December 22, 2014

Roger E. Olson: “God, Guns, and Guts”

Note from CM: I have long thought that many American Christians have a moral blind spot when it comes to violence. Last week’s horrific attack in Colorado has brought the specific matter of gun violence to the front pages once again. Though numbers have been declining in recent years, the FBI reports that there were still 8,775 murders by firearms in 2010 in the U.S. This represents 67.5% of all murders. We pay attention to the spectacular mass killings, but gun violence is an everyday occurrence, not the exception.

Roger E. Olson is Professor of Theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University. A prolific writer, he blogs at Patheos at Roger E. Olson: My Evangelical Arminian Theological Musings. With his kind permission, I present a post he wrote on July 22 on the subject of Christians and our often unexamined acceptance of violence in American culture.

* * *

“God, guns, and guts”
by Roger E. Olson
Used by permission

So, now there’s been another (what the media is calling a) massacre of Americans in a public place. This time not a school but a movie theater in a suburb of Denver. Many people are asking what these horrific events say about our society. I don’t have any final answers; mostly I have only questions and some thoughts about possible answers that at least, I think, bear further investigation.

As I drive around my part of the country (and I’m sure it’s not unique in this regard) I see bumper stickers that say things like: “God, guns and guts” and “Thank God for our soldiers–especially our snipers.” When I go into the “video store” (yes, a few really still exist!) and peruse the hundreds of “new releases” (some of them have been in that category for over a year!) I see scores, probably over a hundred, of extremely violent movies obviously aimed at impressionable young minds–mostly adolescent boys (even if some are still in their twenties!).

I see full page ads in the newspaper for “gun sales” at stores and in rented coliseums and event centers–often showing pictures of guns nobody would ever need for hunting. I have been told that up to half of all adults in some parts of the country carry concealed weapons (licensed or not).

My question is whether it is time for Christians to speak out openly from pulpits and pages (of Christian publications) about our obviously increasing gun culture and culture of violence. Is this a subject for sermons? I think it is.

One need not be a pacifist to abhore violence. Perhaps some violence is necessary, but surely not the kind of random, extreme violence depicted in movies and comic books (which many young men in their twenties are still “reading”). Why do I see Christians picketing abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood sex education events but not violent movies and gun “shows?”

In my opinion, this is one of those “frog in the boiling water” kind of social situations. We have simply gotten so used to the violence depicted in movies (and sometimes also on TV) and in comic books and everywhere (almost) that we are numb to it.

Would it be appropriate for a pastor to counsel a man (or women) who shows up to the church parking lot with a bumper sticker that proclaims “God, Guns and Guts?” I think so. Would it be appropriate for a church to encourage parents to go beyond the rating system of movies and video games and comic books (do the latter even have a rating system) and actively discourage allowing boys (rarely girls) from watching, reading and playing them? I think so.

Should Christian leaders speak out against the culture of violence and death that is so overtaking our everyday lives? I think so.

Would any of this decrease the incidence of extreme violence that we have witnessed in suburban Denver and other places? I don’t know, but it would at least raise Christian voices against the culture that, in my opinion, feeds it and enables it.

Another issue I think social scientists need to look more closely at is why all the mass killers in these incidents are boys and young men. Who has ever heard of a girl or woman carrying a gun into a school or public place and shooting a bunch of people? I suppose it has happened, but I have never heard of it. Obviously there’s something about boys and young men that makes them more likely to do it. What might that be? Well, could it have something to do with the combination of testosterone and visual violence portrayed as beautiful and even redemptive–if not for everyone at least for the socially alienated and disaffected?

All that seems so obvious, but too few strong voices are speaking out about it. I think for two reasons. First, they are afraid of being accused of going against publishers’ and movie makers’ rights. Second, they are afraid of portraying this as a gender issue. but one can certainly criticize movies, comic books, video games and publishers and producers and stores that make and sell them without calling for government censorship. And one can certainly raise questions about how society is treating one gender without being sexist.

What do I mean “treating one gender?’ Obviously boys and young men are being exploited by movie makers and publishers, etc., as they know most of the decisions about what movies to see are made by young men. When I go to the (huge) video store I see mostly boys and young men perusing the shelves. And more often than not the trailors being shown on the video monitors are of excessively violent movies.

Yes, I actually do think that boys and young men are being victimized as well as society at large. Testosterone is notably associated with aggression. Boys and young men are vulnerable to images of sex and violence; these can become addictive and can (not always) contribute to acting out in anti-social ways.

People who make movies and video games surely know all this. So do the stores that market and sell them. And the movie theater chains that show them.

I am not calling for government censorship. I am calling for Christians to begin to focus attention on this problem and speak out openly about it–especially within churches and youth groups. I think it would be a good idea for Christian groups to develop their own rating systems for movies and video games and encourage parents and young people to avoid those that are excessively violent. We certainly have done that for a long time with regard to sexual content (or have we given up?).

I was actually raised in a church and denomination that forbid going to movies. I don’t think I really missed anything valuable or important. My parents carefully monitored what I watched on TV (when we had TV). Comic books were rare. The only ones in our home were “Classics Illustrated.” Ironically, I was allowed to play with toy guns, but only “old West” type toy guns–very unrealistic. I don’t think that damaged me, but, given America’s obsession with guns and violence now, I admire parents who do not allow their kids to own or play with toy guns.

I realize I’m not being original in all this; I’ve read and heard thoughtful Christians saying most of this for a long time. The one thing I’m saying that I haven’t heard very many people saying is that this is a problem specifically for boys and young men and through them for society at large. The solutions are elusive, of course. But perhaps if we, as a society, began to identify the sometimes lethal combination of visual violence and “raging hormones” (viz., testosterone in adolescent males) we might begin to think of some social conditioning that might mitigate the problem.

For example, we have long now identified how many young females are vulnerable to eating disorders. We don’t blame them; in fact we see them as victims. I’m not suggesting that a boy or young man who shoots people in a movie theater is a victim. However, I do think boys and young men are being made prey by overly zealous promoters of extreme visual violence and in that sense they are victims. All of society becomes victimized as the ripple effect goes out from a series of shooting massacres. What if we used some of the same teaching methods on boys that we use on girls with regard to body image–teaching them to resist the images they see in magazines and visual entertainment and advertising, etc.? What if we educators (and others) set up workshops and found ways to draw in boys and young men and educated them about the lethality for some boys and young men of feasting their eyes and minds on images of violence?

I have to ask myself this question. During 30 years of teaching in three different Christian universities and after many more years of being part of “Christian culture” in America–why have I never once seen a poster aimed at boys and young men about suicide and violence? (Boys and young men are much more likely to succeed at suicide than girls or young women.) I’m thinking of all the posters I have seen aimed at girls and young women about eating disorders and body image disorders–often inviting them to workshops about the subject. Who among the social workers and other concerned educators cares enough about boys and young men to identify their distinctive problems such as vulnerability to pornography and graphic violence? If they don’t care about boys and young men they should care about society that becomes victimized by some boys and young men whose minds have been warped by such graphic images. Why are preventive measures not taken by university counseling officials to stem this apparent epidemic of violence at its roots–mostly young, impressionable male personalities being warped by graphic images?

I am calling on pastors, counselors, youth pastors, Christian camp facilitators, etc., etc., to turn some attention toward boys and young men with regard to the destructive influences of some video games, internet web sites, movies, comic books and television programs. Don’t make it moralistic; make it a matter of “for their own good and society’s well-being.” If you just wag your fingers at them and say “Don’t!” they will. Use the same methods so widely used to discourage girls and young women from starving themselves to death–teach them to recognize and resist media images that are self-destructive and destructive of others with whom they have contact.

Comments

  1. Marcus Johnson says:

    I think there is a distinct difference between a correlation and a connection; that is to say, just because violent men and mass murderers are drawn to graphic depictions of violence, doesn’t mean that the depictions necessarily inspire violence. In his post, Olson makes the mistake of most critics of violence in the media; he ignores about a dozen other valid causes for violence in men (i.e., prior physical/sexual abuse, mental/emotional impairments, lack of parental involvement, low-income/poverty, etc.) and skips right to the media. Why? Probably because media depictions of violence are so visible. However, out of the hundreds of millions of people who went to see “The Dark Knight” (myself included, twice in the theater, once in IMAX), how many turned into mass murderers? If Olson demonstrated a concern for the lack of strong male role models for boys, or of effective outlets for the anger in young males within church communities, or for a better mentoring system through which boys could experience graphic depictions in violence and learn to engage in effective dialogue about what they took in, then he could possibly have my attention. But right now, all I read is “blah blah blah the media blah blah boys and their hormones.”

    Olson’s opinion, for all its good intentions, is little more than a rant–an unresearched rant with little to no credibility or basis in solid scientific evidence, just his own personal observations, which aren’t worth much. It’s a shame, too; I also happen to be a Baylor alum.

    • >he ignores about a dozen other valid causes for violence in men (i.e., prior physical/sexual abuse,
      > mental/emotional impairments, lack of parental involvement, low-income/poverty, etc.)

      He does? Where?

      > and skips right to the media. Why?

      Because, simply, reasonably, and practically – this is the only variable in your list of causes whose value *CAN* be moderated.

      >is little more than a rant–an unresearched rant with little to no credibility or basis in solid
      >scientific evidence, just his own personal observations, which aren’t worth much

      No evidence that when unstable people are surrounded by noise, violent images, sexual provocation, and depictions of violence that they are more likely to act out? What?

