Struggling, as it does with both its angels and demons, humanity again showed just how cruel it can be. While I was lounging on a beach in Barnegat Light, N.J., Elliot Rodger was enacting his vengeance on those he thought wronged him. This shooting, and others like it, have gotten me thinking.
Elliot was upset with women for not loving him sexually. He was jealous of men that had numerous romantic encounters. He murdered his roommates because he thought them annoying nerds. Unfortunately, these beliefs that led to such horrific action are not uncommon in today’s culture. Women are seen as objects, men are jealous of other men who get the pretty girl, and they distain and torment those they see as inferior. These perceptions are a natural conclusion of an individualistic culture. We are told that we should want what makes us happy. In fact, we need to have what makes us happy. We need to have what we want. Sex, power, money; these are pleasures that should be ours whenever and however we want them.
Too exaggerated? I don’t think so. Our culture holds up to us those who are the most successful, powerful, and sexually attractive as people to idolize. They are people to aspire to. One need only step into a high school hallway between classes, visit a house party of college students (or now high school and middle school students), or check out the bars filled with young adults in Downtown Boston to realize that the pervading culture very much influences our way of life. The problem is, this is a culture of selfishness; one that tells us not to think about the wellbeing of others, but rather focus on our aspirations, our needs, our wants.
And yet our Catholic faith tells us that the exact opposite should be the norm. We were not put on this earth to take and take. We are here to give and to love. As Francis of Assisi said, it is in giving that we receive, and it is in loving that we are loved. The ironic thing is that while this lesson would have served Elliot well, it is the rest of us that could have prevented this and other tragedies from happening.
There are three questions that come to mind that I hope will change the way we live our lives in society as Catholics in the face of these tragic events. First, what prejudices to I have toward others? With this question we as Catholics should reflect on the people or groups of people that we look down on, stereotype, or try to avoid.
Second, how did Christ view and treat other people? God views all of creation as precious and holy. Humanity, through the incarnation, has become the reality in which God lives! Viewing women as objects and men as competition is not what Jesus had in mind when he told his disciples to “love one another as I have loved you.”
Third, how present am I to the people in my local community? The disciples were sent to the ends of the earth to preach the Gospel. As Catholics we can be an incredibly positive influence on our neighbors. Get to know them. Invite them over to dinner. Show them the love and generosity that stems from our belief that each of us is made in the image of God.
There were countless people in Elliot’s life that could have shown him the self-giving love of Christ. They could have talked to him, listened, and helped him through the professional counseling he was already receiving. Instead, we, like Elliot, sat by in our own selfishness and let our demons get the best of us. And if we do not change the way we live, no amount of security or laws will stop tragedies like this from happening again.