Question of the Week: Violence

The week that wraps around the end of March and the beginning of April this year had rather a lot of well-publicised mass murders in the United States.

Sat 4 April: Father is suspected of shooting dead his five children, then himself, near Seattle

Sat 4 April: Gunman kills three policemen in Pittsburgh before being wounded and captured

Fri 3 April: Gunman kills 13 people at an immigration centre in Binghamton, New York state, then apparently shoots himself

Sun 29 March: Gunman kills seven elderly residents and a nurse at a nursing home in Carthage, North Carolina, then is shot and wounded himself

Sun 29 March: Man kills five relatives and himself in Santa Clara, California.

On 16th April, USA Today published a feature article describing the real motives behind the Columbine High School massacre, which are easier to discern now that the shooters’ personal diaries are being made public. It turns out that the cause was not violent video games, nor a desire for media attention, nor bullying nor harrassment. Rather, their minds were dominated by rather more straightforward dispositions: paranoia and suicidal depression (in the case of Dylan Kiebold) and misanthropy, superiority, and narcissism (in the case of Eric Harris).

But in today’s question, I’m less interested in motivations and explanations. I’m more interested in prevention and healing. And while an explanation may be useful in the crafting of preventative measures, I’m also interested in what, if anything, principles of earth-based spirituality could contribute to prevention and healing. Are ideas like the beauty of the earth, the reliability of intuition as a source of knowledge, the stories and the presence of the gods, and so on, able to help such people become better human beings? Are any of our wisdom-teachings, such as “The Earth is our mother, we must take care of her”, or “We are a circle within a circle”, or “All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals”, capable of preventing such people from appearing in the first place?

This is a much more serious question than it may seem at first, and it requires a serious answer. For a purpose like this, “visualising white light” and tapping the meridian points will not be good enough. I’m sure that if Jim Adkisson had Tarot card readers among his friends, or was receiving Reiki treatments for minor health ailments, he probably still would have shot nine people in the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, killing two of them. His suicide letter makes it clear that he was motivated by political hatred, as well as a sense of personal hopelessness. It might be added that he was certainly “doing his will”, which the Thelemites teach is the whole of the Law.

One way to approach the question might be like this. Christians present such people (well, everyone really) with the “good news” of Christ’s saving grace. Muslims present the Seven Pillars of Islam and other teachings of God communicated to humanity by the Prophet. Hindus offer the global and cosmic unity of the Atman, thus showing that in killing another he kills a piece of himself. Buddhists perscribe substituting compassion in the place of attachment. These ideas are presented confidently, seriously, with impressive conviction, and often in the face of extraordinary danger. What do we offer? What, if anything, can pagans helpfully say to the Timothy McVeigh‘s of the world? What, if anything, could we helpfully do for them, or with them?

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