Culture Friday: Alienated young men

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday, the 9th of August, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

PITTS: The killer hates people like my grandma in San Antonio.

Nick Pitts is executive director of the Institute for Global Engagement at Dallas Baptist University. He’s talking there about his Hispanic grandmother in San Antonio, Texas. She’s the one he thought of last weekend after a gunman entered a Walmart in El Paso and started shooting. His motive evidently was to preserve the United States from Hispanic invaders.

PITTS: If would’ve have met somebody like my grandma, she would’ve bent over backwards to try to ease those fears, even though those fears were driving him to hate her. And so, the very person that he hated the idea of, would be the very person that could bring peace and comfort to his soul.

More than 20 people died, with dozens more wounded. The attack is being treated as a case of domestic terrorism. President Trump is pushing for a death-penalty prosecution.

It is Culture Friday. John Stonestreet is here now. He’s president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

John, good morning.


EICHER: It feels like the country is tearing itself apart. If you go by Twitter, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that.

Our editor in chief Marvin Olasky helpfully reminded us in a piece he wrote on Monday: The Bible contains a book of Lamentations, and certainly lamenting evil attacks is appropriate. But you’ll find no book titled The Sky is Falling, because we know God holds up the sky, and America’s been through far worse.

Are you hopeful, John, or discouraged?

STONESTREET: Well, I’m discouraged and I think it’s OK to be both—hopeful and discouraged—because America has been through far worse according to some criteria. But for the moms and the dads and the brothers and sisters, there’s been no worse day for them than last Saturday when these shootings took place. And I think that’s something we have to continually remind ourselves is that what we’re seeing is affecting real people. The moment that these stories go right to the news cycle and immediately become issues of political partisanships, again, like everything else, is to thoroughly devalue the seriousness of them and to thoroughly devalue the individuals that were lost. 

To point all the fingers across political aisles for political reasons is just thoroughly unhelpful and it misses, I think, what this real tragedy is pointing to. 

I spent the weekend kind of thinking, look, we look back on history and we see about the rise and fall of countries and civilizations and empires and so on. And we read about the fall, for example, of Rome as if it happened overnight. Like as if Rome were here on Thursday and it was gone on Friday. But that’s not how it is. It’s hundreds and hundreds of years. And there are these signs that things are not OK. And that’s what I was wondering all weekend is that are these things going to be looked at throughout history as evidence of the breakdown. 

And so, yeah, I’m discouraged because of how these lives are being treated, because of how these situations are being treated. And I’m also hopeful because Christ is risen. And those two things, I don’t think, are opposites. Despair is a different sort of thing. Despair, as if all is lost, is a completely different sort of emotion and temptation that I think the Christian must avoid. But it’s OK to be discouraged.

EICHER: How can we change our public rhetoric or our public actions to bring down the temperature. We know that no human being can tame the tongue, but how can we mitigate the effects?

STONESTREET: I think so, but I also think that so much responsibility has been placed on rhetoric, as if rhetoric is the issue that is the thing that has caused these things.

Now, obviously, since these things the rhetoric has been ridiculous. That’s one of the things I noted about this trio of shootings. And, by the way, let me just say that it’s part of the discouragement. A trio of shootings? And, like, this round as opposed to the last round. That means there’s multiple sort of incidences, which we know, of course, is true. And that’s what’s discouraging. 

At the same time, what I noticed was that there—at least in the early days—was a sensitivity. You might have had a few kind of loose cannons that were out there on social media or whatever saying I know what this is about. And then they would end up either being right or wrong. No one waited this time. No one’s waiting for the facts to come in. Twitter is just a cesspool in particular of completely unhelpful, unbridled rhetoric. And, of course, the irony there is that a lot of it is reflecting on the president’s rhetoric. Which, listen, I’m not saying that these things aren’t a problem. They’re absolutely a problem.

But I think if we really want to get to the heart of what we need to understand about this, the first thing is is that we are desperately failing young men. There’s a set of commonalities to these shootings and it’s not across political lines. It’s not even across ideological lines. It’s across the fact there are young men who are made for something else, who are being thoroughly led astray in our culture. And the extreme examples of them are these, which alarm us. But you can see evidence of aimlessness, hopelessness, perversion down the line. And if you do not have a society that knows what to do with its young men, to cultivate them into positions of citizenship, then this is what you get. This is like gravity. You can’t step off the roof and not hit the ground. You can’t choose to not challenge and cultivate and give a purpose and a meaning to young men and think it will all be OK. 

And then the second thing is that the only way to do that is to rebuild something in our culture that has been lost. And, yes, it is the moral foundations. But it’s specifically the institutions that secure the moral foundations for any society. The mediating structures. 

We read another horrifying story about the Boy Scouts this week. As the Boy Scouts go away, that’s—in a culture where there’s not enough dads—that’s leaving an enormous gap in our society that’s, again, failing young men.

So, yeah. We’ve got to curb the rhetoric. There’s no question about that. We should call it out whenever we see it, specifically any sort of white supremacist rhetoric. That’s a real challenge that needs to be faced and it’s a dangerous one. But we’ve also got to get even deeper than that and say how can we support and raise and challenge and elevate and give young men a vision about being the sort of people that God created them to be? 

Because otherwise, they use those same gifts, talents, influences for their own purposes. And we see the casualties of that all around us.

EICHER: Yeah, because this alt-right business does give some of these alienated young men a reason for being—a terrible reason for being—but a reason.

STONESTREET: Oh, absolutely. In fact, what we’ve seen is that we have a group of young men that are going one of two directions: either to an ideological extremism. And you mentioned the alt-right, that’s certainly one of them. We’ve had some radical Islamists, that’s another one. And then even some progressive leftist causes as well. Or they go to a nihilism like we saw with the Aurora shooter or Dylan Klebold. So you can kind of say Dylan Klebold on one side. Dylann Roof on the other side. This is what Proverbs says. When there is no vision, the people perish. The people cast off restraint. And so I think these young men are being catechized into a nihilistic meaninglessness, or an ideological extremism because there’s not a bigger vision of what it means. And so a generation ago, when you had just as much or even more access to guns—maybe not necessarily as high powered guns—you didn’t have this. And it has to do with how we are raising young men.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday. John, thanks!

STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick.

(AP Photo/Andres Leighton) Texas state police cars block the access to the Walmart store in the aftermath of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. 

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