Much has been said and written regarding the two public shootings last week in Oregon and Connecticut (and please don’t forget the shooting in Colorado earlier this year), with pundits of all stripes claiming to know the reason why these things have happened. The reasons are varied and come from all sides: removing school prayer; violent video games; ease of buying guns and rifles; desensitization due to prevalence of abortion in America; and on it goes.
But I believe all of these reasons are just symptoms of a deeper problem. One research paper I just finished writing is about how social media is serving as a replacement for living in relationships with each other and with God (yes, I see the irony as I use social media to share this information).
In short, God created humans to be in relationship with each other and to be in relationship with Him. When we are in a right relationship with God, then we experience shalom (God’s peace). Because of sin, we live in broken relationships between each other–and with God–thereby missing out on the shalom that God has promised us. Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the price for our sin and to heal our relationship with God, but sin still remains in us while we live on this earth. Indeed, we continue to seek other ways to fill the void of the missing shalom in our lives with all sorts of temporal things, from the seemingly innocuous (like food or video games) to the illegal and immoral (like drugs or sexual promiscuity).
I’ve commented previously on a book by Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (read about it here on Amazon.com) which explores, from a clinical psychologist’s point of view, the replacement of humans by machines in relationships and the subsequent entwinement of man and machine. Now, I’ve recently started reading Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob by Lee Siegel (read about it here) and some words in the introduction of the book made a lot of sense.
The Internet as technical innovation is the answer to our contemporary condition of hectic, disconnected, fragmented activity. A century of technological change has filled our busy days with near-simultaneous disparate experiences. Being online now allows us to organize these experiences, almost to unify them. (What is “compartmentalization” but a way to keep several “windows” open at the same time?) Despite our lamentations that e-mail is running and ruining our lives, we can keep up, in some type of manageable fashion, with the accelerated rhythms of clashing life spheres.
In the same way, the Internet’s social and psychological nature is the answer to a century of social and psychological change. During that time, the individual was gradually elevated above society. Satisfying our own desires has become more important than balancing our relationships with other people.
The age of Freud, the Existential Self, the Therapeutic Self, the Confessional Self, the Performing Self, the age of the memoir, the Me Generation, the Culture of Narcissism–life has become more mentalized, more inward, more directed toward the gratification of personal desire. The collapse of the family and the preponderance of people living alone are aspects of this trend; tragically, so is the shocking frequency of violence, even of mass murder, in public places. We live more in our own heads than any society has at any time, and for some people now the only reality that exists is the one inside their heads.
… The Internet magnifies these pathological patterns of behavior, but it didn’t create them.
It seems that we are now reaping what we have sown by creating a society where the “me” is more important than the “us.” Although we were created to live communally in relationship with God and with one another, we prize our “alone-ness.” This is even evident in the Church as Christians jump on the libertarian bandwagon, all the while ignoring the dichotomy of claiming that the individual has the right to decide what’s right for himself but forgetting that it is God who is sovereign over all and thus decides for us what is right and wrong (regardless of whether we heed His commands or not).
We’ll probably never know why James Holmes entered a movie theater and killed 12 people or why Adam Lanza entered an elementary school and killed 26 (including children), but I think it would be good for us to start understanding that the idea of being “alone together” has unintended consequences that are not acceptable. It’s time to come back and live together in relationships the way God intended.
Updated December 18, 2012 21:42 hrs.