    • Marcus, I think his argument is more nuanced than that. One major point is the basic hypocrisy of American Christians and Americans in general. Christians have no problem blaming the influence of a sex-saturated culture and media for sexualizing our youth. Those concerned about women’s issues have no trouble blaming the influence of a culture that glorifies thinness and certain standards of beauty for some of the self-image problems and eating disorders of girls. Why do we so readily accept living in a culture that glorifies violence?

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        I don’t necessarily have a problem with an argument that America glorifies violence and graphic depictions of violence. I can tell stories, for example, of being a deployed soldier and watching people cheer while watching videos of terrorists getting shot or blown to bits, then cower in their seats when we talk about sexual harrassment, treatment of women, or the military’s new policy regarding LGBT individuals. We do show a lot more deference to sexual issues than to violence, until a really horrible violent event occurs, then we seem to take a break to talk about violence (then go right back to sex, sex, sex).

        My concern is with Olson’s focus on graphic depictions of violence or sex in the media as the primary cause of harmful behavior, rather than as a correlating factor. The position that America is more obssessed with sex than violence is one which I think is very valid, but the focus on representations in the media over several dozen more relevant factors is not.

        P.S. By the way, there is an episode of South Park, titled “Good Times With Weapons,” that does a much better job of exploring America’s obsession with sex and sexuality over violence. I think God allowed Comedy Central to re-air that episode just for me, strictly for the purposes of this conversation.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      1. Everywhere. Can you find a place in Olson’s post in which he acknowledges that any of the factors I listed (i.e., prior physical/sexual abuse, mental/emotional impairments, lack of parental involvement, low-income/poverty, etc.) contribute to violent tendencies in young males? I think I understand where you’re going with your question, but when I assert that there is something that is missing from an opinion, I cannot answer the question where, because it just isn’t there.

      2. First, I’m not sure the word “moderated” is the proper term to describe what Olson is suggesting, but that’s just a matter of semantics. Can you clarify what you mean by that term? If you mean that exposure to graphic depictions of violence is the only factor which we can control, then I’m gonna have to give a long rebuttal about why that is absolutely not true, but I would prefer some clarification first.

      3. You specify “unstable people,” a term which I assume refers to people with emotional disorders, or personality types negatively affected by traumatic experiences. However, the main thrust of Olson’s argument does not seem to address those specific groups. Instead, he seems to be addressing ALL teenage boys (I’m not sure why he would use the tragedy in Colorado; that person was well past his teenage years) with a really wide lens. If he was making the argument that teenage boys with emotional disorders or violent tendencies can be influenced by violent depictions in the media.or by noise, violent images, sexual provocation, etc., we might have something to work with, but since he doesn’t, the generalizations that he makes suggests a lack of any evidence other than his personal observations and beliefs.

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        This was a response to Adam Tauro Williams’ response.

      • > 1. Everywhere. Can you find a place in Olson’s post in which he acknowledges that any of the factors I listed

        He is just discussing the glorification of violence in ‘media’ (TV, movies, fiction). So ‘of course’ that is what he focusses on. He never states that is the *only* correlate. He just questions the ubiquitiousness of portrayals of violence and how noone questions them.

        If I discuss deaths in a plane crash due to mechanical failure doesn’t discount the role of the pilot, co-pilot, maintenance company, or the existance of gravity. Someone jumping on my lack of reference to other factors doesn’t discredit my arguement.

        > 2. First, I’m not sure the word “moderated” is the proper term to describe
        > what Olson is suggesting, but that’s just a matter of semantics. Can you
        > clarify what you mean by that term?

        Adjust, control, influence

        > If you mean that exposure to graphic depictions of violence is the only
        > factor which we can control, then I’m gonna have to give a long rebuttal
        > about why that is absolutely not true, but I would prefer some
        > clarification first.

        Please rebut then. Because my choices cannot do diddly squat about poverty, mental illness, or the previous actions of sexual predators. I can choose to not endorse, promote, or expose my friends/coworkers/family to violence-as-entertainment – I can do that.

        > 3. You specify “unstable people,” a term which I assume refers to people
        > with emotional disorders, or personality types negatively affected by
        > traumatic experiences.

        Yep.

        > However, the main thrust of Olson’s argument does not seem to address
        > those specific groups.

        I believe it does, because that group is mixed in with everyone else. Obviously *LOTS* of people went and saw the Bat Man movies and didn’t become mass murders. But at least one did. Did others react negatively in less dramatic ways?

        Or more importantly – was anyone edified? encouraged in any meaningful way? achieve some new level of insight? by the Bat Man movie(s). You’ll have a hard time convincing me of that; I had the misfortune of seeing it.

        > Instead, he seems to be addressing ALL teenage boys (I’m not sure why he
        > would use the tragedy in Colorado; that person was well past his teenage
        > years) with a really wide lens.

        A wide lense is the only lense available.

        > If he was making the argument that teenage boys with emotional disorders
        > or violent tendencies can be influenced by violent depictions in the
        > media.or by noise, violent images, sexual provocation, etc., we might
        > have something to work with, but since he doesn’t,

        He can’t. Neither can I. Neither can you. I can not look into a group and say “that one is unstable”, “that one is really struggling”, “that one is at a tipping point”. So why bother with trying to make the distinction? What is the *upside* to violence and gore as entertainment?

        > the generalizations that he makes suggests a lack of any evidence
        > other than his personal observations and beliefs.

        Ok, I’m in agreement with his personal observations then.

        • Marcus Johnson says:

          1. Maybe we’re just coming from different cultural backgrounds/experiences, but my primary experience with much of conservative evangelical communities is one in which people are more than willing to jump on violence in the media. I sense a significant amount of hypocrisy in this, in that we seem more apt to look for factors which contribute to violence, when we haven’t tried to explore whether these violent tendencies originate within ourselves, not within a plotline for a movie. Until we accept and really explore the tendency for violence within ourselves, any confrontation of violence in “the media” seems very specious in nature.

          2. Christian communities can, and some actually are, doing a lot to address the more relevant factors which contribute to violence, especially in youth. I’m thinking of all of the nonprofit organizations that are working to alleviate the effects of poverty in low-income neighborhoods, provide strong male role models to teenage boys, encourage artistic exploration in the arts as a constructive outlet for anger, and on and on. My former pastor just founded a nonprofit in the Detroit area that accomplishes some of these goals. That’s a lot better than just telling children, “Don’t see this movie.” Let’s not kid ourselves; we are capable of doing a lot more than just providing our two cents on what is and is not appropriate.

          There are several disciplines within the field of social sciences (e.g., sociology, criminology, abnormal psychology, educational pedagogy) dedicated to exploring the link between violent tendencies in teens with much more specificity, yet Olson doesn’t seem to acknowledge them very well. If Olson is the type to indulge in these generalizations, rather than dig deeper to understand why American Christians tolerate violent tendencies, then he is part of the problem, not the solution.

          3. Personally, I was edified as a result of seeing Nolan’s Batman trilogy, especially when I took all three movies into context. This trilogy started with Bruce Wayne becoming Batman as a way to fulfill his parents’ mission of restoring Gotham, by establishing himself as a symbol that would inspire the city to rise up and save itself. Over three movies, I saw Wayne try and fail, mislead the public into accepting a false hero, and (SPOILER ALERT: STOP READING IF YOU WANT TO SEE THE MOVIE) sacrifice everything just short of his life, in order to fulfill that mission. It was a really flawed plan from start to finish, but the trilogy made some of those flaws very clear. Different people see different things in that movie, but I didn’t see that the violence in the movies overpowered that message (since it was a Nolan movie, there were times I actually felt expositioned to death).

          The “upside” to violence and gore in the entertainment industry happens when those depictions imitate real life. Good guy beats bad guy, but loses his soul in the process. If we want to talk about movies, video games, etc., that show violence without consequences, we can, but that still seems like a discussion that is more about aesthetics, not morality, and certainly not about social responsibility.

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    In my experience of Activists, you either get them hardcore pro-sex and anti-violence (always secular), or anti-sex and pro-violence (Christianese). Always pro one and anti the other. Maybe occasionally pro-both but never anti both together. It’s one of those unsolved mysteries of the universe.

  3. Are you feeling lucky punk? Go ahead…make my day!! :-P

    Becuase fundagelcials have married their faith to the Republican Party. To be a Christian in the United States means that one must be a Republican. That was the theological lesson that James Dobson taught the United States. Since the NRA is one of the major contributors to the US, that comes along with “The Package” (along with literal 6 day creationism, and pre-trib rapture of course)

    Christians don’t discuss violence becuase sin is subjective. They’ll hammer the single mother, they’ll hammer the gay person, they’ll hammer the person who had an abortion, and they’ll hammer the person who believes in theistic evolution. Yet the person who likes Pulp Fiction will get a pass. Maybe some of this is also a by-product of the “masculine faith” that John Piper teaches. Or….when your pastor teaches that he’ll go Old Testement on you and beat the %^$& out of you…then violence is okay.

    Or maybe it’s this….(I’m going to get really cynical…) when you see your fundagelical celebrity pastor at T4G being protected by body guards that have more firearms that what exists in Iraq…maybe it’s because of all the business they give Smith and Wesson…

    I better stop now :-P

    • Oops I meant contributors to the Republican Party….

