Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Christian Response to Newtown, Part 2

Continuing from 01/17/13…

Though I didn’t quote this part of my friend’s letter, his thesis was that my position did not acknowledge the biological likelihood of genetically determined mental illness behind Adam Lanza’s actions. Therein, when I attributed his shooting of innocents to a spiritual condition, the rational explanation of why this happened was not addressed. My friend asked me to consider if placing the blame for Newtown on the fallen nature rather than the shooter’s mental condition failed to answer the true needs of this situation. 

“…if we ignore the REAL cause of his problems, by claiming that his actions are a logical result of our fallen nature as a species,…”

I guess this is what philosophy is all about. 
philosophy = the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct.[1]  

"What is REAL?" is a corollary of the "What is truth?" Someone asked Pilate.

So spiritual versus rational:

From a rational point of view, I completely agree with my friend. The mentally ill are not supported or helped as needed. A practical response to the Newtown massacre is to look carefully at ways to improve how this larger system we call society responds to these individuals. I agree. I rationally get this.

Spiritual point of view: A spiritual failing of the society is to reject God, and thereby miss out on the REAL resource available to humans which is the depth of mercy and justice such an approach calls for. Our society will always divert resources to other causes than the weak among us until some tragedy demands we do otherwise. As a society, we fail miserably in the practical areas because we miss our potential. We miss our potential because we reject God and thereby remove ourselves from the influence of the Holy Spirit.

In his letter, my friend asks if ignoring the mental illness of Lanza and pointing to the fallen nature as a root cause of the event, are we not sinning against Lanza by casting stones at him and by extrapolation, the mentally ill? Three responses come to my mind.

1. I do not blame Lanza for his fallen nature nor did I state I felt the mentally ill generally should be punished for their behaviors which fail societal norms. I brought up the fallen nature in the article as the root of our collective fascination with sex and violence. Individually, I would have to accept that I am like Lanza and all other humans in a place of dealing with the fallen nature. This is something Lanza could not do. Is his fallen nature a causative factor in his actions? Or was a physiological mental illness the complete source of his irrational behavior?  God knows for certain; I do not. 

2. “Casting stones” in the context in which Jesus used the term is an act of punishment. The adulterous woman was to be stoned which was in line with law by which the Jews lived. One thing which is often mixed up is the difference between a voice which condemns sinful acts calling for punishment and a voice which calls for sin to be addressed. Jesus did turn to the woman--who was guilty--and though He had turned the improper judgment of those who would stone her into the mercy of walking away, did He not identify her sinfulness when He told her to sin no more? It is not casting a stone, that is to say moving to punish or condemn Adam Lanza (or anyone mentally ill) for his actions, to acknowledge that the sinful attitudes of the culture around him provided a context for expressing feelings he had no ability to process either emotionally or intellectually. 

3. Accepting the intersection of the spiritual and rational in this case, I see a need  to speak out concerning the spiritual dynamics which swirl through this and other stories of mayhem that occur in our society, while I recognize the need for and support rational responses of supporting families and the individuals burdened by mental illness. 

My friend’s position is not wrong, and my original premise of cause is not negated.  There is a unity in our responses that seeks inspiration in the revelation of Christ and takes action as a result.

The conundrums we face as Christians in addressing morality in an amoral, technologically advanced, and hyped-on-entertainment society is why I named this blog, Spirit in the Wild Wood.



postmodern redneck said...

These conflicting points of view also highlight one of the trends of our current society: a tendency to minimize individual responsibility. In a psychology class years ago, while dealing with the heredity/environment dichotomy that psychology presents, the professor named the problem that the psychologists ignore--if human beings do have free will, then there is a third factor: the individual's response to his heredity and environment.

The elites in law, politics, and the social sciences for years have assumed that people are largely programmed by genetics and outside factors. Yet our legal system, going back before even the US Constitution to the English Common Law, assumed that individuals are responsible for their own actions; this is the real basis for all justice. (The other problem for the elites is that they cannot live consistently by their own rule; whenever someone disagrees, they want to hold their opponent responsible for it and punish him, rather than blaming his heredity or environment! Fallen human nature at work.)

Where does mental illness come into this picture? I am reminded of a word picture from C.S. Lewis: he saw life as a road with one fork after another. And if one chooses the wrong fork enough times, it becomes difficult or even impossible to get back to the right road. Adam Lanza may have reached a point where he was not able to make healthy moral choices anymore. But this situation did not spring into being instantly; it was very likely the result of smaller choices, some probably made years ago, that made it easier and easier to do wrong, and harder and harder to do right.

ded said...


I see also that mental illness occurs as a consequence of too many wrong choices in life. At the height of my own foray into the land hedonism, I found myself wandering the streets at all hours of the night often until sunrise. I would talk out loud to myself attempting to sort my confusion. I, no doubt, would have appeared to any observer as crazed somewhat. In hindsight, I think I would have earned the professional label of neurotic had anyone had the opportunity to analyze my behavior in professional terms.

We accept mental incapacity as genetic in many situations without the label of mental illness. Down's syndrome is one example. Further, I watch students of limited IQ consistently struggle with meaning and choices. It is not hard to see how these often end up reacting with strong emotions to situations totally beyond their ability to comprehend and process effectively. I wonder about their adult lives.

I also wonder about the role which actual genetic mental illness plays in many situations.

Thanks for keeping up with me here!

postmodern redneck said...

This article seems to have some bearing on our recent discussion here.

ded said...

Thanks for the link. It is definitely connected. I have often thought that there are parallels between the growth and development of a man and the growth and development of a country. The latter being a function of the mind of man is the reason for this similarity.

The USA was a grand political and cultural experiment, based on the thinking of the best minds of the time and clearly pointing from many of the participants writings to the Truth in scripture. The thinkers continued their work, and the whole became ridiculously wealthy.

However, the experiment mandated compromise from the stakeholders, and clearly that was a necessary mandate; and over time, compromise will undo the power of truth. It doesn't help us that wealth breeds apathy and self-reliance in spiritual matters, much like Solomon's example.

Our culture now reflects the compounding with interest of this compromise.

careyrowland said...

This Adam Lanza has committed the original sin our era. Now we will all bear the consequences of his trouble.
We need another Adam to come along and do what is right. The good news is there are thousands of us, thanks to the one Adam whose innocent death delivered us from these consequences of sin and death.

عبده العمراوى said...

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