There’s a great deal of news commentary discussing in what way America’s overheated political rhetoric between the Right and the Left fostered Jared Lee Loughner’s recent murderous rampage and attempted assassination of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona.
Undoubtedly, the present highly partisan, toxic political atmosphere that has infected much of the United States’ political discourse is not helpful when it comes to creating a harmonious society and solving that nation’s enormous economic problems. People think and then say things they shouldn’t. In families this can lead to divorce. While on a national scale bitter acrimony can lead to fratricidal conflict. All Americans during the 150th anniversary year of the beginning of the Civil War would do well to reflect on the cost in terms of human suffering and heartache that crushed the lives of millions during the 1861-65 political conflict between the Northern Union and the Southern Confederacy.
Of course, I don’t mean to look down on the Americans. We, Canadians, also have our own dirty laundry to wash. We share with our American neighbours the shame of toxic political discourse. Here in British Columbia for the last year and a half there has been a very heated political controversy concerning the implementation of the new Harmonized Sales Tax, HST—unpopularly known as the Hated Sales Tax. The enactment of the HST spawned a popular resistance movement called Fight HST. While seeking to press the chief electoral officer of British Columbia, Craig James, to approve a recall election for one of the governing Liberal party’s legislators, some 392 people sent “vile,” threatening email to James for turning down Fight HST’s first application for a recall election. Civility in politics seems out of vogue (cf. Times Colonist, “Elections boss gets flood of ‘vile’ email,” Jan. 12, 2011).
But somehow I don’t think Jared Lee Loughner was ready to pull the trigger on Gabrielle Giffords, and 19 others at that political event in Tucson solely because some talk radio host or some other partisan political figure made some over the line comments about Giffords or Democrats as a whole. I mean, 22-year-old Loughner murdered a 9-year-old child who would have been far more interested in the pop and cookies table than listening to Gabrielle Giffords’ political speech-making. Something was and is clearly lacking in Jared Lee Loughner’s moral thinking.
What happened to make Jared Lee Loughner do what he did?
In an attempt to consider this question, The National Post ran a story entitled Arizona shooting suspect became an ‘outcast’ in high school http://www.nationalpost.com/news/world/Arizona+shooting+suspect+became+outcast+high+school/4088147/story.html#ixzz1ArRI2CxT
One person who had known Jared Loughner since elementary school remarked:
“It just seems so out of character for the Jared I grew up with.”
High school friends characterized Loughner “as odd but generally amiable.” He had musical talent and played the saxophone in his high school’s jazz band. But then this average teenage boy with the curly hair lost his path. According to the story:
“In tenth grade everything started to fall apart. High school friend Alex Montanaro told the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Loughner took a turn after a break-up with a girlfriend. He started hanging out with drug users, grew distant from his friends and “really became an outcast,” said Mr. Montanaro. Classmate Catie Parker described him as a “pot head” and by grade eleven his marks had dropped. He didn’t bother returning for grade twelve.”
There was nothing in the news account about Jared Loughner’s family, community or church background. Had anyone cared enough to give him a firm foundation, a solid touchstone of ethics or vision of morality to guide his life?
“In several videos on the Internet site YouTube, a person with the name Jared Lee Loughner criticizes the government and religion. It was not known whether he was the same person as the suspect.”
“The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar,” the man says. “No! I won’t pay debt with a currency that’s not backed by gold and silver! No! I won’t trust in God!” http://www.nationalpost.com/news/world/Murder+attempted+assassination+charges+laid+Arizona+shooting/4082529/story.html#ixzz1AsCReT7G
The fact of the matter is that far too many young and not so young people are lost in a maze of crooked paths and self-destructive behaviours in the United States and Canada. The addictions, the violence, the selfish lack of concern for others, the shallow material secularism, the hateful, disrespectful words filling our public discourse are all symptomatic of our communal inability to find a straight path through our ethically challenged, morally relativistic popular culture. Why such confusion? How can we come to know the right thing to think and do? In my book, Walk a Straight Path in Crooked World, Alan Bloom, one of the greats of academic thinking, addressed this dilemma:
I do not believe that my generation, my cousins…all of whom are M.D.s or PhD’s have any comparable learning [to that of his grandparents’ spiritually rich understanding of the Bible]. When they [Alan Bloom’s generation] talk about heaven and earth, the relations between men and women, parents and children, the human condition, I hear nothing but clichés, superficialities, the material of satire. I am not saying anything so trite as that life is fuller when people have myths to live by. I mean rather that a life based on the Book [the Bible] is closer to the truth, that it provides the material for deeper research in and access to the real nature of things. Without the great revelations, epics, and philosophies as part of our natural vision, there is nothing to see out there, and eventually little left inside. The Bible is not the only means to furnish a mind, but without a book of similar gravity, read with the gravity of the potential believer, it will remain unfurnished.”
As the source of an unseen enduring reality, the Judeo-Christian Scriptures claim to be the Truth. I call them the moral logic of the universe. The Creator established this legacy as the house rules for all humanity. And one of the foundational teachings of the Bible is as follows:
“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18 NKJV; also Matthew 22:39).
Too bad Jared Lee Loughner and so many others taking part in our toxic political discourse don’t believe and practice the moral logic of the universe. Things will only get worse for us until we rediscover the straight path to harmonious living found in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures – the house rules for humanity.