at a Wal-Mart on the morning of the shooting, and was legally able to carry it concealed on his person due to recent changes in Arizona law. So Loughner committed no crime until he actually started shooting people. Why he started shooting is still unclear. Federal prosecutors have filed five charges against him, including the attempted assassination of a member of Congress. Five people died at the scene. Nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
It is sad that Loughner had been in trouble with the law, was rejected by the army after he failed a drug test, was considered so unstable that he was banned from a local college campus, but he was still able to legally buy a Glock automatic, and legally carry it concealed. He violated no laws until he shot the Congresswoman in the head, and then started shooting other people.
So now we add another name to that long list of American Gun Tragedies: Virginia Tech, Columbine High School, Waco, the assassination of President Kennedy, of Robert Kennedy, of Martin Luther King, the attempted assassination of President Reagan. I could go on and on.
President Reagan appointed Dr. Everett Koop as Surgeon General of the United States. You might remember him, big glasses and Abe Lincoln beard. In October 1985, Koop convened a "Surgeon General's Workshop on Violence and Public Health" that examined what he considered an epidemic of violence that claimed an estimated four million victims each year, most of them children, women, and the elderly. The workshop was concerned particularly with the role of violent images conveyed by popular entertainments and by the media in fostering violence, as well as with the long-term psychological effects of violence on victims.
Koop said that the number one health problem in America was violence. In years past, the United States had faced other epidemics, like small pox and diphtheria, and these past epidemics were eventually contained and controlled. Dr. Koop felt the same way about violence in America. Violence had reached epidemic proportions, and steps ought to be taken to contain and control it. Of course, no one paid Dr. Koop any attention. No one has done much about what Koop called this rising tide of American violence. And no one will do anything about what happened in Tucson either. Everyone will say they are sorry, but they will not do anything. Violence in America is the elephant in the room that everyone pretends not to see.
Now I should qualify that a little bit. You may know that violence and crime in America has declined somewhat in recent years. Some say that it is the economy. The economy is so bad that people stay home instead of going out to places where they may be subject to violence, some say that is federal programs that have hired more police, some say it is locking up the bad guys in droves for longer sentences. But even so, even though violence in America has somewhat declined it is still of epidemic proportions when compared with other countries. The World Factbook [http://www.photius.com/rankings/murder_rate_of_countries_2000-2004.html] has summary of murder rates by countries for the years 2000-2004. According to these statistics the average American has at least twice the chance of being murdered as the average citizen in other developed countries. In fact, the average American is 10 times more likely to be murdered than the average Japanese, 8 times more likely to be murdered than the average citizen of Denmark, 5 times more likely than the average German. This is why many people in other countries look upon the USA as savage chaotic nation which they are afraid to visit. I remember several years ago, a Japanese graduate student attending LSU was murdered. I read about the Japanese media coverage of the murder. It was a big story in Japan. The Japanese basically said, you have to expect this sort of thing when you go to America. You have to realize that you are going to a deadly wilderness.
Dr. James Gilligan has a fascinating book on this subject. The title of his book is Violence: A Rising National Epidemic. Dr. Gilligan works at the Center for the Study of Violence at Harvard University. He cites the evidence that among the industrialized democracies of the world, the Unites States has far higher rates of crime and violence. He asks the question: Why? Why is America so violent? His answer is that we have become addicted to violence. Just as people can become addicted to heroin or cocaine, so also cultures can become addicted. Of course, the first reaction to an addict on being confronted with their addiction is denial--“That’s not me. That’s somebody else”--but you can make a good case that Dr. Gilligan is right. Ask any one who writes for TV why TV programs are overflowing with car chases and gun battles. They will tell you, that is what sells. Violence sells. Sweetness and love do not sell.
That reminds me of another book, or rather a collection of books, a huge work of 11 volumes written by Will and Ariel Durant,and titled The History of Civilization, and especially their remarks on Seneca. Seneca, a Roman philosopher, was born in 1 BC. He contrasted the games of Greece and the games of Rome. The Greek games featured athletes throwing the discus, the javelin, and the hammer, running, boxing, wrestling, the sports that we associate today with the Olympic games. Whereas the games in Nero’s Rome in the year 65 AD featured 400 wild bulls, wild elephants, and wild tigers thrown into the same ring, with gladiators to fight until there were pools and rivers of blood. The crowd went wild in their cheering. Rome was addicted to war and violence just as our current American culture is addicted to violence.
It seems that since the young people suffer most from violence, we should ask them what causes violence. The National Campaign to Stop Violence, with support from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jack Anderson, conducted interviews among young people in the nation's most violent neighborhoods. These are Top 10 Causes of Violence in the Order that Children Cited Them
1. The Media
7. Peer Pressure
8. Broken Homes
9. Poor Family Environment / Bad Neighborhoods
10. Intolerance / Ignorance
[Source: Jack Anderson. "Lucifer on the Loose" in Meridian Magazine, 2000. URL: http://www.meridianmagazine.com/ideas/990430looselucifer.html ]
So easy availability of guns, the media encouragement, and a disintegrated family, add to that drugs, unemployment, bad neighborhoods, and you have a recipe for violence.
