Saturday, March 31, 2007

Mock Violence and Violence

My youngest son turned 9 yesterday. We had a party for him with 10 or so of his friends from school and church – 2 hours in a room full of 8-10 year olds! Aaarrrrgggghhhhh. It was torture -- sort of. Some of those kids are NOT well-behaved! Some of them clearly lack respect for adults and a sense of propriety, and you have to wonder about their up-bringing. But, we lived through it, and the kids all had fun.

One of the gifts my son received was a “dart gun” that shoots foam darts. It has the look of an Uzzi (or so it seems to my non-trained eyes), and can hold eight darts at a time. You can shoot them off rapid-fire – about one per second if you’re fast. It has a rotating loading mechanism sort of like a Gatling Gun. Oh, and the darts glow in the dark! My son is thrilled with this toy. I have to admit it -- it's fun. We'll have fun shooting at characters on the TV screen (the darts will stick to the glass).

I played with guns growing up – played with toy guns, had a BB gun and a pellet gun (CO2 powered) – and later hunted. I bought my own .20 gauge shotgun and received an heirloom .22 caliber rifle from my grandpa. It had the name of one of my uncles carved into the stock, and I carved my own name into it as well. That .22 is the only one I still have – the shotgun was stolen years ago (I still fear a knock on the door late at night by police officers there to arrest me for a shooting with a gun registered to me! I reported the theft, but still. . . .).

I loved hunting, but mostly for the outdoors – tramping in the woods. I stopped hunting when I got married – my wife couldn’t stand the thought that I might shoot Bambi. (But, ask her about her attempts to shoot Mickey!)

So, I’m not anti-weapon. Neither is my wife, who grew up in Texas playing “Cowboys and Indians,” etc., complete with mock gun battles. Neither of us has turned out to be a mass murderer or a child abuser. But we’re both a little concerned with our youngest son’s fascination with weapons.

I wonder what role mock violence plays in the violence of our society – and in the violence of individual lives. I’m sure there are no clear answers to that question. But clearly, lives of people surrounded by violence tend toward violence.

Here’s an example. Tony Lagouranis’ duties in Iraq included the interrogation of prisoners at various locations, including the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. The article found here describes his experiences and his fears about how what he did and witnessed being done to prisoners will affect him.

Human beings are creatures of habit. Even those of us who abhor “ruts” for our lives have habits of daily activity. We wake up each morning and know where to find our toothbrushes, combs, underwear, shampoo, and countless other things – most of which we could and perhaps to) find with our eyes shut. We go through these daily functions without thinking – to the point that we may not notice we’ve done them: have you ever forgotten while in the shower whether you’ve washed your hair? You think about it, and you just really can’t remember whether or not you’ve done it. Then you do it again, and perhaps the action itself reminds you that you’d just done it. We just do these things by sheer habit, without thinking.

What about how we respond to annoyances around us each day? Do we build up habits of action that we perform without even thinking? Habits of anger, retribution and revenge? What if my “small” habits shape how I would respond to a real crisis situation?

The good news is that I am not enslaved to my habits. Habits of action can be changed and even conquered, but not without doing some deliberate thinking about them and conscious planning of how we will respond to specific situations. The cycle of child abuse can be brought to a halt – we are not enslaved by the pattern of behavior we learned from our parents (though certainly it can be an incredibly strong influence). Mr. Lagouranis may have difficulty overcoming in his personal interactions the abuse he committed and witnessed in Iraq, but it is still possible.

What about my 9-year old’s fascination with weapons? We’ve explained to him that as Christians we believe killing is wrong, and so he is not to point his dart gun at any person for any reason. And he can’t shoot the dog, either. He is, however, allowed to shoot at Oprah when she’s on TV. Oh, and Precious Moments figurines are always "in season."


Scott Starr said...

This is a really good and thoughtful- I would even say piercing - post. I have been wrestling with this same question you are working with here for a good while now. Recently I was asked to go and play some paintball with some old friends of mine. This is something I have wanted to do for a long time. Gosh, it looks like a lot of fun. The problem with it is the same problem I discovered in myself while studying martial arts. I.e., that participating in it basically plays right into our cultural fascination with one upsmanship, domination and physical prowess rather than spiritual development. As an "American Indian" as we accommodatingly call ourselves for the benefit of the culture of the "cowboys"- and as a trained martial artist- I am aware of the "spiritual" traditions and codes of being a warrior. There is even a Christian manifestation of this spiritual, "warrior's code" found in the tradition of
"just warfare".
However, the way of Jesus as revealed in the Gospels is a somewhat radical departure from that warrior's of thinking. I find quite a lot of the "Just Warfare Tradition" to be rationalization rather than adherence to Jesus' actual teachings. It is undeniable that Jesus spoke of an entirely different approach to life than what was and is the norm of the World. He also encouraged us to put as much distance between ourselves and the values of the world as possible. When I truly began to take seriously the words of Jesus- the values of the worldly culture at large began to reek and cut against the grain of my heart. I could no longer in clear conscience view movies that glorify violence, play video games (which I love) that glorify skill in offing enemies, train my body in ways to hurt people or encourage such activities among the children in my family.
It cannot be denied that we live in a culture the lives and breathes and thrives on a secular, humanistic system of so- called military humanitarianism. I have begun to realize that almost the entire self identity of America is one of militarism. I realize- although most people don't seem to- that there is a distinction between vengeance and justice, between defense and aggression, between military and militarism. America's self image is quite strongly associated with its military presence and /or love affair with the myth of redemptive violence. With something like 750 military bases around the world- often the only aspect in which other countries or cultures know ours is from our military footprint. America doesn't seem interface with people whom it doesn't deem as completely compliant or nonthreatening anymore on a cultural, diplomatic or relationship level. It simply parks an aircraft carrier off shore or drops in a base or "peacekeeping force" to flex its muscles and hold sway by intimidation and/or force. This is militarism. This is also what most of the world resents about us. This is also completely antithetical to the Gospels of Jesus.

So, I have been doing the same thing with my family and friends that you have concerning "playing with guns". I always make the point to state where I stand on it in relationship to Christ. Deny myself participation- but not fellowship. For the most part people are respectful of that and at least pause to think about the big picture implications. I look at it as planting seeds rather than beating people over the head with my own convictions- because if I did beat them over the head- then I would become like the world I reject.

I think maybe this is an underlying principle that can be mined from verses like this one:

Galatians 2:21 (New International Version)

21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"

Galatians 2:21 (The Message)
The Message (MSG)
19-21 What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn't work. So I quit being a "law man" so that I could be God's man. Christ's life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not "mine," but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.

Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God's grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.

What this means to me is to not judge and condemn- but to simply state what God says lovingly and exemplify it as best as possible.
I hope to go along with my old friends on a paintball expedition and reconnect with them and laugh and have a good time. However, I will not pick up the paintball gun.

I will be waiting after the battle with a cold drink for my friends and a smile.

chip said...

Thanks, Scott. Your comment is better than the post! One of my reasons for telling people I'm a pacifist is so they'll hold me to it. I'm more or less naturally competitive -- participated in lots of different sports -- and I hate to lose an argument (not that that would ever happen!-). I have trouble throwing chess games to my kids! The one time I played laser-tag, I won -- "killed" more teenagers than anyone else there. All of the "playing army" as a kid paid off. Thank GOD that's the only "payoff" I've ever had from it. I don't know how to squelch the competitive nature, even in my driving habits. But I have to keep working on it.