Another mass shooting — our hearts sink — our anger rises. As a nation, we mourn the loss of life, and we grieve the loss of innocence. We are outraged at what we have become, and fear what we are becoming. Another boy not even old enough to rent a car becomes an active shooter. Once again, a sobering commentary on a culture that is unraveling from all ends.
In the wake of another mass shooting, pundits and politicians are scrambling to find policy solutions. In a nation governed by laws, policy discussions are certainly appropriate. But are there other theological, philosophical, and sociological matters also to be considered? Perhaps we ought to start asking the ancient question posed to Cain before he murdered his brother, “Why are you angry?”
Our culture is angry, and we all know it. Nobody seems to know the reason why we are so mad. Some argue that is it from political polarization. But polarization appears to be more of a symptom than a cause. Some believe our anger stems from technology. But technology seems to be a convenient whipping boy — a reductionistic way to avoid more systemic problems. After all, Columbine occurred almost ten years before smart-phones or social-media. So why are we so angry?
Is it possible that our anger stems from a lost sense of transcendence? Transcendence is the term used by theologians and philosophers to explain why we have a nagging feeling that there is something or someone that stretches beyond the material world. As a Christian, I believe the God of the Bible is the originator and source (the something is a someone) behind these sensations.
The Bible presents God as the creator of all things; therefore, all things are infused with intrinsic meaning and value. And since all things originate from a transcendent person, all things also contain inherent meaning. Therefore, as creatures created by God, all life possesses profound intrinsic meaning.
Moreover, the structures that support human life and make society function also contain meaning. Nature, politics, economics, art, and science all have meaning when they are understood within a framework of divine transcendence. Consequently, how one understands themselves, and the world that surrounds them is directly related to one’s understanding of transcendence.
Nevertheless, when people are cut off from a robust sense of divine transcendence, nothing in life will have meaning. Individuals untethered from divine transcendence have no internal sense of significance, and neither does anything else in the world. Nature, community, and relationships appear to be empty except for their capacity to serve one’s pleasures — everything in life is reduced to a product for personal consumption. Consequently, individuals devoid of a high sense of divine transcendence are left with nothing more significant to live for than themselves. And this loss of transcendence leaves society disoriented, numb, and bored —perhaps these may be some of the reasons why we are so angry.
Furthermore, if there is nothing that gives shape and meaning to the world, then there is nothing that compels one’s loyalty. For over two generations, we have been told to create our own meaning, blaze our own trail. We were told to find significance in one’s own creativity, power, and imagination. But this mentality has only served to intensify feelings of isolation, further cutting us off from the larger realities of the world and community. Virtues such as loyalty, courage, and bravery are derived from one’s understanding of divine transcendence. Why would anyone sacrifice themselves if there is nothing beyond one’s own creativity, power, or imagination? Without a high view of divine transcendence, society loses all sense of accountability.
Consequently, individuals lacking a strong sense of divine transcendence may fall into radical individualism because they do not understand how they fit into the larger structures of the world. Therefore, a society of radical individuals believes their highest duty is owed only to themselves.
Moreover, those who lack a high view of transcendence may fall prey to tribal collectivism. Tribal collectivism enmeshes individuals into enclaves of like-mindedness where loyalty is reserved only for those who satisfy one’s own affinity or race. Either way, a society that loses the awareness of divine transcendence will become severed from one another, and this only fuels an overall sense of anger.
In the early twentieth century, the world saw what happened when the nations of eastern Europe ignored the importance of divine transcendence — fascism, nazism, and communism unleashed unthinkable horrors. Yet, even one’s understanding of history is a function of how one understands transcendence. Transcendence enables our minds to make sense of the world around us and the world behind us. As one reflects on the meaning of past events, they can make deliberations about the future. One’s ability to understand the past and envision the future is derived from how one comprehends transcendence.
However, when society is cut off from transcendence, history can only be interpreted as random, arbitrary, and haphazard. And this severs us from making proper judgments on past events. We are left with no collective categories to determine what actions are to be considered heroic and noble or what acts are repugnant and repulsive. Moreover, we have no framework by which we can deliberate in regard to future actions. Not only does history fail to be our teacher, but we are left confused about the future. When a vision for the future is lost, societies become increasingly fearful and angry.
The Holy Scriptures teach that without vision the people perish. People without a view of something or someone higher than themselves will always be vulnerable to fear, violence, and demagoguery. Today, we have an entire generation that is perishing because they lack meaning, accountability, and vision for the future, and perhaps all of this is why it feels as though we are sitting on a powder keg of anger.
As we seek solutions and give opinions on how to curb the violence in our nation, may we also have the courage to begin confronting the theological, philosophical, and sociological issues that are giving rise to the increasing level of anger and violence.