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The search for a scapegoat has begun.

Now that the initial shock of the Newtown massacre has worn off, our society is looking for something to do and someone to blame.

Something to do? Many are lobbying for stricter gun control laws and bans on assault weapons. Others are recommending teachers and school officials be armed and ready to fight back.

Someone to blame? The talking heads on television have begun a conversation about mental illness that they are woefully ill-prepared for. I shudder to consider what lies ahead for autistic children and adults with Asberger’s Syndrome if hearsay and ignorance win the day.

Pointing Fingers

While the tendency in the coming days will be to point our fingers in multiple directions, I recommend we point the finger right back at ourselves. Could it be that we are a violent people? Consider…

  • We are horrified by the slaughter of innocent children in Newtown, but we are entertained by children killing children in The Hunger Games.
  • We react with disbelief at the gruesomeness of the news reports, but then plug in our video game consoles so we can shoot, stab, and decapitate lifelike people on the screen.
  • We weep and mourn the stolen innocence of our children, but the bestselling books in our country involve violent sexual fantasies and sadism/masochism.
  • We sing carols and hymns in remembrance of the victims of violence, but our iPods are filled with explicit lyrics of rage that are particularly degrading to women.

Should we be surprised when reality eventually mirrors our fantasies?

Talk to Christian believers in other parts of the world and you will quickly discover that we have a reputation for consuming movies, music, and video games that promote a mindset of violence. Whenever I have brought up these concerns with my fellow American friends, I have gotten blank stares and then a quick denial that violence in any way represents us.

I remember when I took my son to see Wall-E, only to find kids in kindergarten going to see Hulk with their parents. I know church kids who sat in the front row of The Dark Knight.

Let me be clear. Even the Bible includes narratives of violence. I’m not opposed to violence as a means of representing evil in books and movies. My concern is that the proliferation of violent depictions has desensitized us to the point that the association of violence with evil is lost within violence itself.

Deadly Desensitization

Too often, Christians are so focused on the sexual perversity we see on television or in movies that we forget how a constant stream of media violence is also deadly to our souls.

The latest way for youth groups to attract young men is by setting up video game consoles with violent games like Halo 4. Ask evangelical youth pastors if they would ever consider using pornography as a way of attracting young people to church. “Of course not!” would be the answer. But why is it we never give a second thought to the video games that bid us into a world of graphic violence?

“It’s not real. It’s just fantasy,” we say, shrugging aside the violence. But could we not use that line of reasoning for pornography as well?

Of course it’s fantasy. That’s not the point. The truth is… even fantasy shapes who we are and what we believe. We would never allow pornographic fantasy into our youth groups, but the gory bloodiness of video games sneaks in under the mask of “harmlessness.”

The Gospel of Peace

We cannot point fingers. We all share in the guilt of allowing ourselves to be desensitized to violent behavior. We need the transformation of the gospel to reach into this tender area and change our hearts.

As heralds of the coming kingdom of peace, we as Christians should be naturally resistant to the inherent violence of our culture. We must practice non-retaliation in our personal lives, seek to be at peace in the church, and decry the thirst for violence that so often marks our entertainment choices.

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30 thoughts on “Are We a Violent People?”

  1. anaquaduck says:

    If the problem exists in our hearts & is part of our being then changing things can only mean changing laws. Humanity expresses its fallen state in various ways, showing much good but much evil also.

    We are what we eat, wether its food for the mind or the body. The Christian feeds on the teachings of Christ as they tread along life’s path. Entertainment does more than entertain, it models both good & evil as it creates characters that inspire.

    But what is good & what is evil…the Bible is pretty clear as it explains the spiritual condition & the battle at hand. Only in Jesus are we able to bear fruit that will last as we tread through the darkness & sadness of this world holding on to the joy & surety of the gospel, sharing it when we can.

  2. Marty Duren says:

    “My concern is that the proliferation of violent depictions has desensitized us to the point that the association of violence with evil is lost within violence itself.”

    Great line.

  3. Thanks for writing this post. I’m reeling at the thought of using Halo to attract kids to youth group.

  4. Bill says:

    Christians are always horrified by our culture’s fascination with sex but violence seems to roll off our backs. In fact I would say that many Christians are so pro-war that it isn’t funny. But we forget that God destroyed the world with a flood because it was “filled with violence”, not because it was filled with sex.

  5. Benji Carlson says:

    Great blog Trevin. You nailed it, brother.

