Why do people commit mass murders or suicide? Is it because of violent video games? Music? Their parents? Mental illness?
No, none of that stuff gets to the root of the problems, writes Megan Glavin in the Seattle Times. But don’t worry; she’s figured it all out:
… our culture has abandoned a collective belief in ultimate accountability — the belief that one’s actions on Earth are somehow tied to one’s experience after physical death.
Ultimate accountability asserts that it does not matter if the evil a person does on Earth is never seen nor detected, and it does not matter if one commits suicide after committing evil. There is still judgment of some kind, and consequences to face, in eternity.
So… mass shootings happen because the killers don’t believe in the afterlife. (Which is really just an inch away from saying “all killers are atheists.”)
… somewhere along the line our society dropped the ball. Perhaps Americans believed too much in the power of science to solve problems as complex and unpredictable as criminal behavior. Perhaps Americans believed too much in the ability of psychology and counseling to supposedly correct people.
Regardless of where our country went wrong, we now have a problem. Many Americans do not believe in an afterlife and divine judgment. Thus, homicide is attractive for revenge and the expression of emotional pain, and suicide is attractive for escape.
That’s quite the hunch for someone who makes no attempt to explain the religious beliefs of killers. Obviously, atheists (who don’t believe in the afterlife) aren’t known for their violent beliefs. The only numbers we have (and they’re admittedly far from perfect) show that the percentage of atheists is much lower in federal prison than it is in the general population.
It’s very tempting to blame violence on a lack of supernatural accountability — what a simple answer! — but most atheists will tell you they have their own method of accountability that has nothing to do with a fear of hell. They believe in the Golden Rule, they respect their fellow humans, etc. I’m not saying atheists can’t be criminals, but our ethics are no less meaningful or solid than the arbitrary morality of many religions.
Hell, we’ve seen plenty of examples of terrorists or cult leaders who have committed horrific acts of violence (or led mass suicides) precisely because they thought they would be rewarded in the afterlife.
There’s no magic bullet to prevent future killings. Getting people to believe in bullshit for which there’s no evidence isn’t going to help. But there are things we can do. We can push for better mental health care policies. We can pass laws to have stricter background checks on weapon purchases. We can give parents and teachers better resources to care for children. I’m not naïve enough to think any one of these things would stop the violence, but all of those things would be more helpful than blaming people who have the good sense not to believe in heaven and hell.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Richard for the link)