      • Specter of Doom says:

        Here! Here!
        Well said Eagle.
        I have personally wondered why, in my house, the wife always told the kids to turn away during a love scene, but it was okay to watch a John Wayne movie in its entirety, punches in the face, shots in the back and all. It might be that she was raised good ole Southern Baptist…

    • “Yet the person who likes Pulp Fiction will get a pass.”

      I disagree. I haven’t met a single church leader that would ever OK the kind of violence you see in a Tarantino film. There may be public exceptions but they are just that. Specter’s referece to John Wayne movies is a different matter but then there is a big difference between way violence was presented in a 60’s western and the way it is presented by Tarantino. The late 70’s and 80’s were a big turning point (negative) in the callous way in which violence was delt with on the movie screen.

      • Specter of Doom says:

        So, if violence is portrayed positively, (as in the John Wayne movies?) it’s okay…
        That’s what I’m talking about.
        Shooting someone when you are angry or crazy is no different that shooting them because it’s the “right thing” to do at the time.
        “You’re trying to take over the town that I built after I helped steal the land from those mean old Apache. Have a nice day!” BLAM! SPLAT!

        • “Shooting someone when you are angry or crazy is no different that shooting them because it’s the ‘right thing’ to do at the time.”

          I couldn’t disagree with you more. If I use violence to defend my pride that is wrong but If I use violence to defend my wife and children that is right. And in the stories I read and the movies I watch, I want to see those types of distinctions. Story tellers have always held a vital role in any culture or society. Down through history stories have helped us communicate our values and interpret the events of our lives. Today, TV show and movie makers are our cultures primary story tellers. I want to see them tell good stories. The majority of those will involve conflict, some will even involve violence. That is the stuff of life; good versus evil.

      • I saw violent films at retreats in Campus Crusade. It’s embraced. I remember going to a Christmas conference in Crusade where they showed the bloody parts of Daving Private Ryan. Now I think Steven Spielberg made it gory to make a point about war being ugly. But that’s not what Crusade saw in it…. but for me the Roger Olson post and Chaplin Mike’s comments make perfect sense.

        Also look at some of the leaders in fundagelicalism today who celebrate violence….Mark Driscoll is a prime example. He celebrates violence in his sermons, talks, books, just like he glorifies anal sex.

  4. StJohn117 says:

    It’s difficult for me to accept Olsen’s argument. As has been previously mentioned, he seems to focused on the media or hormones/blaming boys without looking at the other “causes.” But, to me, we’re missing the most important factor: Personal responsibility. At the end of the day, we’re responsible for our actions. It’s part of the mantle that comes with free will and even freedom itself. To me, this is like a secular equivalent of a Calvinistic argument: The man had no free will because society celebrates violence. This places the blame in the wrong place instead of where it belongs. With the individual.

    I do not believe that preaching this “gospel” of sin management from the pulpit, nor adding more unspoken appendices to our scriptures will not solve the problem. Nor will coming up with new rating systems as I fail to understand how you can improve on what’s already there. (I need look no further than Focus on the family’s plugged in where the rating is based on the content, not the artistic merit. As such, it fails this reader’s test of a critical rating agency. ) Banning comics, movies, video games, and the like will also not fix the problem. We do not need to go back to the mythical good ol’ days of legalism. Indeed, this is a common rant and my answer remains unchanged:

    These things deal with the symptoms but not the cause. The cause is not something we can deal with, we can and should only point to the cure, not try to be the cure nor deal only with the symptoms as human effort will inevitably fail when dealing with the cause. To quote Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “He did not come to make us nice, he came to make us new men.”

    • > I do not believe that preaching this “gospel” of sin management from the pulpit, nor adding more
      > unspoken appendices to our scriptures will not solve the problem

      I do, if a preacher won’t speak about “sin management” they should step aside for someone who will.

      >Banning comics, movies, video games, and the like will also not fix

      Olsen specifically said this was *NOT* what he was talking about. He didn’t use the word “ban”. That is a straw-man argument

      Aside:

      Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.
      – Philipians 4

      And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. – Ephesians 5

      The bible speaks directly about “sin management”. Perhaps the verse in Ephesians might possibly apply to the acts of drug smugglers, serial killers, and sex trafficers (all of whose deeds play out in vivid detail on the big screen, over and over again). Do those acts match the recommended focus of Philipians 4? Personally I find Philipians 4 a pretty easy guide, rather than having to determine if something is “bad” or “too bad” but rather is it “good” or “beneficial”.

      • StJohn117 says:

        Still not buying the argument for a lot of reasons. But let’s deal with your counter arguments specifically: 1. How is this gospel of sin management different than “improve yourself by doing x, y, z?” 2. Yes, perhaps not a ban, please forgive me for putting words in the author’s mouth that he did not intend to say. 3. If we take those scriptures and what is implied to its logical conclusion, perhaps I should not read scripture itself as there’s plenty of sordid stuff there. Or am I missing something? Thats another problem I have with these arguments.

        • 1. I did not use the term “gospel of sin management” You invented that. I believe it is a completely appropriate and necessary topic for a congregation to address. That doesn’t mean to the exclusion of other topics.

          But if you want to label me a “legalist” I am entirely OK with that. I’ve had it up to my eye-balls with gospel/law hair splitting.

          > How is this gospel of sin management different than “improve yourself by doing x, y, z?”

          It isn’t. Except that scripture does address this issue. It says do-this do-not-do-that. Again, this is not to the exclusion of forgiveness and grace.

          > 3. If we take those scriptures and what is implied to its logical conclusion, perhaps I
          > should not read scripture itself as there’s plenty of sordid stuff there.

          Yep. That as a legitimate issue, obviously there are some parameters here. I think the exact same thing when I read those passages.

          But the arguement-to/of-the-extreme is a logical fallacy and doesn’t discount them.

          >Or am I missing something?

          Just that you seem to be disambiguating the middle; making this topic either this or that.

          • StJohn117 says:

            Adam:
            Yay! Back in the land of full keyboard! To the comment.

            I have no intention of labelling you a legalist. You see this as an important issue, I do not for reasons I’ve stated and more.

            Just understand that unless someone can provide some actual empirical data that watching violence translates into acting violent (and I argue the jury’s still out on that, as for every study you can cite saying it does, I can cite a study saying it doesn’t.) I’m more bothered by the idea of it being dealt with from on high. But if it’s that important to you, then fine, have your pulpit. Just don’t be surprised if I don’t change my mind on this any time soon. I’ve had my mind made up for the last fifteen years or so.

            I’ve had plenty of people try to make an argument for why I should hand over my hobbies, no one’s made a logical argument that convinces me that fictional violence is a problem. Was it not Jesus himself who said, “It’s not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, it’s that which comes out of him that makes him unclean?”

            I do not mean to sound ungracious and if I’ve come across that way, I apologize. That’s not my intention. I’ve simply heard the argument before and I grow weary of hearing it.

    • I don’t believe in preaching a “gospel of sin management” either. But I do believe there is a place for preaching the Law to expose our sins and cause us to seek Jesus. Why do American Christians not realize that God’s Law opposes violence and cruelty, and why do we so willingly participate in a culture that glorifies the same? What does that say about our hearts?

      • Because their pastors don’t teach this. Luther said that pastors who refuse to instruct their people in the law of God should be chased out by dogs and pelted with dung.

        • This struck me as humorous, if only because being chased out by dogs and having dung thrown at you strikes me as somewhat violent itself. ;)

      • Whew…that’s refreshing to hear Chaplin Mike… my time in Christianity was nothing BUT sin management. It was crushing… AND that who inflicted that type of weight upon others seldom made themself a-aprt of their system. They were exempt.

  5. Oh this is interesting. I went to bed tonight specifically thinking about how we will raise our son with regards to guns. I have been told by all the moms that at some point everything is a gun. I have very little experience with guns other than a firearms safety course I took several years ago. However, I was wondering if a boy fascinated with guns should be simply disciplined in marksmanship?

    A boy was visiting our house and a stick turned into a gun, turned into pointing the “gun” at his mother. I took him aside and talked to him about the 2nd rule of gun safety: Never point a gun at something you’re not willing to destroy. He was 3 but took well to our talk, or so his mother said gratefully.

    I think safe gun handling could offer many teachable moments. I would much prefer my son to vent his future fascination with guns by learning to shoot accurately at a paper target than chasing around the neighborhood boys pretending to kill them. Anyways, I’m a young mom so who knows what reality will be like.

    • I think this is a wise approach because it significantly de-glamorizes guns, which appears to be a big part of the problem.

    • +1

      “Anyways, I’m a young mom so who knows what reality will be like.”
      And yet your comment is one of the best and most insightful so far.

    • Our sons are 14 and 15 now, and your talk is similar to the one we had with the boys – and I’ve had with tons of my 6 to 9 year old students.

      Guns are not aimed at people – ever. We don’t kill people. Our oldest hunts occasionally and both have been surrounded with the consequence of aiming guns at things their whole lives. I do think the separation we place with life and death in our culture is a contributing factor to the caviler nature of gun behavior.

      Of course this broke down with the advent of Nerf guns in the house. They were old enough when they arrived that they didn’t make shooting sounds with them or yell, “I killed you”. We would put them away when younger folks would visit – ones who couldn’t yet separate reality from fantasy.

      • EMSoliDeoGloria says:

        Agreed.