Now you might be saying, this is all very interesting, but what can I do? In fact, I believe that you can do more than you might suspect. The solution to the epidemic of violence must begin on a personal level. One person must say, “Enough.” One person needs to say, “This is not the way Jesus taught. This is not the way Christians think. We are not people of violence, we are people of love.” And when one person says that and becomes an example, others will be inspired to follow in their path.
But to be that example and inspiration, we need to have spiritually correct thoughts and attitudes. We have all heard of Political Correctness. Maybe it is time for spiritual correctness. God's children strive to think and live the way God wants. Those who are Spiritually Correct think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.
We are surrounded every day by so much bad stuff. This was the complaint of the survey of young people I mentioned earlier. Turn on the TV, you see sex and violence. That is true even for prime-time TV, even cartoons, and what passes for news today. Sex and violence sells. Publishers know that, and that is what they sell. It is no accident that the most popular issue of Sports Illustrated is the Annual Swimsuit Issue. A whole generation is growing up today surrounded by guns and drugs and gangs at school and in their neighborhood.
Go to the Internet and you can find all kinds of websites filled with hate-literature against people of other races or nationalities. You can find sites filled with the lies of cults and false religions. You can find sites and discussion groups devoted to pornography.
All of these are outside of us and surrounding us, but I can also point to ugly things that are within us. All our spiritual enemies are not outside us. Our most powerful enemies are always inside us. Maybe it is our own attitudes that encourage others to violence, if we are always angry about something, we are teaching others to be angry, and it is a short step from anger to violence. If we mistrust people simply because they are from another race or another nation, then that could also lead to racial hate and anger and violence. Maybe you have a problem with lust. Maybe your problem is greed and covetousness. I am sure you get the point: we begin to deal with the American Epidemic of Violence by dealing with ourselves.
These days, many of us are careful about what we eat. We pay attention to the way different types of food affect our body, but we ought to pay attention to the way we feed our mind, our imagination, our spirit. When it comes to feeding our mind, too often we pick junk food, which develops evil thoughts and evil attitudes
We become so accustomed to evil ways of thinking that they no longer bother us. The best example of this kind of behavior is Lot in the book of Genesis. Lot started off right, living with his righteous uncle Abraham, but he thought he would be all right if he moved down next to Sodom and Gomorrah, and eventually we find him living in Sodom, willing to justify any iniquity. The move toward evil is always a gradual progress. It is a progress that ends in gloom and despair. Darkness begins to grow within us. We become discouraged and depressed. We give up on everything: ourselves, others, the church, even God.
But that is not the way of Christ. Do you think Jesus is all doom and gloom? Do you think Jesus allows hatred in His heart? Do you think He fills His mind with smut and bigotry and racism? Of course not. In Philippians 2:5, Paul says we should think the same way Jesus thought. That is God's goal for us, to make us more like Jesus.
So we need to get rid of ugly thoughts and ugly ways of living. People make choices in their lives and they are responsible for the choices. We can make a choice to hear Jesus and walk in his way of gentleness and kindness and love. We can decide to do what is good and righteous.
Thus the Apostle Paul says, (Philippians 4:8 ESV) “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
When it comes to what we feed our mind, we need to choose our diet of information carefully. We need to discern what is best and fill our mind with that. We need to think about good things. Develop good habits, have good attitudes. Above all, this means we need to focus our eyes on Jesus.
There is an old saying, "You are what you eat." It is true. Your body replaces its cells about every 7 years, so literally you are what you eat. But change that saying a little: "You are what you think." Our thoughts and desires never stay as simply thoughts and desires. They move toward reality. Eventually, we live them out, we act on them, and we become what we think.
What happens, for instance, if you fill your mind with thoughts of money? Chances are very good you become a grasping, greedy, materialist. What happens if you fill your mind with guns and violence. Chances are very good you will use violence on those around you. Now, what happens if you fill your mind with what is true, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy? I think you know the answer: you will become more like Jesus; you will be a better person.
Fill your mind with great thoughts and noble attitudes and you will be more of the kind of person God wants you to be, that God created you to be. The Bible is a good place to start. Psalms 19:7-8 says: “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.”
Spend time reading the Bible and praying and thinking about God. And beyond that, Look for good things. Look for uplifting stories, and positive people. Do not just point out the bad, which I have already done a lot of today. You can provide a positive example for other people.
America is threatened with an epidemic of violence. You are the miracle drug that can provide a cure. The cure is achieved one person at a time. We decide that we are not going to live our lives that way. God has called us to something better, and others, seeing our example, will do the same. So it begins with you. Take Paul's advice. Live a good, useful, helpful life.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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