Considering the recent events that have unfolded here in Colorado, I am going to interrupt my current two-part series on “A Changing Sense of Mission.” I promise I’ll finish that thought within the next couple of weeks, but for now I have some more pressing thoughts to process.
I woke up Friday morning in fairly good spirits, despite being a bit tired and loopy from the busy-ness of the past couple of weeks. I got on Facebook to find a friend from back in Tulsa posting, “Praying for the people in Aurora, CO.” I scrolled down and found several other messages like this. What happened in Aurora last night? I wondered.
I immediately checked a local news website, and I was horrified to discover what had happened. A gunman had entered a movie theater packed with people seeing a midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, released tear gas, and began firing at will. When it was done, over 70 people had been shot. So far, twelve of those have died.
A deluge of emotions overtook me. Horror. Violation. Concern. Fear. Rage. Not just because of what had happened to the victims, but because of what it meant for all of us. One of America’s favorite pastimes had been utterly desecrated, and for every shooting victim in that theater, there were millions of other people relating on a deep emotional level: What if that had been me in that theater? What if my child had been there? What if that had happened in my town?
I felt it on a deep level, because The Director and his friends had seriously been considering attending a midnight showing (though nowhere close to the theater where it happened). I continue to feel it because of the deep connection my family has to the movies, as our son is seriously pursuing a career as a filmmaker. We are at the theater all the time. The movie theater is our home away from home.
And now some asshole has gone and turned it into a war zone filled with dead people.
I’m fairly new to this town, so it has been a very interesting thing to watch how people have responded to this. First of all, it’s worth mentioning the immense outpouring of compassion and aid, as complete strangers have rushed to bring whatever help they could to the victims and families. People bringing food. Blood donation facilities taking in almost more than they can handle. Counselors on the scene within minutes to offer their services to people directly affected.
But there’s another dynamic at work, too. You see, this is a town for whom national tragedies and atrocities are not foreign. After over a decade, the horrors of the Columbine High School shooting are still fresh in people’s minds. A lot of people I know were directly or indirectly affected by that. I know a police officer who was a first responder. There are lots of young adults still living here who were either there when it happened, or grew up near it. And for that matter, I know a number of people who grew up going to the theater where this recent shooting took place.
And here again, another national atrocity has taken place in their town. Once again, someone with no clear reason or motive has taken firearms and started killing and terrorizing people at random, drawing the eyes of the world to their otherwise fairly peaceful community. And it reinforces the nagging question that always comes up at times like this:
It is the question that haunts us. We have to try and make sense of it.
The man who did this absolutely does NOT deserve to have his name spoken by the world. His victims, however, do. And yet, the name and face of the “alleged” perpetrator is plastered over every television in America. We’re delving into his background, digging up his history, like he’s a freaking national celebrity. We’ve memorized this guy’s name, even as we struggle to know or remember the names of the people he hurt and killed. Not because he deserves to be known, but simply because we are trying to answer the nagging question. We are a people obsessed; we have to try and understand why he did what he did.
We look for someone to blame (besides the perpetrator himself, of course). We look for something–anything–to pin this on. We blame the Batman movies for being too violent (the perpetrator reportedly identified himself as “The Joker”). We blame video games and television. People tried to blame The Matrix and Marilyn Manson for what happened at Columbine; I recently read an interesting reply by Manson himself about this.
Was the killer deranged? Was he abused as a child? Was he bullied?
What could cause such a bright-minded individual to do something like this?
And there’s the other “why” questions, too–as in, why did God let this happen? How does this fit into a divine plan, if at all? I mentioned in a recent blog post about a guy I know who grew up in Littleton during the time of Columbine, who is now an atheist, in part because he watched how the church tried to explain what had happened, how they tried to frame it in the context of “God’s plan.”
Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t ask why. It’s natural. Nor am I saying there is never an explanation for atrocities, or that there are not dynamics in our culture that sometimes cause people to go berserk. We’re now three and four generations deep into a cultural family dysfunction, for example–that has to be affecting us somewhat. But it can also get ludicrous to start witch-hunting and finger-pointing, or demanding that God explain Himself as though He is somehow responsible to defend the actions of evil humans. Sometimes the answer to why is not that easy to explain, and sometimes it’s just beyond the realm of our knowledge–and sometimes we get so distracted by our need to know why that we forget to focus on more important things, like what to do about it. Or even worse, we find some lame explanation, some scapegoat, that satisfies our need and makes us feel better about things. We like to blame God or religion or violent movies and games because we want to believe that man is actually inherently good, and that if someone goes nuts, it has to be someone else’s fault.
But there is only one person to blame for what happened at that movie theater. And it isn’t God.
Nor is it Christopher Nolan.
In some ways, we humans have a short-term collective memory. We forget that human beings have been committing atrocities and senseless acts of violence throughout history. Entire towns of innocent civilians have been killed for no other reason than the guy who did it wanted to prove he had the power to do it. Hitler didn’t grow up playing violent video games. How do you begin to explain his killing of 6 million Jews? Should we blame his mother?
Or should we blame Hitler for his own choices?
Here’s my point. Scapegoats serve only one purpose: to defer actual blame. If we can find some other reason why this guy did what he did (other than that he chose evil), we can continue nursing the illusion that we are all inherently good. The truth is, this kind of evil scares us, not just because we fear for our own safety, but because it hits too close to home. If a bright, otherwise apparently well-adjusted individual could do something like this–and if there’s no one else to blame but him–what does that say of the rest of us? The reason we are so determined to know the psyche and background of this guy is so we can compare ourselves to him and tell ourselves that he was different from us, that he was an anomaly, that we could never do anything like that.
Or could we?
Yes, most of us wouldn’t, but any of us could. Atrocities like this show us what our own evil looks like unfiltered. It pokes a very distinct hole into the notion that man is good by nature, to an extent that even Christians (who actually believe in man’s fallen nature) still get uncomfortable. We’re not just afraid that it could have been us sitting in that movie theater. We’re also just a little bit afraid that given a different set of circumstances, it could have been one of us behind the trigger. It’s one of the main reasons why we’re obsessed with knowing why–because if we can come up with a viable explanation, it can make us feel better about ourselves. All this, instead of forgetting about ourselves and focusing on how to bring healing and move forward.
Now, having said that, I remind you of the outpouring of goodness that has happened in the aftermath of this tragedy. That’s all being done by humans, too. So obviously we’re capable of doing good–in fact, we’re capable of greatness. This is as real a part of humanity as the other, and I believe it is evidence that we were created in God’s image. But what do we do with the fact that a human did this to other humans? It would be much easier to deal with this if all humans were good and we were facing down an alien enemy. But that isn’t what happened. Every time a human does this, is shows what evils human beings are capable of. We don’t want to face that, but it’s true. It underscores why we need a Savior in the first place.
The truth is, we may never know the exact reason why this man did what he did. The world doesn’t always make sense to us, if for no other reason than that we are not omniscient beings. We feel the nagging question, but sometimes knowing why something happened is not as important as knowing how to respond to it. As I see it, there are basically two positive ways in which we can respond:
1. We can look for a way to help those people directly affected; and
2. We can choose to continue living our life.
Obviously, the victims don’t need the direct assistance of all mankind, but some of us can help, and many already have. For me, my goal for the first one is to see if there’s something else that is needed that I can provide, and provide that thing–whether it be money, blood, or whatever.
As for the second–my family and I have already made that choice. Friday morning, we went to see The Dark Knight Rises in our favorite theater.