        I don’t get Olson comparing gun shows to abortion clinics either. That strikes me as absurd. I’ve been to qui9te a few gun shows and never seen anyone killed there (how many gun shows has Olson been to?). These shows are very careful to follow the law and perform background checks on anyone buying a firearm. Wal-Mart, Gander Mountain and any number of other retailers also sell firearms, why specifically criticize gun shows? By contrast, half of all people going into an abortion clinic are killed.

        Killing babies for money at abortion clinics is very different from having a hobby that involves target practice or collecting antique weapons.

        Firearms are used in the commission of crimes, sure. But Olson’s statistic lacks nuance. Firearms are also used every day to prevent crimes – and far more often actually. The way law-abiding citizens use firearms is very different from the way criminals use them. That distinction needs to be acknowledged.

  6. I don’t know….. we need to be careful. This sounds more like another ‘man up’ lecture by the church. Something (again) is ‘wrong’ with men/boys and we need to be ‘concerned.’

    • >This sounds more like another ‘man up’ lecture by the church.

      That is a bad thing? I’m all for the church, the pastor, challenging his flock.

      > Something (again) is ‘wrong’ with men/boy

      Which is true. There is something wrong with men and boys

      > and we need to be ‘concerned.’

      We need to be very concerned.

    • Pat, see my comment above. My position is that when we discuss these moral issues, we are discussing the Law not the Gospel. (I’m not sure Olson would put it that way.) Are we clear on what God’s Law says about violence, aggression, and cruelty? Why do we, even as Christians, feel so comfortable with immersing ourselves in a culture that is filled with such things?

      I’m not so much angling for solutions here as I am raising questions about a moral blindspot in our hearts.

      • CM, I agree wholeheartedly with your point. In Genesis it was violence, not sexual sin, that grieved the Lord leading up to the flood. Entertainment in our culture often resorts to the depiction of violence because it is an easy shortcut to add ‘entertainment value.’ Lazy or uncreative writers and producers can introduce a gun or a violent act into their storyline to juice it up or drive the plot far more easily than creating compelling dialogue or a great plot. Our culture is awash in this stuff. Furthermore, there is no small amount of irony that the people killed in CO were gathered to witness a very violent movie and themselves became the victims of the same type of grandiose violence they were paying to see. (Note, I in no way blame the victims for what happened to them.)

        That being said, violence as sin inflicts both sexes to one degree or another, so is it really helpful to single out men and boys? The church already lays the blame for the epidemic of failed marriages at the feet of men. Unwed pregnancy ? Again, men’s fault. There is no shortage of essays from various Christians that fall into what I call the ‘man-up’ category of chastising men for everything from not attending church to the general state of society. Is some of it justified? Maybe, but can you imagine if we were to try and discuss women withholding sex from their husbands as a contributing factor in the porn epidemic, or female bitterness/bitchiness as a contributor to the Christian divorce rate?

        When I talk about the feminization of the church, what I mean is a pervasive low grade fever given to singling out and blaming men first and foremost for the issue du jour, and adopting a scolding or condescending tone. The above essay definitely strays into that territory, and it is this aspect of it that i find less than helpful.

  7. There is a fundamental avoidance, throughout our culture, of our inner demon; our dark side, our shadow. Unfortunately that lack of attention causes an imbalance that nature simply will not abide by. Consequently the demon arises and is projected out as ‘the other guy’. Men like nothing more than fighting the bad guy as long as he is on the outside. Until the internal work is done we will continue to project, on the big screen and on our neighbors. It will not abate.

  8. Tim Becker says:

    Better not let the young men read several OT books like Joshua or Judges.

    • +1 :)

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

      I must confess that this was my initial knee-jerk thought also. BUT, I’m really trying to weigh Olson’s argument nevertheless.

    • Reading Joshua and/or Judges vs. Watching Kill Bill or playing Grand Theft Auto

      we’re really making that comparison?

      • No, I think we are saying just the opposite. We are drawing a distinction that I wish Olson would have drawn. From the impression I got, Olson seems to be saying violence=bad. That generalization is wrong. In this instance I would say reading Joshua/Judges=good because that is an accurate representation of life then and human nature even now. However, playing the first person Joshua/Judges video game where you get 10 points for killing livestock, 25 for men, 50 for women, and 100 for babies would be bad. Our problem isn’t that we are exposed to violence but that we are exposed to glorified stylized violence in an appealing way.

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        A man, in order to avoid getting mobbed by a bunch of horny deviants, throws his guest’s whore out of the house to get gang-raped all night long. She staggers back to the house, passes on the front step, and dies. The man’s guest chops her body into pieces, then sends the sections out to neighboring tribes to incite the genocide of the tribe of the rapists. The first couple of offensive attacks fail miserably, but the third time was the charm, and the tribe of the rapists is massacred almost to the point of extinction. Fortunately, the other tribes relent, and the remnant tribe is allowed to kidnap and rape a bunch of virgins.

        Oh, and God approved of the genocide.

        You’re right, chad m; it is a little inappropriate to lump the book of Judges with Grand Theft Auto or Kill Bill. Quentin Tarantino would have trouble finding a studio that would let him adapt Judges 19-21 into a movie.

  9. > Another issue I think social scientists need to look more closely
    > at is why all the mass killers in these incidents are boys and young men.

    We don’t need anyone to study that; we know the answer. If you’ve been a disaffected young male the violence isn’t that hard to understand (if you’re willing to be honest). All you have to do is add some crazy.

    The “crazy” part is important, people discount that much too quickly. Having lived with diagnosed “crazy” people I find the portrayal of “crazy” in cinema and TV to be unforgivable – and completely false. They have some mystery and genius as a component to crazy. Crazy is just crazy. It isn’t genius. It isn’t mysterious [at all!]. Crazy is every day, it is dreary, it is repetitive, it is obsessive, it is fatiguing. There is no appeal or style or panache to crazy. Crazy is just broken, like someone who “scratched their record”. Lots of people will speculate about the shooter and his childhood and his experiences – I just get tired thinking about it and feel sorry for is parents, roommates, and classmates, he has been torturing them for years.

    > All that seems so obvious, but too few strong voices are speaking out
    > about it.

    Gee, perhaps because you’d be instantly labelled as narrow minded, prudish, and “judgemental”. And the same people you thought would support you will lecture you on “legalism”. Of course, those charges are absurd and only a thin veil over a very *very* strange Libertarian urge – but good luck getting anywhere against that. The dark truth is probably that a part of them actually loves the violence, sensationalism, and macabre; they just won’t admit that is the real reason.

    > I admire parents who do not allow their kids to own or play with toy guns

    +1 Absolutely. And you don’t have to be a pacifist [I most certainly am not] to feel that way. As I child we played with guns; but perhaps it matters that there were also real guns around. I did, and do, fear them. There was no confusion between the toys and the real ones [real ones are MUCH heavier]. Real guns were objects of terrifying power; it isn’t that hard to convey this notion to a child – but perhaps without real guns around it doesn’t work so well. So better to just have none at all. Why not have none at all?

    > I’m not suggesting that a boy or young man who shoots people in a
    > movie theater is a victim.

    I’ll come right out and say: Yes, he is. He is the victim of a reckless and careless culture made of people that *KNOW* that fragile minds walk among us – and says “Oh, well, they aren’t *my* problem” then proceeds to do whatever they want – then they throw their hands at the inevitable and predictable calamities.

    Not that some calamities wouldn’t happen anyway [see “crazy”], but I’m convinced the number would be lower (and other places, with more guns, do have lower numbers, somehow).

    > Why are preventive measures not taken by university counseling officials
    > to stem this apparent epidemic

    Such as? Posters won’t work, too easy.

  10. Roger Olson makes one major mistake in his essay. We need to remember that guns arn’t the problem….evolutiona is. Yes, according to Rick Warren evolution is responsible for the massacre in the Denver suburbs. The answer to this problem is this….WE MUST cease teaching evolution in American schools and universities. When we do that…there will be no more massacres.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      +1

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And recently there was some preacher/teacher mentioned here who preached that teaching Evolution caused Homosexuality. Two denunciations for the price of one, with a bonus for playing “Teh Fag Card”.

    • Has anyone else seen the atrocious and theologically bankrupt billboard that AiG has been pimping?

  11. We won’t let people see a boobie but we will show graphic violence.

    • You have summarized what I took from Olson’s article in a nutshell. Janet Jackson has a “wardrobe malfunction” in a Super Bowl halftime show and we go bonkers with indignation. But we cheer when, in the game itself, the safety takes the wide receiver’s head off. I’m a football fan, but I wonder why one should cause us such angst while we give no thought to the other.

      • I think the logic is pretty simple here. Violence as a form of entertainment does not immediately create a passion to hatred or murder. It just doesn’t, almost universally for everyone. The affect, if there is one, is gradual and comes in the form of desensitization and detachment from the reality of consequences. Sex as entertainment, on the other hand, does immediately incite passions and lusts, almost universally for everyone. The Bible is clear that committing murder or sex in your heart is just as bad as doing the real thing, but I would argue that for most people what they see on TV only leads to one of those sins.

        I do agree that the Church should address how our culture consumes violence, specifically the young males. But to address it by saying “violence equals sex” is to deny the reality of how most of our minds work.

        • I don’t know Theo. There is such a thing as blood-lust. I’ve benn pretty amazed at how testosterone-fueled energy can take over in the moment at a football game, fighting match, or while watching a violent movie. It may not lead to orgasm but it certainly does provide physical and emotional release.

