Guns and Immaturity, Part 3
For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother … and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me… Matthew 10:35-37
We know that social media sites use algorithms to keep us engaged by continually feeding information related to what we linger over or click on from those sites. 24-hour news outlets present news stories through a particularly biased lens intended to reinforce what they know we think and believe, based on our engagement with their broadcasts. Religious institutions provide worship and other experiences based on the known preferences of their members. Politicians support positions consistent with what polls say enough voters support to keep them in office. It is addictive and oddly self-affirming. In these diverse and restrictive ways, we are unwittingly encouraged by narrowly-defined parameters to remain in the cesspool of our own biases and prejudices. We are convinced what we believe is right because it is supported by media, church, and politicians, when in fact their support is contingent on ours. It is a self-perpetuating cycle of closed-mindedness.
We are being seduced into an ever-shrinking perception of reality. We intend to go to news broadcasts and social media to learn what is going on in the world. We attend church to learn about God and spiritual life. We elect politicians to move our society forward. Because of the way these institutions are designed, however, we seldom learn anything new, we do not grow in significant ways, and we conclude that those who do not agree with us are wrong. Our attempts to expand our horizons, no matter how sincere, do the opposite. Those who control how social and news media functions, and those who filter what religious institutions offer, and the political powers on both sides of the political isle do not have what is best for humanity or our world in mind. Rather, their own personal and institutional survival and prosperity guides their actions. It is a devious form of evolutionary selection, but instead of moving the species forward, it keeps us stuck – and captive. Worse yet, it digresses and contracts us into smaller and more closed-minded manifestations of who we were created to become.
Arguably, the most egregious example of shrinking into an artificial reality is the realm of video-gaming, particularly violent gaming. Although I am not a gamer, I can imagine the thrill of being put into a position of ultimate power over circumstances and others with very little consequence for the decisions one makes, other than perhaps being sent back to an earlier stage of the game. An enormous sense of control and power is available in such an environment. A social outcast or a self-proclaimed nobody can become a story-book hero of epic proportion, killing the “bad guys” or the evil ones (however one defines them) and receiving love, acceptance, and accolades from their imaginary community. Of course, the reality inside the gaming world is not the reality outside of it. It is not surprising that a number of mass murders are committed by persons obsessed with violent gaming.
The non-gamers among us can dismiss this example as not applicable to us since we do not participate in gaming. We delude ourselves by that dismissal, however, because most of us create similarly imaginary and unreal worlds through the media we attend to and the limited numbers and types of people and view-points we allow into our daily existence. Personally, I have no direct experience of homelessness, of being in a social or ethnic minority, of food insecurity, of drug cultures, or of the countless manifestations of trauma so prevalent today. I can easily pretend these all-too-common life-experiences are unreal or irrelevant. I can easily create an imaginary world where those types of tragedies exist only on news shows or where the victims are only receiving what they deserve. I can essentially “kill off” these “others” by pretending they do not exist or do not matter. To do so, however, I must shrink my life experience into something far less than the reality, exactly as one does in video-gaming. I do not see those outside my small circle of family and friends – my “game” –as real people with real lives. If I do not acknowledge all others as my equals in the family of God, their lives have no value to me, nor does their suffering concern me.
Which brings me to the paradox of today’s immaturity. We cannot mature socially or spiritually without growing into our interconnectedness and equality with all beings. Yet, our world makes it increasingly easy to live life as a virtually isolated loner. We cannot know, respect, or value the lives of others nor can we mature by continuing in this way, which makes immaturity and guns a lethal mix.
This is the 8th in a series of Life Notes titled Guns, Mental Illness, and Jesus. The opinions expressed here are mine and are not intended to imply the agreement or support of other individuals or organizations. If you wish to respond to my thoughts, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.