  6. Flyaway says:

    In the video “Genius, The Movie” 15 people say that they would kill someone for money. One said he would kill for free.

  7. John says:

    Good blog post. I think that our culture’s infatuation with entertainment and violence will, and already has, caught up with us.

    However, I’m not sure about your reference to the Hunger Games. I see the Hunger Games written as a warning against the effects our culture’s lust for reality TV, making people do anything and everything, purely for the sake of our “entertainment”. The Hunger Games portrays the gladiator ring (murder for entertainment) as disgusting, wrong in every way, and something that is worth fighting against, even at great personal cost.

    I think that the Hunger Games also points out the severity of the mind-numbing effects that using people for entertainment has on us, and offers a warning to us all, just as a movie about the Holocaust might warn us about how easily our minds can be twisted to believe a crafty liar (though, of course, that is not a fictional event). Now, people could be entertained by the killings, but it would be completely against the spirit of the book series. I also agree that this gruesome violence should certainly not be viewed by children.

    I hope that this comment doesn’t come across as too harsh, as I very much appreciate learning from your biblically informed blog, and I agree with almost this entire blog post. Keep up the good work!

    1. LG says:

      Agreed. The point wasn’t to be entertained by that depiction of violence against children, IMO, but to be horrified by its acceptance in a culture that trained its children to kill.

      Excellent article otherwise, and point absolutely taken.

  8. JasRandal says:

    I refused to watch Hunger Games. Violence is a part of our society. Good reminder.

  9. Blake says:

    Should we get rid of football too? Should we not see the passion of the christ? You are preaching a law and not the gospel. I agree we are overly saturated in violence, but you don’t have to be feminine about it. Its everyones own conviction on this topic. Is murder wrong? Yes! Is playing a video game that kills evil wrong? You sound like a mennonite.

    1. Brantley says:

      Blake said: “you don’t have to be feminine about it”

      While I don’t expect much from the complementarian (patriarchal) folks here at the Gospel Coalition, I hope that even they would condemn your abusive comment that associates masculinity and violence. I guess you (Blake) consider the Prince of Peace to be a feminine Mennonite, eh?

      1. JohnM says:

        Brantley – just a word of semi-friendly advice – I don’t mind at all being called patriarchal, I actually prefer that to complementarian, however when you begin with “While I don’t expect much from the complementarian (patriarchal) folks here at the Gospel Coalition” you might just be losing your intended audience before you even start.

        Just something to consider and I’m amused, not angry, so say how you want to say.

        1. Brantley says:

          Fair enough, John. As a long-time observer, I sense among both the authors and commenters at the Gospel Coalition less willingness to combat egregious forms of machismo than an eagerness to hunt down any hints of support for egalitarianism (which I hold as the better biblical interpretation). Perhaps that is not fair or true–and I’m glad that a few other commenters also rebutted Blake.

          And for the record, as an egalitarian Anabaptist, I think calling Jesus a feminist Mennonite is a compliment, not an insult :)

    2. Lois says:

      What is wrong with the way he presented his argument? Your phrase “you don’t have to be feminine about it” makes your comment come across as being degrading to women and insulting to his character than addressing the actual content of the article.

      “Its everyones own conviction on this topic.” That statement alone is inconsistent with the Bible. We can’t rely on each person’s conviction on each topic that arises from our lives to be right for each person, because where then would be absolute truth? Maybe the extent to which we are convicted about each topic differs, but all that we are convicted about should align with the gospel and with the Word. And as Paul says in Romans, the gospel and God’s grace does not nullify the law, but rather upholds it.

      Perhaps you should read over the article again, especially the last part, to see the point of the article, which is not, as you claimed, preaching the law rather than the gospel.

      “Let me be clear. Even the Bible includes narratives of violence. I’m not opposed to violence as a means of representing evil in books and movies. My concern is that the proliferation of violent depictions has desensitized us to the point that the association of violence with evil is lost within violence itself.”

    3. LG says:

      For future reference, brother, “feminine” is a word describing women as God created them to be. It’s a positive descriptor, and not to be applied to men, because we already have a word describing men who act like women in a bad way: “effeminate.” Please use the right terms so you’re not insulting women and men at the same time.

      Also, what everyone else said.

  10. Mark says:

    This is an excellent post. Thank you! I’m an American living in Europe, and it’s exactly as you say – nobody can understand why Americans are so enamored w/ violence, and how at the same time see no problem with that.

