Teen Killers and Us

08-07-2022NewsFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

Most young people in their late teens and early twenties are looking forward to and planning their future. Whether its finishing up college, moving into a career, saving up for a new car or planning to be married, it’s an exciting time in life. But not for all. Why do some young people lose the hope and the excitement of a future? Why is the suicide rate among young people skyrocketing, and why do some young men decide to blow up their future and the future of dozens and dozens of others? It’s easy to point the finger of blame at this or that but as we have found out, it’s much harder to find effective solutions that could stop the metamorphosis of a bright young teenager into a cold-blooded killer.

One of the key take-aways from the Bible is that God knows what is best for His creation. The things God told ancient Israel to observe, and follow were critical for humans to flourish and thrive upon the face of the earth. Most of what’s best for us to thrive are contained in the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are one of the world’s first juridical codes and any society that follows them is guaranteed to flourish and grow. More to the point, individuals that are immerse in a culture that affirms the Commandments and the principles they enshrine will be very unlikely to become a mass murderer.

Let’s just look at two of the Commandments, these two are generally more and more ignored. The first is the First Commandment: I am the Lord. The Commandment establishes the principle of authority. Namely that there is an authority above us to which we are accountable. As this principle is lived out in human societies, it means that children recognize the authority of their parents over them, students recognize the authority of their teachers and other adults in positions of authority, citizens recognize the authority of the Law and those who legitimately enforce the Law. Once we dislodge ourselves from the authority of God, we are generally left with either a state of anarchy or totalitarianism.

One of the biggest problems our schools face is the breakdown of the authority of teachers. Increasingly teachers will tell you that parents will subvert their authority when it comes to student discipline. “Not my kid”, parents will defend their student even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Once that happens a student will no longer respect the authority of the teacher. Another way this plays out is through a victim culture. Nothing is my fault and I refuse to own my part in the problem or behavior. Either way, anarchy starts to reign in the classroom.

Once the principle of authority is subverted in a young person’s mind then they become a law unto themselves. So why should I follow the other commandments? Who says I can’t kill, or commit adultery or steal or defame others with the most hateful and vile statements? This is recipe for nihilism. Most of these young killers are nihilists, they believe in nothing. Their so called “manifestos” are nothing more than jumbled gooblygook. There was no higher objective in their actions just the plain banality of evil.

The other Commandment that is widely ignored in our times is: Keep holy the Sabbath. While this Commandment reminds us that we are oriented towards God and the transcendent it also establishes the principle of community. In addition to needing God, we need other people. Moreover, we need to be a part of a community of people with a shared vision and shared values. By being a consistent part of such a community we are week after week reminded of who we are, what we strive to be and can measure ourselves when we fall short.

When you cut yourself from community, you will find yourself isolated and lonely and prone to all sort of paranoid thinking. This Commandment also reminds us we are all in need of love and affirmation. These young killers still searched for community in their isolation, and they found cyber-communities that affirmed their worst thinking and most vile thoughts. In the dark world of the deep internet, they were cheered on in their desire to kill the other. Just think how unlikely it would be for anyone who worships with others on a regular basis to commit mass murder.

Maybe one of the causes of our frustration is that we keep looking for a political solution to what is in essence a spiritual and moral problem. One thing all these killers have in common is that at some point they became disconnected from love and the sources of love, and they become connected to a steady flow of hate and antipathy. So, remind yourself not to disconnect from God or community, it is a sure bulwark against the darkness that threatens.

Love, Fr. John B