        • Phil M. says:

          I think violent imagery can be just as powerful as sensuality in getting people to do certain things. If you’ve ever seen videos that coaches uses to get football teams pumped up before a game, they’re often videos that have more to do with warfare than with sports.

          And I’m sorry, if someone was incited to passions and lusts by seeing a certain part of the human anatomy for a split second, they have bigger problems. That person should probably not be watching TV in the first place.

          • Damaris says:

            “That person should probably not be watching TV in the first place.” Replace “That person” with “the human race.”

  12. josh s blake says:

    Timely post…we just had a shooting here in little Pendleton, IN…the second of late. Pacifism never looked so good, though I’m not sure it’s the answer for everyone.

  13. Personally, I was reared in a home with differing philosophies on firearms. My dad was a 16 year old sharpshooter during WWII (his parent signed consent for him to enlist early), and witnessed some horrific things. I don’t think he ever owned or fired a weapon after the war. Eventually, my dad took his own life with a gun…not the result of owning a gun, but of complicated health issues and depression over loss of role.

    On the other hand, my older brothers were avid hunters, and my Christmas gifts from them generally were related to the sport in some way…guns, bows, arrows, hunting gear, etc. There was a huge emphasis on gun safety and responsible use every time we used any type of firearm.

    We watched Clint Eastwood and war movies and action films, likely as a violent as anything being put out today. None of us shot up a school, church, or movie theater as a result. We’re all active as believers, and even though none of us really hunt anymore, we all still own firearms. My oldest brother is an avid collector. The other two of us hold on to ours, mostly for sentimental reasons, remembering the good times we had with each other and our grandfather. These are special memories for us…I held my papa’s old .410 the other day, and recalled some great walks in winter fields.

    Now, I’m sure someone is likely to think, “If you didn’t own guns, your father might still be alive.” I don’t agree with that at all. He was depressed, and would have found some other method. I’m writing all this to say that not all gun owners should be vilified, or painted as NRA patch wearin’, tobacco spittin’, irresponsible idiots. Yes, there are murders related to firearms. What percentage of firearms legally owned in the US are actually used in the commission of a crime, though? The FBI says that about 11 of 13 firearms used in crimes are obtained illegally (http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/ucr.htm). The NRA says that less than 1/2 of 1 percent of guns obtained legally are used for illegal purposes.

    Shifting gears away from guns….Olson wrote “I am calling on pastors, counselors, youth pastors, Christian camp facilitators, etc., etc., to turn some attention toward boys and young men with regard to the destructive influences of some video games, internet web sites, movies, comic books and television programs.”

    These can be dangerous waters to wade in. Has there been a mass shooter yet who didn’t have some type of mental illness (at very least depression), that didn’t process the information they took in differently from the rest of the world? Roger admits growing up in a household/church that did not permit attending movies, so this kind of call is not something that seems like a stretch to him. Anybody remember the ’70s, when we were burning KISS records? You remember them, don’t you? That band whose name stood for Kids In Satan’s Service, at least according to your youth pastor? Or think even farther back, to the 1950’s…my mom, as an eleventh grader (and future salutatorian of her class), was almost expelled from her school system for bringing a copy of Erskine Caldwell’s “Tobacco Road” to read during her lunch break. The book was filled with foul language and sexual innuendo (according to pastors), and Caldwell’s books often had characters that were pastors with questionable motives. He was railed against in pulpits in the very South that he loved.

    I think back to just a few years ago, when I was invited to speak at assembly at a local Christian school. At the beginning, after singing an appropriate hymn accompanied only by piano (no devil drums), the entire school said the pledge of allegiance to the school, in which they stated, “I will completely separate myself from the secular world.” A lot of them did, and frankly, I’ve never seen an institution that prepared its students for life less than this one did. No sex ed beyond “Don’t do it.” The pregnancy rate there wasn’t as high as at public schools, but the humiliation factor was much greater…You were expelled, and the Headmaster’s wife would cut your pictures out of yearbooks, even if you became pregnant out of wedlock after high school. Others were expelled for going to see movies, or for being seen wearing shorts that were too short outside of school. They were instructed that if they read “The DaVinci Code”, they would be expelled from school, and told that when the film version came out, “People who go to see it are giving up their salvation by the thousands at movie theaters.” I spoke to this group of students about not ignoring or being afraid of the greater culture, but of being a part, so the lost might know Christ. The student who had begged the Headmaster to allow me to speak at assembly told me later that administration informed her that I wouldn’t be allowed back again, because I used the word “dang” in my sermon.

    I don’t call on pastors or youth pastors or camp counselors to tell my kids what they should and shouldn’t watch or listen to or read. I’m their parent. I’ll take care of that. I intend for my girls to be well-rounded, and not afraid of the world. I’ll teach them firearm safety, take them to movies, and listen to all types of music with them. We danced in my living room to The Doobie Brothers on vinyl just the other night (double whammy…a rock band with the word “doobie” in their name!) I also intend for them to be strong enough in their faith that they can make choices that aren’t harmful to themselves or others. They will make bad choices, I’m sure. When they do, I pray that I’m a good enough dad that I don’t blame it on cultural trends or their exposure to “the world”, but that I extend grace.

    This is not a time for a mass call for cultural change as a knee-jerk response to the Colorado incident. As a pastor, it’ll get your name in the paper, if that’s what you’re after. It’s a time to pray for the victims, the shooter, and all the family members of these.

    • Lee, what I took away from Olson’s article wasn’t so much that he was offering solutions, but that he was genuinely puzzled by our hypocrisy. Why do we treat matters like the sexualization of our culture and the objectification of women differently than we do graphic violence?

      • The point is understood…The response is just a little over the top to me, and again, I believe it can potentially lead us into extremely fundamentalist territory. Olson admits a history there. Once you push that snowball down the hill, it’s hard to stop. And who defines the difference between extreme violence and acceptable violence in movies or video games? I mean, Mario kills Donkey Kong with a barrel, right? But we consider this harmless.

        There are already “Christian rating systems” out there, if parents want to use them, systems that will tell you exactly how many swear words, violent acts, and nipples are exposed in a film or video game.

        Again, when it comes to the recent shooting, this is an extreme case of an individual who does not process information in the same way that the rest of humanity does. You or I could not walk into a theater or plant explosives rigged to harm others with a clear conscience. Something’s not clicking in this young man’s brain.

        I understand, Olson wants us, as believers, to impact a cultural trend that is thought to be destructive. He believes we should be addressing it from our pulpits. We should be angry at any sin, for sure. I just think this young man, and many others who commit violent acts, process the world around them differently than the rest of us…Some are conditioned to act out that way because of life experience (think domestic violence, or sexual abuse); others have legitimate mental health concerns that haven’t been adequately addressed. It’s just hard for me to believe that the Colorado shooting happened just because of violent images seen on a screen.

        • I think you are right about the exceptional nature of this incident. I’m much more concerned about the other 9000 gun murders that dont get this kind of publicity every year.

          • Point taken.

            I agree that there are a number of issues that we as believers should be more outraged at…adultery, pornography, human trafficking, child abuse and neglect, etc. We should be hearing about all of these from our pulpits more.

            Thanks, CM, for a thought-provoking Friday post!

          • Or maybe I will re-phrase…We as Christians should be more sensitive to these issues.

        • Marcus Johnson says:

          Personally, I’m waiting to see what happens should we discover that James Holmes is living with a severe mental or emotional disorder, and most of our arguments regarding sin and violence is rendered moot.

          • Again this was an exceptional situation and should not be what guides us in our thinking.

          • And wouldn’t you know, a developing story yields that he was being treated for schizophrenia, and had mailed his therapist drawings of dead bodies en masse. The therapist had not opened the mail prior to the shooting.

    • Good thoughtful comments. But I would like to offer one correction. The “NRA patch wearin” gun owners are generally the most educated and responsible gun owners you will find. It is the non-NRA gun owners who are generally the “irresponsible idiots” who know nothing about respect for a firearm.

  14. I remember how, as a kid, whenever we watched martial arts movies my brother and I would end up in a fist-fight afterwards – not because we were mad at each other about anything, but just because we wanted to try out the cool new martial arts moves we’d learned. Anyone who thinks violent media has _no_ influence on us has never watched a martial arts movie with young boys!

    We should treat violence in movies the same way we treat pornography or graphic sexual scenes – when we watch violence, particularly violence being romanticized or portrayed as a heroic answer to a problem, we’re training our minds to have an accepting attitude toward violence, in the same way that looking at porn trains your mind to view women as sex objects. There’s really no difference between the two – both are distorting our thinking and impulses in non-Christlike ways.

    I cringe every time I hear a preacher use military or violent metaphors from the pulpit. What a long way we’ve come from the early church, where serving in the military (even in peacetime) was enough to get you excommunicated and any form of violence was seen as a denial of Christ!

    • To piggyback on Olson’s illustration, what might a pastor say if a parishioner came to church with lewd, sexually explicit bumper stickers on his car? Would he have any cause to talk to that member of his church about his concerns? What if he put racist slurs there? A Nazi flag?

      Why is discussing the glorification of violence and aggression off limits?

      • That is a simple question to answer: it is because you are speaking ill of something we are in love with it [violence], infatuated.. Since we love it as a society we [individually] don’t feel convicted about loving it.