    @Blake: your comments actually buttress Trevin’s argument — you are insulting and aggressive (= verbally violent). You demonstrate the behavior you imply we should ignore. From my point of view, you confuse masculinity and violence (thus non-violence is, for you, “feminine”). Jesus is masculine, & perfectly so. Certainly strong, but not violent. Redeemed masculinity isn’t violent; it’s meek: strength under control.

  11. d.menace says:

    America is not the only culture that has violent entertainment. Japan and South Korea tend to produce far more violent films than Hollywood does.. Japan also produces more if not the same amount of violent video games as the US. However, we don’t see even a fraction of the same amount of violent acts and shootings carried out in these countries than we do in the US, now why is that? Americans have been desensitized to violence ever since our history classes in grade school. We can still champion the Constitution, Columbus, the Founding Fathers, and several others despite the enslavement, genocide, and mass murder and violence committed by them. The problem of violence in America is not a result of our video game and film consumption, as far as developed nations go, it’s something that seems to be inherent to Americans alone. Maybe it’s the sense of individualism and entitlement, or maybe it’s something else.

    Also, I find the attempted use of the Hunger Games as an example to be extremely weak. I haven’t read the books, but even from just watching the movie one can see that it’s point isn’t to glorify kids killing kids. The same is true of the Dark Knight.

  12. Dean P says:

    “America is not the only culture that has violent entertainment. Japan and South Korea tend to produce far more violent films than Hollywood does.. Japan also produces more if not the same amount of violent video games as the US. However, we don’t see even a fraction of the same amount of violent acts and shootings carried out in these countries than we do in the US, now why is that?”

    d. Menace: Not that I disagree with you or that I don’t believe you on this but can you site or give us some specific data that quantifies this assertion?

    1. d.menace says:

      As far as films go: Oldboy, Battle Royale 1&2, I Saw the Devil, the Chaser, Ichi the Killer, Man From Nowhere, 13 Assassins, Crows: Zero 1&2, just to name a few of the most popular films of 21st century Japanese and South Korean cinema.

      There is also the fact that various Japanese anime and manga portray more violence than what’s shown on US TV and in our theatres.

      1. Aaron says:

        I note on a similar topic posted in the same area that Japan also has the strictest gun laws on earth.

        “Japanese law, however, starts with the 1958 act stating that “No person shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords,” later adding a few exceptions. In other words, American law is designed to enshrine access to guns, while Japan starts with the premise of forbidding it.”

        As to South Korea:

        “owning or distributing firearms in Korea is definitely against the law. Consequently, there is virtually no guns available to civilians, except for hunting rifles.”


        Therefore, I am thinking that the lack of availability of guns in those countries would make the assessment of video game affects on gun crimes unconvincing when comparing nations. I would also mention that the suicide rate in Japan and South Korea are very high, which may trace as one of its causes violent, desensitizing video games and entertainment which devalue life in general.

        That being said, I think it is a very complex issue with a lot of possible perspectives.

        1. d.menace says:

          Yes they have high suicide rates, however, it is extremely unlikely and incorrect to place the blame on violent video games. The suicide rate is more of a result from the extreme amounts of pressure in Japanese and Korean life. I have heard many first hand accounts of the kind of pressure placed on individuals from their parents. So once again attributing blame to violent video games and entertainment is missing the point.

          1. Mark says:

            @D.menace: There are some significant problems with what you’ve written. Let’s start before that, though. First, your screen name is “D.Menace,” which sounds like, “the menace” when you say it aloud. And you have a picture of someone ready to smash a guitar. Together, these don’t make you look like the best source for commentaries on violence. Just a PR matter, and it doesn’t invalidate what you say, but it does say something about you.

            Secondly, violence is violence: whether suicide or murder. Your argument totally falls apart in light of the suicide levels that Aaron mentions. You (w/o any evidence whatsoever) say it’s the pressure that leads to suicide. Well, that’s probably part of it, but surely not all of it.

            The big question: why are you going so far out of your way to defend violence? Why in the world would anyone want to defend violence, esp. after a whole bunch of children just got murdered? Isn’t this a good time to really carefully consider violence in America, carefully, even in a way that might make you/us uncomfortable? In light of Jesus?

          2. d.menace says:

            Seriously, Sun Wukong smashing a guitar is to be taken as violent? It’s called the Clash’s “London Calling”. Technically, no citation was given by anyone else that links Japan and Korea’s suicide rates with video games or entertainment, so it goes both ways. I highly encourage you to research the suicides in Japan and Korea, don’t just take my word for it.

