Here is where we start from-
In all Western Societies and the US is no exception we have developed a taste for endless analysis as if the very act of self-reflection by itself has the power to magically transform society. It is following a major tragedy that this taste for analysis – now the major activity of news reporting in an age of 24/7 news coverage reaches a climax.
What I have been observing over the last week- and not for the first time – is our simple- minded approach to making connections. We have three core ingredients to the endless news coverage of the Tucson shootings:
- The current vitriolic atmosphere of political rhetoric and commentary
- The evil the lies at the heart of any criminal act of violence
- The unbalance of heart and mind commonly referred to as mental illness
The argument goes around – and around as to the existence or absence of connections between these three core ingredients with reference to the shootings last Saturday in Tucson. Some voices seemingly from the left clearly see powerful connections between all three. While other voices seemingly of the right seem to see no connection between them any of them.
What I find so frustrating is that both positions are grounded in a simplistic view of connection as cause and effect. This is a weakness in our Western worldviews so influenced by the scientific paradigm where things are observed to connect or not according to the laws of direct cause and effect. To my way of looking at the world this is too simple.
Spiritual traditions have always recognized interconnection between all things. Nothing exists in isolation from everything else. However, this sense of interconnection cannot be reduced to chains of cause and effect. To my mind the three ingredients noted above all impact at multiple levels upon each other. The manner of this impact is difficult to determine which is why spiritual traditions stress the importance to take care with every thought and every action knowing the there flow from every thought and action a mysterious chain of unforeseen and unintended consequences.
Violent political rhetoric pushes on the boundaries of what is considered acceptable and even normal in wider social discourse. As levels of anger rise in the general populace social inhibitions towards violent outburst weaken. Societal stresses impact upon the emotional formation and stable development of social units at the levels of community, family and the individual. Saturday’s shooter is responsible for an act of unthinkable criminal violence. He is now also revealed to be a person with a poor mental and emotional health history. His target was a political figure and in a sense the other deaths seem collateral to this central motivation in that he knew his primary target.
I spent 20 years of my ministry working in the field of mental health care, 18 months of which were here in Phoenix. My current preoccupations as a pastor to a growing and diverse urban congregation concern the relationships or interconnections between emotional experience and spiritual health and development. I believe all of us find our healing within healthy and healing communities. Its the community and our membership within it that offers or denies each of us the potential for our healing and capacity to thrive. The 17th century Anglican priest and mystical poet John Donne remarked ‘no man is a island’.
But where are we to end-up?
Currently a truth about our society is that mentally disturbed individuals of a psychopathic disposition continue to become more and more disturbed until some of them trigger the reactions of the criminal justice system which by default has become the main institution that deals with serious mental illness of many kinds. After the huge progress beginning in the late 19th century and gathering momentum in the 2oth in understanding the roots and causes of mental illness can we really intend that we as a society should return to a situation where mental illness is once again something to be ignored until it becomes a matter of crime and punishment?