        We don’t love fat people. So we don’t feel the need to rush to defend the donut maker when people say he makes fatty and unhealthy food. We are OK with criticizing that. We are OK with criticizing the lewd because that makes us uncomfortable, we don’t love that (ok, maybe a little, but it also still makes us quesy).

        But don’t touch what we love.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Why is discussing the glorification of violence and aggression off limits?

        Because we will have to use violence on the Heathen(TM) to take back America and turn it back into a Christian(TM) Nation? So we have to prepare and condition now? (insert appropriate proof-text zip codes about the Canaanites and the Promised Land…)

    • Joshua T says:

      What a long way we’ve come from the early church, where serving in the military (even in peacetime) was enough to get you excommunicated and any form of violence was seen as a denial of Christ!

      Can you (or anyone else) elaborate on this? A commitment to pacifism would not be surprising (and certainly some within the Church today prohibit military involvement), but I’ve thought (or at least, have heard) that one of the factors that helped the early Church spread (and especially, geographically) was the adoption of the faith by lower-class Roman soldiers. I’d be interested in learning more about the early Church’s practices with regard to military associations.

      • “…one of the factors that helped the early Church spread (and especially, geographically) was the adoption of the faith by lower-class Roman soldiers.”

        I’ve read the same thing. And that it began as early as the days of John the Baptist.

    • “I cringe every time I hear a preacher use military or violent metaphors from the pulpit.”

      Then you would not have liked St. Paul’s preaching.

  15. This is a law issue and should not be a subject for sermons unless it will condemn and convict both sides of the issue.

    Then, of course, the gospel of Jesus Christ will take over as the main subject.

    Unless of course you happen to be one of those Baptist/Calvinist/Arminian types for whom the law takes over in a sermon.

  16. The premise of Olson’s article was in some ways thoughtful and an examination of the US tendency to glorify violence is needed. However, IMHO it is spoiled by his shallow concept of violence. While the glorification of violence does cause problems, violence itself is neutral. Same thing holds with guns. Until Jesus uses violence in the final conflict and establishes His kingdom once and for all, we will need violence to protect our country and our families against evil here and now. (side note: If Revelation had been written today it would be a gun coming out of Jesus mouth, not a sword.)

    I am speaking from the perspective of someone who was raised by 5 preceding generations of Anabaptist pacifists. I had a great-grandfather who spent years in prison because, based on his beliefs, he refused to bear arms in the Prussian army. I have a father who was mercilessly ridiculed because he refused to bear arms in the US army during WWII for the same reason. I know all the arguments against guns and violence, biblical and philosophical. They don’t hold water. Guns and violence can both be good or bad. It is the misuse of those things, the glorification of those things that leads to trouble.

    As an example just take a look at the Swiss. Because all their men are trained in the proper use of guns and violence they have one of the lowest violent crime rates despite the fact that they all own guns. I do, however, think that Hollywood is a big problem. The same crowd of people that decry guns and violence make billions acting out and selling the glorified misuse of those things to the youth of the world. What is up with that?

  17. Occasional massacres are inevitable, and must be tolerated as the price of keeping U.S. gun laws as they are, it being politically impossible to make them more restrictive.

    Meanwhile, 15,000 people have died during the Syrian Civil War. And how’s northern Mexico doing lately? Those 20 people are only in the news because of the dramatic nature of (a) a crazy guy killing (b) Americans in (c) a movie theater (which is normally considered safe) while watching the hot new movie (d) Batman. If they were Gazan children dying of malnutrition, Americans would collectively shrug their shoulders and/or spit on their graves.

    I can’t resist commenting on the following line: “Perhaps some violence is necessary, but surely not the kind of random, extreme violence depicted in movies and comic books (which many young men in their twenties are still “reading”). ”

    Comic books, like movies, are a medium, not a genre. Even limiting ourselves to American superhero comics, there is a wide variety, ranging from ultra-violent titles like “The Boys” to children’s cartoon tie-ins. The most popular titles–Batman or Spider-Man, say–are not particularly violent compared to mainstream movies, and what violence there is is rarely the result of guns. (Think fisticuffs, energy blasts, or the occasional destruction of entire planets. Or does this too set a bad example?)

    As to the insinuation that reading comic books does not really count as “reading,” again, there is a variety. One superhero title, “Watchmen,” was named by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 novels of the 20th century. A few decades ago, mothers and schoolteachers were apparently convinced that reading comics would stunt normal reading ability–this turns out to be absolutely wrong. As penance, Olson should read Alison Bechdel’s (non-superhero, autobiographical) “Fun Home”–and, for extra credit, all of the books which she cites in it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      As to the insinuation that reading comic books does not really count as “reading,” again, there is a variety. One superhero title, “Watchmen,” was named by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 novels of the 20th century. A few decades ago, mothers and schoolteachers were apparently convinced that reading comics would stunt normal reading ability–this turns out to be absolutely wron

      Four words: SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT.

      You see, before Harry Potter = WITCHCRAFT!!!; before D&D = SATANISM!!!; back in the Godly Golden Age of the 1950s, Comic Books (especially EC Horror Comics) were THE Culture War Cause du jour. “What about The Children, The Children, The Children, We Have To protect The Children, The Children, The Children…” From Kyle’s Mom Social Activist to Academia to pulpits across the nation, Comic Books WERE the reason behind Juvenile Delinquency, Disrespect of Parents, Teen Violence, (gasp) Teen SEX, you name it.

      And the Culture Warriors won that round (for The Children, The Children, The Children), crippling the graphic medium in America for some 50 years under a Comics Code as rigid as anything you’ll find in a CBA publisher (and much along the same lines). Where other countries looked upon comics format as an alternate way to write a story (incorporating elements of cinema), American comics were limited to Child-safe superheroes, funny animals, superheroes, superheroes, and superheroes.

      And then when the fault lines shifted in the massive earthquake of The Sixties, comics broke out into “Underground Comix” in a Communism-begets-Objectivism reaction. Break the Code as much as you can as far as you can. And the aftershocks of that are only now settling down.

      • In fairness to Dr. Wertham, many of the themes he complained about are now abundant. Graphic, perverse sexuality? See any issue of “The Boys.” Comics glorifying crime and murder? Well, there’s that comic by Alan Moore about Jack the Ripper… Superman as a Nazi, or some other kind of authoritarian? Done regularly, and not only with pastiche characters. Batman and Robin as gay lovers? An old joke, which DC fights by portraying Batman fornicating with various supporting characters (he even has a love-child named Damien). Gay innuendo? Make that gay pride. (Lots of examples to choose from, but I just read about a comic called “Spandex,” featuring an all-gay superhero team! The cover of issue 1 shows them threatened by hordes of pink ninjas.) Zombies and vampires? Both hot right now. DC briefly brought back Aquaman’s dead baby as a zombie (apparently for laughs); Marvel had a zombie Spider-Man eat Mary Jane and Aunt May (but later feel guilty about it). Dr. Wertham’s feared subtext has now become just plain text.

        Now one can certainly question whether Wertham was right in identifying these themes as harmful to children. I would say generally not, but younger children should definitely be supervised in the comic store lest they end up with Japanese tentacle porn or some such. Incidentally, the Comics Code Authority changed over the years, liberalizing in the 1970’s, and now no longer exists. DC was the last publisher to stop using it.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          In fairness to Dr. Wertham, many of the themes he complained about are now abundant. Graphic, perverse sexuality?

          And banning EC Comics really stopped “graphic, perverse sexuality” cold, didn’t it?

          Dr. Wertham’s feared subtext has now become just plain text.

          Just like Prohibition worked perfectly and everything was Godly until “beverage alcohol” repealed it?

    • > Occasional massacres are inevitable, and must be tolerated as the price of keeping U.S. gun
      > laws as they are, it being politically impossible to make them more restrictive

      I am not a Republican, not a gun owner, not a hunter, and not an NRA member… but I think this statement can be revised simply to “massacres are inevitable”.

      But I don’t think Olsen’s essay was really about bans or gun-control. It is really is hard to discuss a Christian’s proper response to *pointless* violence and depiction of violence without having to repeatedly say – we are not talking about bans and gun-control. Often one has to repeat that so often the entire rest of the conversation gets drowned out.

    • This is a good point – my first response to the “outrage” was something along the lines of “more people than this are murdered every year in the West end, and you never say peep.” This is obviously tangental to Olsen’s piece, but do we really care about violence, killing, or “massacres”? I’m not trying to stir the racism pot, but our response to Colorado speaks for itself.

  18. Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

    I’ve lived in Texas since I was a child; we’re big on guns down here (though, I must confess, I’ve never actually shot one myself). Most everyone I know is a gun owner. That’s just the way things are ’round here. When my great-grandfather died, I wanted only two heirlooms of his: his old antique mandolin, and his old antique shotgun.

    Now, especially around those who were raised around guns, it seems that safety is the #1 concern when they’re dealing with firearms. Most of these folks are hunters, but they also keep the weapons around for personal protection. The general idea that floats around these parts whenever we read about such massacres as what happened in Colorado is “that’s why I carry. That ain’t happening in my backyard.” I.e. the general mentality is that one of the reasons we have guns is to protect ourselves and our families from crazy folk that would harm them. Granted, we’ve had a few of incidents in these parts where that philosophy didn’t bear out (I’m thinking of the UT Sniper a few years back, and the gunman at Luby’s Cafeteria a few years back), but folks would point out that if there’d been armed citizens in those places, the violence wouldn’t have gotten so far.

