This week NASA and FEMA and other abbreviations concluded their preparedness drills for an asteroid impact; it did not go very well in the end.
I like apocalyptic fiction, end of the world stuff. On the one hand I like the big picture theorizing, and on the other I like stories of what humans do when pushed to the extremes. On the other hand I hate most apocalyptic theology. It tends to be shallow, overly concerned with invented details, and far too self-focused. Best not to get me started about that right now.
(Yes, I know that was three hands. We all have a lot to juggle.)
What really bothers me, however, is the very real existential crisis facing people, particularly young people, in our world today. Existential meaning
“directly impacting existence.”
In the U.S., the suicide rate has increased about 24% in since the beginning of the century. It is now the 7th leading cause of death among men, 10th overall. On average, there are 129 suicides per day.
While overall the rate of violent crime in the U.S. has been steadily going down, the incidents of mass shootings have been rising. According to a study by Harvard researchers published in 2017, the rate of mass shooting, in which the perpetrator killed or attempted to kill 4 or more people, was 1 every 200 days between 1984 and 2011; from 2011 to 2014 it was one every 64 days. According to a few sources I found, there were four times as many people shot in mass shootings in 2017 than the average of the eight years prior.
So, what is going on? Why are people killing themselves or large numbers of others? I think the cause is the same.
Lack of hope.
People will be quick to point to social media or other modern inventions, but this stems from a desire to find an easily addressed source. Instead look at the bigger picture. Climate change promises a future with less food, less water, more extreme weather, more illness. Economic conditions place the average person in more debt than ever before, less assurance of employment security, less benefit for retirement. The economic framework of previous generations simply no longer exist. Political situations are engendering distrust in any system or party, and manipulation of media results in a lack of trust in sources of information. Civil Rights gains are being contested, formerly trusted institutions are rocked with scandal.
All of this places a great deal emotional and psychological strain on people. It may be low level, but it is cumulative, and often people feel they can do nothing about it.
They have no hope, and in such an environment, the unthinkable becomes reasonable.
So what must we do? We must be the source of hope. We must let people know that they are loved and accepted. We must let them know that if nothing else, they have a place to belong and people who care about what happens to them. We do not do that by giving money, although that can help. We do not do that by eloquently explaining theology. We only do that by looking people in the eye and having a conversation with them. We must not ignore their concerns or issues no matter what they might be. We must not minimize them, or their fears or hopes.
We have to embrace people in the Love of Christ, not as we want to be done, but as Christ did for us. The Golden Rule is insufficient. We are called to a higher standard.
Anything that alienates. Anything that oppresses. Anything that removes agency. Anything than denies rights. Anything that denies human value.
These are the enemies of hope. These are the anti-love that spread despair and extremism.
These are the things we fight against. Life and Love and Peace are our goals.
*If you or someone you know is feeling like committing an act of violence, whether self directed or other directed, please talk to someone.
You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. *