As I watched the television coverage of James Holmes, the Denver mass murderer, and more recently the coverage of the Charleston mass murder and the Cincinnati suicide-by-cop, to say nothing about Ferguson and others, I kept asking myself one big question: Has there been anything in the background of these murderers that has tried to teach them that it is wrong, seriously wrong, mortal-sin wrong to murder anyone, to say nothing of mass murder?
In a recent story about Holmes, we learned that he told his psychiatrist that he wondered about the meaning of life. That’s obviously an important question, but what a difference between Holmes and the Maritain couple. As I understand it, Jacques Maritain and his wife Raissa, both philosophers, had thought deeply about this and from their secular perspective had concluded that there was no real meaning to life. They had further concluded that it seemed logical, therefore, to commit suicide to end their meaningless existence. Fortunately for them and for us, they met a Catholic philosopher, I think it was Leon Bloy, who explained that there is very real meaning to life, and he helped lead them into the Church where they did great work.
As I wrote in my previous commentary, on the afternoon of the day of suicide-by-cop in Cincinnati, I asked a young black woman about her Cincinnati public-school education. She told me that not only had she never heard anything about the Commandments in her high school but also that they were forbidden to say the American pledge of allegiance because it contains “under God.”
Contrast that completely secular approach with the words of President George Washington in his Farewell Address in 1796: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” How did we get from there to the practical atheism of our day?
I suggest that it started with the anti-Catholicism of the mid-19th century as Catholics became more numerous via immigration and the Church began to educate its children in its own schools since the public schools were de facto Protestant religious schools. Anti-Catholicism showed its colors very clearly again in 1922 as Oregon made it illegal to attend Catholic schools (overturned in 1923). A decisive step toward complete secularization was taken in 1963 when the Supreme Court banned the last traces of religion in public schools such as Bible reading and prayer. Another key step was taken in 1970 when the Supreme Court in Lemon misread the First Amendment prohibition of the “establishment of religion” to mean the exclusion of anything that was friendly to the free exercise of religion.
That’s a short one paragraph description of how the U.S. Supreme Court has led to the current situation. It started with anti-Catholicism, then became anti-Christian, and ended up as anti-religion. (For much more, see Mere Creatures of the State by William Bentley Ball, 1994.) No teaching of religious faith. No teaching of religious-based morality. And, as I understand it, no teaching of any objective morality.
The huge problem that confronts the nation right now is that widespread experience shows that we need to learn and practice morality. The Ten Commandments are not for God’s benefit but for ours. The reality is that a community needs to instruct its members about the commandments that have to govern human relationships. George Washington was right. The bottom line is that members of a community need to learn to police themselves or the community will turn into a police state.
The Cincinnati police chief has been given an impossible assignment—to come up with a plan that will greatly reduce our violence within 90 days. The other day there was a walk against violence, and another shooting occurred within a few yards of the walkers. In fact, there were three shooting deaths within 24 hours.
What school-age boys and girls are learning in this godless and morally bankrupt environment is that the purpose of education is to help you make a lot of money. Not a few have figured out that dealing in drugs and sex is a fast way to get that money, and that violence is a fast and final way of dealing with a competitor. Aside from fear of punishment which in turn nurtures hatred for the police, what other motivation are they given not to shoot those who stand in their way?
In this environment created by the U.S. Supreme Court and the public schools, the question is not “Why do they do violence?” The real question is “Why not?”
John F. Kippley, June 27, 2015.
For a commentary on a significant omission in Laudato Si, see Sheila’s blog at http://nfpandmore.org/wordpress/. Scroll down if necessary.