    Now, I don’t know how true or not that would be. Hypotheticals are just that. Nevertheless, I don’t see a moral/theological problem with Christians being willing to use deadly force when they or their families are threatened with random violence. A biblical argument could be made that things are different when we’re being persecuted for Jesus’ sake, but I’m talking random violence here. Similarly, while it was a little weird to see armed soldiers and off-duty soldiers everywhere when I went to Israel, after the second or third day, it became somewhat of a comfort to know that where those guys were, we wouldn’t be seeing any terrorist activity.

    I don’t know what the implications are for getting our entertainment via violent movies, comics, video games, etc. I’m still working through that.

    P.S. One of my favorite text books from my Master’s Degree was by Olson: The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform.

  19. David Cornwell says:

    We have allowed a deification of violence in this country that is beyond all reason. Have a problem with Iran? Bomb them, etc, etc. It reaches into every corner of American life including politics, entertainment (?), sports, and the living room. I’m convinced that the holy “Framers” would be astonished with what we’ve done with the Second Amendment. It would be very hard to shoot 70 or so people in a musket in such a minute time frame. This kind of tragedy will continue escalate until it reaches such an unspeakable proportion that we finally wake up.

    I’m not for outlawing guns. But I am for strict controls over the type of weapons allowed in the market place. For several years when I was younger I was a police officer in a mid-size metro area. I know what gun violence looks like. But now every cop must be constantly on guard lest he be totally blown away in a second of time with someone who has an automatic assault weapon.

    I agree partly with the statement that contends guns are not the problem. The real problem is in the evil that lurks within and looks for ways to express itself. Guns become the vehicle. Evil looks for the ultimate. Choking a few people to death, or even stabbing them, in a theater, does not meet that test.

    • Ichabod says:

      The title of this post says it all: God, guns and guts. This is the trinity of American civil religion. Guns have always played a highly ritualistic role here, and to say one wants to eradicate them is dangerously sacrilegious. Guns are symbolic; through them we remember the blood of our country’s founders and martyrs. They perform a sacramental function, and bullets become spiritual food in that very respect. They are integral to the story of our faith, our country’s long journey of violence. We even think of our soldiers as missionaries with machineguns. Guns are not evil but they are the vehicles of death, not life. Beating the weapons into plowshares is fine for other countries, but we could not sustain the American religion without our guns.

      • Well said, you’re getting to the root of the problem. The hypocrisy that Olson and CM are concerned about may exist because there’s a golden calf, an idol in our midst that nobody wants to point out or try to tear down…including some here…

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The title of this post says it all: God, guns and guts. This is the trinity of American civil religion.

        “AND ZARDOZ YOUR GOD GAVE YOU THE GIFT OF THE GUN!”

  20. I largely agree with Olson, but just have a couple of observations

    Having more strict firearm laws are the low hanging fruit, but something things that disturb me more are. . .

    1) The sheer number of angry and bitter people.

    2) The number of people who are anti-social and isolated.

    In my personal opinion these things are on the rise and that is a troubling thought.

    We have to do more than simply medicate these people and take away their guns. (although taking away their guns would be a good start)

    When you have people who are socially disconnected and isolated, along with angry and bitter, then you throw things like movies, comic books, violent video games and permissive gun laws into the mix, it can be a violent brew.

  21. Perhaps the videogame industry would be a useful case study. I’m a casual gamer (mostly Nintendo games), and I follow the news in this sector at times. Gamers and gaming companies have not historically reacted positively to attempts at regulating violence or even criticism of violence in games. People tend to get angry about laws preventing minors from purchasing M-rated games, and when a politician or lawyer or other public figure complains about violence in video games they’re often mocked and dismissed.

    In recent years, the violence has gotten increasingly over-the-top and mainstream (ultra-violent games used to push the envelope, now they’re the norm), especially as graphics have become more realistic. Gushing fountains of splattering blood from cinematic chainsaw kills is a pretty normal thing, for example. And this stuff isn’t even meant to disturb the player anymore, it’s just “cool.” Players are sometimes rewarded for killing people in outrageous, disgusting, and gory ways. There was a stage demo at a recent convention where the player shotgunned a man in the face who was begging for mercy, and the audience burst into cheers. To make things worse, the violence is sometimes connected with female sex appeal in various ways.

    So anyway, I’m not just making a moralistic rant, and there was a time when I was much more comfortable playing violent games than I am now. The point I’m getting to is that some figures in the videogame industry are now worried that they’ve gone too far and that games now revel in violence too much and frequently sexualize this violence in various ways. Even a major designer who has made violent games in the past (Warren Spector) has voiced this concern.

    The videogame industry has been fiercely independent and has derided concerns about excessive violence in the past. Now even some of them are uneasy with it and are suggesting more self-policing and internal criticism. What does this tell us about society as a whole? And isn’t the fact that ten-year old kids are playing games like Gears of War and Call of Duty something to be concerned about?

    • Anyone who denies that media influences the way we think and act should try and explain why businesses spend multiple billions on media marketing. Of course media influences the way we think and act! And I think media that incorporates multiple senses (movies) and especially that is interactive (first person shooters) are especially influencing.

      In ’92 when Wolfenstein was released I was hooked. My co-workers and I would play for hours. But as the graphics for these games got better I became more uncomfortable. As someone who owns guns and is trained on their safe use, realistic first person shooters really began to disturb me. They break down emotional barriers and train responses that they shouldn’t. Though, I don’t have the same reaction to shooting monsters in games like Doom or zombies in some of the current games.

    • My husband is a video gamer programmer who spent over 10 years in the commercial games industry. He works in educational games now.

      2 thoughts:
      1–He was at one company for over 10 years and the games he worked on did get more and more violent. I think this went along with the general cultural appetite for such games. He was not happy to participate in this and is very happy where he is now.

      2–I wonder if we’ve somehow forgotten that being a parent is work. As I PhD-holding, stay-at-home mom, I know my choice is not a culturally valued choice. But being actively engaged in kids’ digital lives is work. My husband started programming at the age of 8 on a computer in his room. Unless we provide our kids with computers without an internet connection, there’s no way we’d allow that now–any more than we’d let our kids parachute alone into a bazaar in Egypt.

      It takes work for parents to know what Gears of War and Call of Duty are. It takes work to figure out which video games to buy and what to tell your kids about playing games while visiting another household. But perhaps generally, it takes work, time & engagement, to teach our children godly wisdom and discernment.

      I know this article is generally lamenting our violent culture and the lack of Christian holiness in this area. However, I’m a lot more interested in what day-to-day pointing my kids to Jesus looks like.

      • As a parent with a young boy and who (me) is intending to steer him away from violent video games – I would really like to hear your advise about how to deal with this area, especially with friends who’s kids are allowed to play the violent stuff… what do you do when it seems like everywhere you turn the violence has pervaded, even so called “christian” homes?

    • Joel, this article may provide some data for your study of videogame violence:
      http://www.killology.com/print/print_trainedtokill.htm

      It was printed in Christianity Today August 10, 1998 (still available on CT’s website, but you may need to subscribe). The title is “Trained to Kill” and it was written by David Grossman, a military psychologist and retired Lt Colonel. He outlines some of the dangers of videogame violence in the wake of the Jonesboro shooting and just preceding the Columbine shooting.

      On a personal note, this sort of thing has alarmed me since about 1991 when I visited the home of some old friends (this was either just after the Gulf War ended or in the final days) and their 9-year-old son Mike, my favorite of their kids, was playing a video game in which the instruments of death were fighter jets and missiles; and the targets were camels, tanks, people in Arab-style clothing, etc, in a desert setting.

      And yes, my friends are believing Christians who were (probably still are) very active in the fight against abortion and for the legal defense of Christian home-schooling. He’s a lawyer and went to Harvard Law School after seminary, specifically for these purposes. You will not win an argument with him.

      We’ve kinda lost touch.

      • Well, I haven’t done any real research and don’t plan to (I just occasionally read gaming news) – by “case study” I meant the informal sense of something we can examine as an example.

        • Joel, though you might not do any research, please read the David Grossman article at least.

          To follow up on Chaplain Mike’s intro, where he says “that many American Christians have a moral blind spot when it comes to violence” I could add that my lawyer friend (anti-abortion activist, home-school defense attorney) argued for the just-ended Gulf War (in part) by saying that African-American kids now had a good role model in Colin Powell, who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during that war. My response was “Should we sin that grace may abound?”

          Yup. Guess so. I did not bring up the matter of his little boy Mikey bombing oases (plural of oasis?) and smokin’ camels with his joystick. Probably a good thing. They say you shouldn’t try to teach manners to a pig because it does no good, and it annoys the pig (the parents in this case, not Mikey).

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      Maybe Ted’s last set of comments on this thread is indicative as to why this discussion of the glorification of violence will not be productive in most Christian communities: most just don’t feel the need to study about the conversation material, usually there is an assumption made that we already know, or that there is nothing beyond our casual observations to discover. I can also pick up that sentiment from Olson’s article, hence my dismissal of his argument.

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        Sorry, when I said “Ted,” I meant “Joel.”

