I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the mass shootings gripping our society. Young men, disaffected and isolated, suffering from mental illness, take up arms and attack unsuspecting victims in acts of extreme violence. These events are things that we’re used to seeing in Europe, Asia, or the Middle East. We’re not accustomed to hearing about them happening in our schools, offices, and shopping centers.
A deeper look at the profile of these killers provides a stunning indictment against the culture that we’ve built. We live in this golden era of consumerism, where few of us want for our basic necessities. We have a bustling economy at full employment and our lives are inundated with abundance. Yet, in this era that previous generations could have never imagined, a group of young men find themselves hopeless. In their hopelessness, they’re radicalized, and then they act out.
We’ve learned that they’re not only loners, but some had a history of violence. They’re young and many of them didn’t have their father in their lives. They have weak ties to the community, and don’t participate in society. Many of them spent inordinate amounts of time in the darkest places of the Internet.
We’ve had acts of domestic terrorism before, but never at this scale. We watched ISIS target Europe, but with a certain aloofness. We’ve pontificated and conjectured about why those young Arab men were radicalized. We’ve opined about how their communities could better interdict them and de-radicalize them. All of this time, while we’ve been academic about the problem, the very same evil has taken root here at home.
This violence must stop. There are many policy ideas being proposed. Red-flag laws that allow courts to remove guns from the people deemed to be a risk are starting to be enacted. Other policymakers suggest a different mix of gun regulation or perhaps more funding for mental health services.
This is a complex problem with no simple solution. We need to be doing all of these things, and more. If we throw some money at mental health treatment, pass a few token laws, and call it a day, we’ll have missed a huge opportunity. We must address the root cause that’s driving these men to their breaking point.
These are young people without hope.
In our rush to self-actualize, we’ve made God irrelevant. We’ve collectively dismissed the importance of our spirituality. We’ve demeaned people of faith as radical or stupid. We’ve insisted that we are enough unto ourselves, with no need for any religion. We’re smarter than all of that fantastical theology.
The data speaks for itself. In the midst of abundance, we’re a nation that’s spiritually bankrupt. Suicide rates are accelerating, families are in tatters, drug abuse and overdose rates are a public health crisis, and domestic terrorism is taking hold. We’ve found a problem that cannot be solved by ourselves.
But what is hope?
Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. -Catechism of the Catholic Church 1817
Hope is the understanding that we have a real and active connection to our Creator. Hope is the acknowledgment that our spirit is an integral part of our humanity. Neglecting our spiritual wellness has the same negative effects as neglecting our physical or emotional health. Hope is the virtue that tells us that what God has promised, He will deliver.
Faith, hope, and charity are the virtues through which we should interact the world. We’re here to know God and Truth. God has revealed to us the reality of Heaven, and that He desires us to live there with Him forever. And while we’re here on Earth, we need to serve and love one another.
This is the cure to the despair that underpins our spiritual bankruptcy. A reminder of our true reality and our true purpose for being. Nothing soothes the soul more than service. Perhaps that’s where we should start.