Ferguson. Baton Rouge. St. Paul. Dallas... Americans across the nation are filled with rage, fear, indignation. The group Black Lives Matter blames white police officers for all the problems. White former members of Congress blame liberals. "Experts" saturate the airwaves ascribing blame to groups, races, and individuals across the spectrum. People from one end of the nation to the other are looking for someone to pin the blame on. They're looking in the wrong place. "They" aren't to blame. "We" are.
All of us.
Most of these observations and accusations are addressing the manifestations of the problem, not its source. The violence that has seized news headlines and been live-streamed via social media of late has risen to levels that shock most Americans. We desperately want to identify the source of the problem, fix it quickly, and get back to something approximating normalcy.
Appealing to various segments of the public, celebrities on one side like Spike Lee claim blacks are intentionally being hunted in a "21st century of high-tech lynching," while others agree with Rush Limbaugh when he accuses Black Lives Matter of being "a terrorist group committing hate crimes." Such statements will fan the flames of division in the country, not heal it, because most hold themselves to be innocent of wrongdoing while blaming others, demanding they change their ways. Such attitudes are grounded in unhealthy pride.
The truth of the matter is that we are all part of the problem, both individually as a citizen and corporately as a nation. We have blinded ourselves with an arrogance that renders us unwilling or unable to see our own faults. The recent violent acts that have gripped the nation are merely the tip of the iceberg of what has become a pervasive and deeply ingrained culture of violence that afflicts all of us to one degree or another in America today.
We deny this obvious fact to our continued harm, as it is the source of the deadly symptoms recently observed in Minnesota, Louisiana, and Texas. This culture is rooted in the progressively declining value we place on life and an increasing tolerance for the use of violence to solve problems. This tendency started becoming really pronounced about 70 years ago.
During World War II there were few American families left untouched by death, as more than 400,000 Americans lost their lives fighting, along with a mind-numbing 60 million worldwide. Right on the heels of World War II came the Korean War and then the Vietnam war when almost 150,000 more US service members were killed. America was becoming accustomed to the violence and increasingly comfortable with killing.
Before the Vietnam War even ended, the landmark Supreme Court decision on abortion certified that a developing human being was not a person and therefore deemed unworthy of protection until it had grown enough to be able to survive outside the womb on its own. Since that day an estimated 54 million developing human beings that would have been American citizens have been snuffed out.
At the same time violent crime in the United States began to see a dramatic rise. Murders, rapes and assaults began a surge in the middle 1960s that peaked in 1993 at levels that could only be considered epidemic. In 1960 there were 288,460 violent crimes in America (a murder rate of 5.1 per 100,000 people). By 1993 that number had exploded to 1,926,020 (rate of 9.5). The US prison population is by far the largest in the world at 2.2 million.
Following 9/11, American comfort with violence and killing rose to a new peak. We don't blink knowing we sent the military into Iraq on false pretenses and as a result over 165,000 Iraqis were killed and millions made homeless. We have institutionalized targeted killings via drone warfare and seem unconcerned that according to recent studies and White House reports, hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in our strikes. The reports earned barely a yawn from our citizens.
Meanwhile, our entertainment industry feeds on violence and the graphic depiction of killing. Movies apply technology and other techniques in making the act of killing almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Video games, of course, feast on violence. Even music increasingly glorifies violent, sexual gratification at others' expense, and sometimes even celebrates killing. Whether its foreign policy, domestic policies, or the way we entertain ourselves, violence, bloodshed, and killing have become deeply engrained in our culture. It can't be any surprise that violence and killing are now inflicting themselves on our own citizens.
Our reliance on the use of violence to solve problems is manifesting itself in so-called "self-radicalized" murderers like those in San Bernardino and Orlando. Children gunned down at Columbine and Sandy Hook. Others who get angry and murder people in a movie theater. A small number of reckless policemen who are quick on the trigger. Or angry men like the Dallas shooter. We fool only ourselves when we pretend our comfort level with violence and killing is not a major factor in these increasingly shocking acts. What we sew, we will reap.
How did this happen? What happened to us morally beginning in World War II? Whether anyone wants to accept it or not, these actions coincide with an increasing rejection of the biblical worldview that had undergirded the nation for more than 300 years. No, there was never a golden age where the country was led by and filled with saints. We've always had plenty of godless and immoral people and leaders, and have periodically done detestable things in our history (treatment of native Americans, slavery, imperial conquests, etc). But a great many of those who helped initially populate this land came here to practice the Christian religion as they understood it, free of government repression, and the nation benefited as a result.
Clearly imperfectly applied, their biblical worldview nevertheless formed the basis for our country's governing institutions, public morality, and sense of justice. It helped to check some of our worst behaviors. It is uncertain whether either Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln were genuine Christians, yet both cited religious teachings extensively, with Jefferson famously compiling his own bible of Jesus' teachings and Lincoln frequently quoting scripture in his speeches. Most of those who were abolitionists against slavery were Christians.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister as he fought the battle for racial equality for black Americans. Women's suffrage pioneers Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth C. Stanton both had problems with religion, but Stanton nevertheless "felt a great affinity for the teachings of Jesus Christ" and Anthony argued it "would take both the religious and the irreligious to change society."
For the past several decades there have been increasing lawsuits and other efforts to remove any mention of Christianity from the public square. There are consequences to every action. If we succeed in our attempt to neutralize Christianity, some other philosophy or worldview will take its place. There will be no vacuum. Based on how America is increasingly angry, violent, and unethical, one has to ask whether our country is better off without a biblical worldview. In contrast to what we have now, here is the foundation we rejected.
God shows no partiality or preference for anyone, whether male or female, white or black, or one nationality over another. All are equal before God (even St. Peter was once rebuked by Paul for bigotry against non-Jews). Half of the 10 Commandments admonish people to treat others with respect and honor (obey parents, don't murder, don't cheat on a spouse, don't steal, like, or covet what isn't yours). Christians are taught to love others, considering them more important than themselves; to look out for the interests of others and not merely our own.
Do not return evil for evil, but overcome evil with good. Take care of the widow, the orphan, and the poor. And "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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me -- put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you."
What man or woman in this country -- whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or atheist -- would not like to live in a nation where that was the standard its citizens aspired to? No system is perfect and even the best governing philosophy will never be universally applied. But if there is no worldview accepted as a standard, then each person will act in accordance with whatever is good in their own eyes, which often includes using force to get what they want. That is the direction our country has been trending for decades now. We're living with the consequences of the drift from our previous foundation, and the results are frightening.
This descent has to be checked or it will continue its downward slide, making our nation less and less safe, less civil, and life will have progressively less value. Any life. Yours, mine, white, black, Hispanic, Arab, Asian, whatever. We will eventually land in a state governed by Darwin's survival of the fittest: whoever has the most power dominates, irrespective of rule of law. That's not the kind of America many of us want. But we have to accept that it is us who are responsible and not them. We live or die together.
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