      • I think I still know more about this subject than a lot of people (I used to be a pretty serious gamer and involved in online game communities), and I think it’s telling that people in the game industry are now worried that they’ve gone too far after the trend has been to dismiss the concern for years. By “no serious research”, I just mean that I’m not studying it academically.

  22. This article is just a smidgen of the bigger picture.

    In the early 60’s, I received my first rifle from my father when I was 8 and grew up with a .38 under my dad’s pillow at all times. He taught us gun safety. One day, he shot a pumpkin with a 30 06 and told us that’s what would happen if a person was shot. Made a huge impression. Living with guns in the home was normal and my sister and I didn’t really think about it as otherwise. Family outings occasionally meant heading to the California hills for target practice. We were a totally middle class, Catholic family living in suburbia watching the current popular western genres on TV. Maybe it’s because I’m female or our culture wasn’t so jacked up then as it is now but guns were no big deal.

    In the 80’s we raised our three sons with guns in the house-more as a tool than anything else. Not only did they attend a gun safety class, but we required them to start working at 14, keep a minimum 3.0 GPA, go to church and if they told me they were bored, I gave them a chore or a book. Two are in professions that require carrying a firearm, the third could care less about any weapon.

    For years now, I’ve volunteered in the jail system. It’s not JUST about guns-it’s a violent cocktail mixed with no or little restraint with our thoughts, feelings and actions, entitlement issues, poor or no parenting, very little moral self-control, idle hands and minds plus media exposure. Most of the people I work with are felons and even though they are required to not have a gun in their possession, they do. And, they don’t go buy it legally and wait the three ‘cool off’ days. I know the NRA says the same (and I’m not a member), but it is true, the bad guys will get a gun no matter what…I’ve seen it over and over again.

    Are we treating the symptom and not the disease? It’s always easier to point fingers and cast blame, but the problem won’t go away till we address the entire issue surrounding gun violence So yes, preach it Pastors, it will help to some degree, but more so, teach it parents.

  23. If you want to do some research on this, I would recommend reading a little bit of Joe Bageant. In his book Deer Hu nting With Jesus, he does two good things: he defends his people (Scotch Irish rednecks of the Midwest and South, from which I am descended) and their attachment to guns (for hunting and self defense). He at the same time points out that they, from their origins in Scotland, have been too violent, that they are prone to hate those different from them, etc.

    America was founded on violence, folks. It’s a fact. We are not a peaceable people. You don’t become a global power by being nice. We drove out the Indians. We drove out the British, the Mexicans, the Spanish. We crushed the Confederacy for daring to stand up to federal power. We firebombed the Germans and Japanese. And the Vietnamese. Now we’re doing the same in the Mideast.

    Historically, churches have more or less gone along with all this, and those few who dissent quickly become the butt of ridicule or worse.

    I think an understanding of American history is in order, including our recent history. Most of the acts of violence that largely defined our history were unnecessary and/or criminal. Look up 9/11 Truth on the Net and get your mind opened.

    • Amen and amen again…. numerous countries became independent without a bloody revolution – it could have been different…many countries gave up slavery without a bloody civil war – it could have been different…but america always chooses the violent path. It’s high time the church pushes back a little – or a lot (and with as much vigor as they seem to reserve for sex related issues)!

  24. Richard McNeeley says:

    There are numerous instances of women involved in murder. Some, like Andrea Yates and Khoua Her, kill their children. Others, like Belle Gunness, kill husbands and lovers for insurance money. Nurses like Genene Jones, Anna Marie Hahn and Beverley Allitt killed patients. Jennifer Ann Marco killed a neighbor and 6 coworkers in 2006. Antoinette Frank went to a New Orleans restaurant and killed 3 people. Priscilla Joyce Ford used her car to kill 5 and injure 24. Aileen Wuornos preyed on truck drivers and received 6 death sentences from the state of Florida.
    My point is that it isn’t just men that commit mass murder. These crimes aren’t caused by violence in the media, as some of them occurred in the 19th century. These are evil acts committed by evil people.

  25. I’m surprised that this thread contains so much discussion of gun control and similar laws. I understood Olsen to be saying something different – it is the lust for violence that causes death, and we must preach against that. I have plenty to quibble with Olsen about, but I agree on this one thing – systematically teaching people about the evils of violence is far more effective than trying to restrict access to violent tools. Change the root; change the fruit.

  26. This is a very intelligent and well thought out thread, which I admit I have not read all of. The authors point seems to be that we should specially council young men about the violence they see in the media. Sounds nice, but I see a few issues. One is that violence in young men is nothing new. Historyis full of violent young me who where never exposed to modern media. For example take Billy the Kid. Also, the guys doing this are usually very alienated youn men. What they need is love, and to feel apart of something. Kids going to church probably alreadyhave that, but if you see someone slipping through the cracks, by all means help him! I do think Christians need to start trying to do something about violence, and naming it is a start. But lets not fight the symptoms of the problem. Jesus went right to the root of things and so should we.

  27. Beakerj says:

    I find this whole discussion fascinating & horrifying, because, as a Brit, guns are not normal to me. Most of our Police are not armed, & only one person I know owns a gun, a rifle, because he is a Gamekeeper. Our cultures are alike in some ways, but sooooo far apart on this. I’m shocked at how casual American attitudes seem to be to owning weapons, & especially when it is presented as a human right.

    And I am definitely one of those who finds it bewildering that we show so much violence towards people, on TV & to children & so on, whereas sex is so censored. I’d rather it was the other way round, because sex or making love is at least a normal part of human life, whereas violence shouldn’t be. Make love not war…if you have to err on one side then this is the one I’d choose.

    • Amen – one of God’s first acts in the Garden, making man and woman and blessing their union. One act He definitely DID NOT do: give them handguns and pronounce it a universal human right (as american gun worshipers like to think)

  28. As a single, middle-aged woman who’s been attacked twice, I’m getting a CCW and a gun. My preacher sure won’t be there to protect me, and they aren’t there to help with the damage after being attacked, either. By the time the police show up, the damage is done. If there had been one person in that theatre with a CCW, that guy would have been stopped after the first shot. It’s happened before. Two days before this happened, a Florida man stopped two robbers (with a gun) at an internet cafe. Because he had a CCW and his gun, there was NO loss of innocent life, and NO robbery. People who plan to break the law anyway aren’t going to care about your gun laws, and God allows us to defend ourselves, according to what I read in the Bible. I plan on getting a gun and a license to carry it as soon as possible. Are any of you pacifists going to come to my home and offer to protect me? I thought not. Enjoy your armchair opinions. I’ve got to protect myself.

    • You forget that the shooter covered himself in body armor.

      But I hear you, Ann. Many feel the same as you do. Just check out this article from CT: Packing Heat and Trusting Providence.

      • —subtitled “Semi-Pelagianism in Reeboks”.

      • On a technical note, a close range hit from a 9mm or above can still stop a man in body armor. What the body armor does is spread the impact out so that instead of penetrating it “only” feels like getting hit in the chest with a baseball bat. That is still enough to drop him and allow people to respond by disarming him or getting away.

        When I heard about it and thought, “what if I had been there” my concerns would have been the smoke and dark theater obscuring my vision and the fear of hitting an innocent in the confusion. The man was very cunning to attack when he did and in the way he did. The intelligence of his method indicates evil instead of crazy.

        • This is correct. A single shot would have changed the entire dynamic.

          • You really want people carrying concealed weapons into movie theaters? And what if this had been a stunt, as some thought at first? No thank you. I don’t believe in making policy based on one extraordinary incident.

          • I’m not sure I understand – your comment isn’t really logically connected to mine. My point is that return fire would have changed the dynamic of the situation, especially given the psychological profile of most mass-murderers. That fact is entirely unrelated to whether the return fire came from a concealed weapon, an open weapon, a civilian, or a police officer. It is simply a fact. People should be willing to accept facts. And factually speaking, a 165 gr. bullet traveling at 1050 fps would have knocked this guy off his feet, body armor or no.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      Be careful with that plan, Ann. I’m all for the right of people to carry personal CCWs, but in a dark theater, with terrified people running for their lives, the odds are more in your favor that you would shoot the wrong person. Get trained first.

      By the way, where did you see the pacifists in this forum? I couldn’t tell that from the comments posted.

      • Thanks for pointing this out – I’ve heard the knee jerk, if-everyone-was-allowed-to-carry cry from certain (gun worshiping) quarters, but in this particular situation IT WOULD NOT HAVE WORKED!!!! I dare say you’re bordering on the shooter’s crazy if you believe that….please before you trot out your guns-for-all mantra, think through the circumstance: darkness, smoke, loud noises from every direction, shadows, flashes from all directions, yelling, screaming, leaping, jumping running people…. not even a veteran, battle hardened SEAL/law enforcement sniper would have been able to pick out and take down this shooter before he did his damage…. if you think otherwise then you have way too much faith in yourself and the handgun you carry…. not only do we have a problem with violent movies desensitizing people…apparently many also believe that they can shoot and kill with the ‘accuracy’ of a movie star…. good grief

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          darkness, smoke, loud noises from every direction, shadows, flashes from all directions, yelling, screaming, leaping, jumping running people…. not even a veteran, battle hardened SEAL/law enforcement sniper would have been able to pick out and take down this shooter before he did his damage…. if you think otherwise –

          — you’ve been watching too many Ahnold flicks or reading too many Men’s Action-Adventure(TM) potboilers.

    • Once again, here is Archie Bunker on gun control:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLjNJI54GMM