What We’re Missing About Mass-Shootings: Young Men Are in Crisis

The state of our national discourse is, to put it mildly, discouraging and unhelpful, and the reaction to the recent shootings only amplified how bad it is. Once again, everyone took their place along partisan battle lines to pound the same old drums, but it’s past time we admit that there’s something deeper going on in America than too many guns, or too few guns, or violent video games, or the President’s rhetoric, or even the evil of white supremacy.

That’s not to say there are no good policy proposals out there to address these issues, which need to be addressed. As a Second Amendment guy, I could buy into something like what David French proposed last year in National Review: a system for family and employers to report warning signs and separate unstable individuals from their guns.

But, as French admits, the best that policy would do is keep troubled young men from acting on their violent impulses. It doesn’t address the young men themselves, or the source of those impulses. And that’s exactly the issue we can no longer ignore. Yesterday, I highlighted the crisis of virtue across our culture, and how that will lead to the loss of freedom. It’s a historical inevitability. Today, I want to zero in on the problem of men in our culture, especially young men. They aren’t okay.

Writing at the LA Times, professor of criminology Jillian Peterson and sociologist James Densley offer a revealing look at America’s mass-shooters. They’ve studied every shooter since 1966, and the vast majority have four things in common: “early childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age”; seeking “validation” in extreme communities, often online; openly admiring the work of prior shooters; and nearly all are longtime loners with an identifiable “crisis point” like getting fired or expelled from school. Oh, and by the way, they are men.

In fact, the young men who appear on CNN’s list of the “27 Deadliest Mass Shootings in U.S. History” have something else in common: almost all of them grew up without fathers.

In other words, with few exceptions, the signs that a young man is headed down a dark road overlap noticeably with signs we see across our culture that young men, in general, are not doing well.

Lacking strong role models and healthy social groups, increasingly left behind academically and vocationally, and floundering for a purpose in life beyond video games, countless males have sought solace in the only communities they can find—usually online—where the foulest kinds of hate, conspiracy theories, and nihilism await them.

Of course, these factors don’t always lead one to become a mass shooter. For every young man catechized into some toxic radicalism (like Dylan Roof or the El Paso Shooter) or into nihilistic unbelief (like Dylan Klebold and the Aurora theater shooter), and then chooses to act on it with a gun, millions of others do not.

Still, that doesn’t mean they’re doing well either. Quite the opposite: our society largely fails to cultivate young men, to teach them about their fallen natures, and to morally form them to choose love over hate and courage over violence. Thus, the epidemics of addiction, aimlessness, depression, irresponsibility, perversion, selfishness, victimhood, and low expectations continue.

Until we face the fact that the root of our problem lies here, the fruit will continue to be bitter. Unless we rebuild the institutions of civil society that cultivate young men, there is no way forward.

We certainly won’t fix this problem through government policies or mindless distractions. Only the church, with its kingdom vision and distributed work force, has the necessary resources to target young men with truth, forgiveness, accountability, and hope.

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Understanding Christians’ Climate Views Can Help Us Talk About the Environment

In their second round of debates, Democratic presidential candidates called for aggressive measures to slow climate change. As Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has said, “We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation that can do something about it.”

Politicians realize that many voters care about this issue. A 2018 survey conducted by Yale and George Mason Universities categorizes 69% of Americans as at least “somewhat worried” about climate change, the highest level these programs had recorded since 2008.

But climate is still an uncomfortable subject for many people. I study environmental communication and the obstacles people encounter when discussing climate change. My new book, “Communication Strategies for Engaging Climate Skeptics: Religion and the Environment,” considers Christians and the variety of ways they incorporate the environment into their faith.

Studying Christianity provides important insights into how to talk productively about climate change with a variety of audiences. I interviewed Christians from many different denominations and found that they don’t all think alike when it comes to the environment. Some reject environmentalism, some embrace it, and others modify it to fit their beliefs.

CHRISTIANITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
In 1967, historian Lynn White Jr. argued that Christian beliefs promoted the domination and exploitation of nature, and therefore were incompatible with environmentalism. Almost half a century later, polls showed that fewer than 50% of all U.S. Protestants and Catholics believe the Earth is warming as a result of human actions.

There are notable exceptions, such as Pope Francis, who called for action to slow climate change in his 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’.” Another prominent advocate for action is U.S. climate scientist and evangelical Christian Dr. Katharine Hayhoe. A growing number of Christians are joining the Creation Care movement, which combines Christianity and the environment. But as recently as early 2018, they were outnumbered by Christian climate skeptics.

Atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian married to a pastor, has taken climate science to a broad public platform. In 2016 she discussed climate change with former President Barack Obama and actor Leonardo DiCaprio at a White House ideas conference. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Christians hold a diverse range of attitudes about the environment. I divide them into three categories – separators, bargainers, and harmonizers – based on my study of religious organizations (The Cornwall Alliance, The Acton Institute, and The Evangelical Environmental Network), and interviews I conducted. I chose these three groups because they exhibit primary characteristics of the three categories.

Separators believe that faith and the environment are at odds. They tend to think environmentalism threatens their faith. One separator who I interviewed argued that climate scientists use “good causes to further evil agendas.” This person thought environmentalism was an evil force.

Bargainers adopt some aspects of environmentalism, but reject or modify others. One bargainer I interviewed said, “The climate is changing. It’s been changing for millions of years and will continue to do so.” This person changed the definition of climate change to fit the belief that climate change is natural and nothing needs to be done to address it.

Harmonizers see environmentalism as an important part of being a good Christian. Although they are not climate skeptics, they may or may not actively engage in the environmental movement. One harmonizer I interviewed said that environmentalism “begins on an individual basis.” Another argued that you only “have control over your individual actions.”

Harmonizers sometimes limit their environmentalism to personal behaviors. Most of the harmonizers I interviewed did not call for political or public action to solve climate change.

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