            I’m not trying to defend violence, I’m pointing out, based on other cultures, that the assertions that entertainment is a primary contributor for violence in this country are false ones and that it’s trying to avoid the real issues. We are turning away from the more controversial issues that directly pertain to the situation (gun control and this country’s lack of care for mental health) and try to blame something that won’t really spark a beneficial and substantial debate. The point of bringing up Japan and South Korea and their entertainment was to show that the culture’s acceptance of the entertainment isn’t the problem.

            Isn’t it odd that the rest of the developed nations have made guns illegal, or at least highly restricted, yet America hasn’t? And I wonder how many gun crimes are committed in those countries when compared to the US? But wait, the Constitution says we have the right to bear arms…even though it’s in reference to a militia. And yes I know “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” but that same reasoning can be applied to entertainment. Not only that, but cannot the argument to keep guns legal because criminals will get them either way be applied to drugs, prostitution, and pretty much any crime? I do find both the Left and the Right inconsistent with their reasoning in light of these issues. The Left wants to keep abortion legal because “women are going to have abortions either way” yet the Right and many who are pro-life don’t buy this nonsense, yet they turn around and say “criminals will get guns either way, so we might as well keep them legal.” I understand a person wanting to protect their family, however, must one need the lethality of a gun to do so? Are there not non-lethal ways to protect one’s home and self? The main purpose of a gun is to take life, that is it’s primary function, any comparison to a car or vehicle fails because the car’s purpose isn’t to cause death.

  13. Amy says:

    I would agree that a culture of violence is an escalating problem in our country and we are seeing some of the consequences become well publicized due to horrific events that make national news. However, the question must be asked, why are we (meaning our nation) seeking entertainment to an ever increasing degree? Before answering that question, notice that when entertainment is sought, it becomes increasingly dramatic (sexual or violent usually). We have a self-control problem in our country that comes back to the parenting level. It is so much easier to stick a child in front of television, video games, or hand-held devices than it is to interact by playing games, reading books, teaching chores, coaching teams, and teaching them healthy uses of technology. Many of these children are now adults playing children’s games.

    As much as I would like to blame the entertainment industry, I think they are just playing smart supply and demand business. Wise-up, America.

  14. Blake says:

    Brantley, Trent, and anyone else i offended –
    I would like to apologize for my agressive comment toward Trent. It in no way shape or form trying to be degrading toward women ( thank you for clearing up the difference between feminine & effeminate LG). I was having a bad day and shouldn’t have commented with all the frustration i was already feeling.
    I am a inner city youth pastor and i work with a lot of aggressive boys. It is frustrating when the church feels like a place they don’t belong, simply because we teach that men are not suppose to be agressive. Do i want my boys to learn peace, humility, kindness, etc. You bet i do, but if i teach them not to watch the hunger games, or stop playing violent video games like black opts then i am teaching law. I become like all the other churches in the neighborhood that are run by women (there great churches they just don’t appeal to fatherless boys who need to understand masculinity). I want them to know they can be aggressive basketball players, football players, ect and love Jesus. This article was hard to here because it dosent reach my audience for Christ.

    Again i apologize and was wrong. Sorry to all i may have upset.

    Brantley, you were pretty upset. I think you may have wanted to hit me if we were in person. hahahha jk

    1. Lois says:

      Blake, thanks for your response. I am grateful that you are out there trying to reach these boys, and you’re right, they do need to know what it means to be men as God intended, and I pray that as you continue to serve, Christ will shine through you.

      How and why we consume violence in what we watch, read, and listen (and I mean that in a very straightforward term, not necessarily blanketing over aggressiveness in general), is something to consider and align with the gospel after we have already encountered the grace of God through Jesus. I agree that teaching your boys not to watch or do some things isn’t the way to show them who Jesus is. God bless.

    2. Brantley says:

      Blake, I also appreciate your response. And yes, I was upset at the false equivalence I thought you were making between masculinity and violence and the perceived denigration of women. Jesus got upset…but never violent.

      So no–at no point did I want to hit you–maybe just flip over the proverbial table of what you were selling in your comments. Peace.

  15. Rachelle says:

    Good grief, the name of the condition is “Asperger’s” not “Asbergers”. Just a personal pet peeve of mine, sorry!

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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