Vol. 21 No. 3 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. -
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Five Years After Columbine
By George A. Ricker
In all the discussion and breast-beating about the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., on April 20, 1999, some connections that should have been made were either overlooked or avoided by the media. Major broadcast networks and print media were too busy hyping the story and trotting out the usual assortment of sound bites, talking heads and heartrending personal anecdotes to engage in anything approaching thoughtful analysis of either the event or its causes.
It's true we live in a culture dominated by violent imagery. The more interesting issue is how we got that way. Maybe if we understand that, we'll have a better handle on what happened in Colorado.
Not long after the shootings, NBC aired its much-ballyhooed rendition of the story of Noah and the ark. In this biblical myth, the deity worshipped-- according to most polls--by a majority of the people in this nation commits the worst act of mass murder in the history of humankind by slaughtering every man, woman and child on the planet because of their sin and wickedness, except for Noah and his immediate family. Alongside Yahweh's temper tantrum, the atrocities committed by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, et. al., pale by comparison. None of them, after all, came within eight people of exterminating the entire human race. They weren't even close.
It always amazes me that, while deploring the violence depicted on television and in the movies, so many people are totally oblivious to the carnage in the collection of books they regard as sacred writ. If we are going to go into the business of banning violent media (and I don't suggest we should) --whether it be books, records, video games or whatever--the only sane place to begin is with the bible. Compared to the conduct of Yahweh, his prophets and followers, the depravities practiced by mere mortals, absent "divine" inspiration, are almost minor offenses. And nowhere in the developed world is that violent and depraved mythology given greater credence than here in the United States.
In his Age of Reason, Thomas Paine had this to say about the bible: "Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon than the Word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind."
Perhaps one of the reasons we're such violent people isn't that we need more religion, as religionists are fond of suggesting, but that we have too much of it. After all, when the myths we claim to hold most sacred come to us dripping with blood, why should we be surprised by a little carnage in more mundane fare?
Meanwhile, we have turned war into a video game played in segments on the nightly news. In the 12 months preceding the shootings at Columbine High School, our nation launched missile and bomb attacks on four nations--Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Yugoslavia--and, while we were at it, accidentally hit a site in Pakistan.
Once the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001, had occurred, the administration responded by declaring a "war" on terrorism, followed in short order by the launching of a war on Afghanistan. In the spring of 2003 we invaded Iraq.
At a time when the U.S. government has substituted "smart" bombs for thoughtful diplomacy, why should we be surprised that some of our children adopt the same approach when dealing with the tensions and difficulties of adolescence?
How is it we were so astonished by the violence in Colorado?
If the adult leaders of this nation cannot resolve situations like those in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq without resorting to violence, and the deity said to be worshipped by many of our fellow citizens cannot deal with the beings it supposedly created except by resorting to violence and the threat of violence, why should we expect teenagers to deal with their problems any differently?
What happened in Colorado didn't happen because of a breakdown in our society. It happened because of values that are enshrined at its very core. Until we change them, we have no hope of dealing honestly with the tragedy at Columbine High School or preventing similar events from happening again.
George A. Ricker, an award-winning journalist and weekly newspaper editor, is now retired. A 1963 graduate of the University of Miami (Coral Gables, Fla.) with a degree in secondary education, he has worked at a variety of occupations, including one year spent as associate pastor of a Methodist church while he was attending a theological seminary. Ricker, 62, has a daughter, a son, two stepdaughters and two grandsons. He lives in Palm Bay, Fla., with his wife, Judy. The Rickers are Foundation members.
April 2004 Excerpts