“This is Lent. As a people, we have a lot to repent and confess. And let’s not lie to ourselves that tighter gun restrictions — as vital and urgent as they now are — will solve the problem. We’ve lost our respect for human life on a much broader scale, and this is the utterly predictable result.”
+Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Archbishop of Philadelphia
Another shooting. More young people killed. The senseless cycle of death, media bombardment, and lack of reform or effect is dizzying and heart-breaking.
As a husband, father, and teacher, I am forced to examine the world as we find it and, as a Christian, work in the quiet ways that I can to bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth. This is not a reflection on gun control; I leave that to more knowledgeable minds. This is an examination of the greater issue at stake: the utter loss of meaning that plagues young men and our culture’s loss of the value of life.
Diagnosing the Problem
It’s not just guns. Guns alone cannot shoulder the full blame of this darkness. While we certainly can and must have a national conversation about the types of weapons we can purchase and improve our system of background checks. But what’s going on behind the guns? What has changed?
The word “culture” implies the soil in which we grow. The air we all breathe today is indeed that of “a culture of death.” We’re witnessing several cultural seeds that are coming to bloom: of the tearing of the family through the industrial revolution, the self-centered drive for pleasure at all costs through the sexual revolution, and the fragmentation of the human person through the technological revolution. The amount of young men without fathers or adequate father-figures is a true crisis that will have generational effects. Families are fragmented, especially with the primacy of phones and screens. Pornography proliferates over every WiFi connection, educating an entire generation in how to use people as objects. I’m not one to demonize video games, but they’ve certainly changed since the innocent days of Mario in 1980s. Suicide rates for young people continue to climb. Political rhetoric has lost all civility and emotions have trumped reason. It’s the perfect storm and there is no quick fix.
No Sense of Meaning, No Respect for Life
I want to return to the earlier point of nihilism. I believe that more and more the widespread notion that life is meaningless has pervaded our Western society. The chains that anchored us to notions of truth, goodness and natural law have been broken in favor of comfortable consumerism, relativism, and an insulated existence. Unanchored from meaning, what possible respect could a person have towards life — my own life or anyone else’s?
We have politicians who speak with conviction about “saving our children” but they favor the murdering of children through all 9 months of pregnancy. I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal that named both this hypocrisy as well as the pro-death culture we live in. What makes life sacred at all, especially if I can get rid of the person if they’re young (abortion) or if their elderly (euthanasia)?
God created humanity as “good,” in fact, “very good.” We must work to bring back a proper anthropology of man and seeing the goodness of human body. Young people especially ache to be seen and be known; if loved rightly, we can reintroduce purpose to a purposeless generation. We must look for the lonely and isolated among us and provide them with, if nothing else, a meaningful human connection. It’s the little that we can control.
I recently finished Viktor Frankl’s amazing little book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Frankl was a psychiatrist who survived life in a Nazi death camp. It’s a powerful story. Writing in the 1940s, Frankl pointed out the devasting effects of private and personal nihilism. But for all the evil that he witnessed, Frankl believed in reconciliation over revenge and the need for personal responsibility and right action in the face of life’s great trials. “The world is in a bad state,” he wrote, “but everything will be still worse unless each of us does his best.”
A New Crusade of Manliness
For all the darkness in the world, we of faith know that this is not the end of the story. God himself has descended into death itself and transformed even that reality to bring about new life. This is the cause of our hope when even suffering and the sword befall us.
I personally don’t believe that there can be any true reform of our culture without a turn back towards the Gospel. At the very least, we must experience a common re-discovery in the transcendentals of truth, goodness, and beauty, and that life has meaning and that we all have something to offer. As more and more people break free of the shackles of political correctness in favor of true dialogue and conversation, I see this beginning to happen.
One of the reasons I believe that truth-tellers such as Canadian psychologist and philosopher Jordan B. Peterson have become so popular, especially among young men (aside from his stances for free speech and free thought in an era of political correctness), is that he’s empowering men to take a hold of their life and to re-anchor themselves to truth and meaning. For a young man drowning in a nihilistic abyss, this is a lifeline. It would then be a short hop over to Bishop Barron’s video content to get some sound theology and understand that the Church is God’s vehicle for bringing nutrition to the starving children of post-modernity.
Mankind is fallen. Any attempts at achieving utopia through mere legal reforms, deifying (or demonizing) politicians or hashtag campaigns will inevitably fall short. No paradise can ever be achieved this side of Heaven; we will stay in this “valley of tears” until our time on earth is up. But that doesn’t mean we stop trying to bring a light to the darkness or preaching the life-giving Gospel.
St. Josemaria Escriva talked about the need for a “new crusade of manliness” to overcome the current state of men, men who would be redirected to others and as protectors of life. We are neither mere animals nor specks of dust in a meaningless universe. Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” How urgent are the words of Venerable Fulton Sheen, now more than ever, that “life is worth living!”
Don’t give up and don’t lose hope. We all have our part to play in bringing light into the darkness.