Newtown is actually a very old place, made older now by the persistent sounds of weeping. A tercentennial milestone just celebrated, the small community seems closer to 2,000 years old as the sights and sounds of Nativity are mingled with the horror of brutish, violent death inflicted on children.

“A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (Matt. 2:18, NKJV).

On the eleventh day before Christmas, and just two weeks before the December 28 Christian liturgical commemoration of the first-century Massacre of the Innocents in Bethlehem, a disturbed 20-year-old christened with the name of the first human being took his mother’s sporting guns, killed her, then took the lives of 26 others, 20 of them 6- and 7-year-olds.

We are appalled. We cannot understand.

Weeks later, our culture is still reeling, rattled to its core by the unspeakable horror visited upon the youngest members of our community. The starkness of the imagery is unforgettable: solemn hearses passing beneath festive Christmas decorations; churches filled at Christmas to hear not of birth, but death—meaningless, senseless destruction. The red of every poinsettia plant and Santa suit was suddenly too vivid, too scarlet. The Christmas colors this year were mauve and olive—muted somehow, like the singing, like the parties.

We have found a way, somehow, to normalize the shooting just two years ago in Tucson that critically wounded a U.S. congresswoman and killed six others. We let ourselves be lulled into forgetfulness by the inspiring images of Gabrielle Giffords returning even temporarily to her seat on the Hill. Six months ago, the scene of carnage was an Aurora, Colorado, theater at midnight: 12 died, and 58 were wounded when the mentally unstable assailant was first assumed to be just an actor harmlessly imitating the bloody violence a packed movie house was eagerly drinking in on-screen. The calls for limiting the visual violence of our society were few and momentary. Those making them were, after all, only “moralists” and fundamentalists, for it is a central thesis of our rudderless culture that there is no connection between violence consumed and violence enacted.

But Herod’s soldiers were trained to kill—for certainly it takes training to rip a child from his mother’s arms and dash him against a wall—just as Adam Lanza was trained to kill. But Lanza’s lessons were, if anything, more sadistically successful. Ten thousand enemies killed on-screen undoubtedly made lifting his mother’s rifle against 20 small heads less traumatizing, less horrible.

Now, in a final homage to the unending argument about whether “life imitates art,” we discover that the most prominent citizen of Sandy Hook, the hamlet within Newtown where the December 14 massacre took place, is none other than Suzanne Collins, author of the multimillion-selling Hunger Games trilogy and screenplay writer of one of 2012’s most successful—and vicious—movie thrillers. Collins, you will remember, has filled the minds of tens of millions of adolescents and young adults with a futuristic story in which teens hunt each other to death for the sport and amusement of their totalitarian rulers and the bewitched masses. In the fictional nation of Panem (Latin for “bread”) they hunt each other with a ruthlessness once seen in Bethlehem, “the house of bread.”

Count me among the moralists on this one: as Ellen White reminded this people some dozens of times, “By beholding we become changed”3 (see 2 Cor. 3:18). Every branch of science definitively announces the unimpeachable relationship between the sights and sounds our senses take in and our own proclivities to re-enact. In short: training works—as the military, business, commonsense, and piano lessons all prove. Why should we then give entertainment a “pass”—a “bye”—on its superiority as a training mechanism, especially when that pass is too frequently to the hallways of our schools and the “bye” is the last half of a tearful farewell we sob for the needlessly fallen? 

1 The phrase belongs to Irish poet William Butler Yeats, whose 1919 poem, “The Second Coming,” warned that “the centre cannot hold.”
2 Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
3 Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home, (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1952), p. 330.

Bill Knott is editor of Adventist Review. This article was published January 10, 2013.

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