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And then there is the constant and abiding presence of security guards and police at places we visit every day—banks, malls, schools, grocery stores, and so forth. And the regular announcements at the airport to watch for abandoned packages and suspicious behavior. They are a steady reminder that we live in a broken, violent world.

We put a veneer of civility over all this, so that it is attended to with decorum and, well, fun! How many sentimental trinkets are available for our key rings, the very symbol of violence we are trying to keep at bay? But these shootings remind us that we very much live in a world as "red in tooth and claw" as ever.

***

Our fear is difficult to put into words. But we try, and when we do, the theological gets mixed with the political, and compassion with hate. Note this one comment to a news story about a prayer vigil that was going to take place as a result of the shootings:

"It's time people put the blame and responsibility for such Actions where it belongs, instead of blaming "Original Sin" or that "The devil made them do it". This Monster CHOSE to commit these senseless acts of Violence, he CHOSE to do Harm. He isn't Crazy or Demon Possessed. He simply is an awful person who made horrible choices with disastrous Consequences. Had The GOP/TEA not demanded that Battlefield weapons be easier to obtain than renting DVDs, these kinds of tragedies would be occurring MUCH less. Home Protection, but NO ONE needs Automatic Weapons or Assault rifles. Life is't a Chuck Norris Movie; it's HIGH time We demand accountability from The "Right" for allowing their side to continually spew hate, incite Violence, demanding Genocidal weapons be easily accessible to anyone for The Misery and loss of Life it causes. Enough is ENOUGH!"

So the murderer becomes a "monster," and those who supposedly "spew hate, incite violence" are condemned with venom. This, unfortunately, is where shock and outrage take us.

We lack the imagination to conceive that people who do these sorts of things are human beings, so we talk about them as "monsters" or mentally ill or whatever—we label them to suggest they are not like us, for we could never do such a thing. But of course we could; the routinization of murder under Stalin and Hitler, among other regimes, suggests that any of us can be enlisted to wipe out fellow human beings, doing so with routine efficiency. Death camps are run by everyday people like us just doing their jobs.

National pop-psychology is one of our favorite pastimes, as we try to find a reason for the shooter's actions. He's already being labeled a "loner," for example, as if the gregarious and outgoing are incapable of such violence. We'll come up with some theory that comforts us in the dark of night, that if only we as a nation did X, Y, or Z, we could prevent people from going over the deep end like this. Some of those things may indeed help in some ways. But we are kidding ourselves if we think we have within our national grasp an educational or psychological or political solution to evil.

SoulWork
In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
Mark Galli
Mark Galli is Editor of Christianity Today in Carol Stream, Illinois.
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