Americans are reeling again from yet another horrific mass shooting, this time in the hallowed space of a church in southern Texas. Twenty-six people lost their lives (several of them were children). In just the past few months we’ve witnessed terror strikes at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, a Maryland bank, a park in Manhattan. As the attacks are becoming more common in these most ordinary of places, Americans are feeling more and more debilitated by the senselessness of it all.
Why is this happening? How can we stop it from happening again?
Conversations about gun control, policy changes, and stricter laws, are of course important but they can also distract from the deeper issue. A wise man once said, “What comes out of the man, that is what defiles him. From within the man, from his heart, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder… All these evils come from within…” (Mark 7:14-23)
It’s clear that we need not just external laws but, more importantly, interior conversion.
To make sense of the senseless happening around us, we need to plunge deep within us, into the dysfunctional dysphoria of the human heart. We need to remember who we are, where we’ve come from, and our final end. We need to understand the infinite thirst that defines us as humans. And where to go to quench this thirst.
In the past few days, since this latest shooting, I’ve found myself reflecting on a powerful scene from the film Apocalypto (2006), directed by Mel Gibson. It chronicles the collapse of an ancient civilization, corrupted from within by its systematic and pandemic human sacrifice. It’s a difficult film to watch, filled with Gibson’s trademark gratuitous violence.
But there is a light burning at its center. The light of the goodness of the family, of fatherhood, motherhood, children, and the importance of the land. The message through it all is the call to defend and protect, not destroy, human life. The scene I’ve been recalling is part of an indigenous tribe’s origin story; a tribe whose peaceful existence will soon be torn apart by bloodthirsty attackers.
During a gathering of the tribe deep in the jungle, amidst the dance of firelight and storytelling, an elder shares a tale about this unique creature called Man. He is, to the concern of all of the other animals, sad and alone. The animals come to him and each in their turn gave him their eyes, their cunning, their strength so he would be comforted and not be afraid. But wise old Owl saw this would not be enough. Owl could see a hole in the Man’s heart. This hole would not be filled by anything in the world. The Man would keep taking and taking until the world was empty.
The story ends as the firelight dances on the faces of the families surrounding it, and they ponder the meaning of it all. The meaning of being human. The film powerfully ends with a spotlight on the family, and the heroic efforts to protect and preserve the family. This love of family is the one and only thing that can fill the heart of Man.
Back to the present, and to the attacks that continue to erupt around us, affecting men and women and children, robbing us of peace.
Why is this happening? It’s happening because we’ve lost our way, fallen into a dark place where there is no light of objective truth about God and humanity. We’ve forgotten our origin story.
How can we stop these attacks from happening again? Return to the light of the truth about God and humanity. Proclaim it, honor it, treasure it. Reverence that light in every person, starting with the one right beside you, wherever you find yourself right now.
As C.S. Lewis wrote:
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors… All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations.
It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.
(C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)