With 20 school shootings so far in 2018, and a horrific scale of innocent deaths, it can feel like it can’t get much worse, but it can. There is a steady pattern in recent shootings that isn’t getting enough attention, and it could be a portent of a coming event that will change America forever. While it is tragically easy to frame these events as one-off lost souls, the truth is that we are heading toward a coordinated, multi-shooter event, and all of us are to blame.
While there is no hard connection between the shootings so far, there are emerging commonalities. The most obvious are tribalism and dehumanization. The shooters are nurtured and grown in our escalating digital pools of demagoguery. They incubate in online forums of racism, nationalism, and masonginy.
Our country is sliding head first into the kind of polarizing culture that breeds cancerous movements like ISIS in the Middle East. When people who disagree with you are “evil” then the truth is that you are ultimately condoning violence against them. After all, being “evil” is the one moral condition society has agreed is justified in killing. We even cross that line in Disney movies and family films.
As long as young men have open places to indulge thinking like “feminism is why you are single,” and “minorities are why your family is poor,” then these incidents will keep rising. This is not because those beliefs directly cause anger, it is because those beliefs justify acting on them.
The Warning Trend: Hardening Hearts
Historically, shooters usually plan their attacks with great fantasies and delusions of grandeur. But when they actually start carrying out their massacre, they lose steam. The never kill as many as they planned, and they end up killing themselves in the end. The reality is never like the fantasy, and the horror of death is always a shock, no matter how “desensitized” you may be.
However, this is starting to change. The last few school shootings, and the shooting in Charleston, SC, ended with the shooter alive and still fully aware of their actions. They are not being deterred by the reality of death or the true nature of their actions. They have dehumanized their peers so much, they might as well be killing cattle. This is the first sign of a coming escalation.
The Nightmare Scenario
With our growing online communities of hate and public complicity of politicians and pundits in demonizing “them,” these one-off shooters won’t be “alone” for long. There is an escalation coming where these angry, lonely, and bitter young men are going to coordinate in a fully prepped and planned assault. At that point, we won’t be able to write this off to “mental illness” anymore. What’s even more scary is that our reaction is going to be if we think we can stop it without addressing the true source.
You might ask, “Wasn’t Columbine multiple shooters?” First, it was only two. Second, they still were affected by the reality shock of their actions. They had planned to get away, but ended up killing themselves. Even then, this was the most shocking shooting to our national conscious. Even Sandy Hook, when we lost so many very young lives, didn’t invoke the same response. We keep justifying one-off shooters as outliers. We won’t be able to do that any more when they are a group.
A Truly Spiritual Crisis
This isn’t a political issue, it’s a spiritual one. THIS is the true culture war America is losing: the war for its own soul. Our complicity in hateful talk, tribal behavior, “us vs. them,” and dehumanization of our neighbors is what is bringing us to the point where we have to fear our children for the sake of our children.
If Christians in this country really want a nation under God, they will take responsibility for this crisis. The Church needs to be a brave voice for diversity, inclusion, and equality. Compassion needs more time on the pulpit than dogma, and charity needs to guide our actions more than fear. Let’s look for the best in others, remind each other of our humanity, declare all people are of value and worthy of respect, and truly honor the sanctity of life.