Seven Deadly [Societal] Yens: Wrath

I.

Because of violence in football games, athletic violence was initially questioned at a governmental level in our country. In 1901, six American collegiate football players died while playing their sport. The press condemned the deadly violence, and they more than any other source—sports historians say—demanded change for the protection of future players. 

University presidents first heard the journalistic outcries, and many of them threatened to end all collegiate football in their respective institutions.  This had some positive effect, but it wasn’t sufficient.

Then, in 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt, who had been on the boxing team while studying at Harvard, worked through effective channels to force college and university sports decision-makers to change the rules of football to protect the players.  The President

Image

warned that he would use all of his influence to have all football canned unless his demands were met before the 1906 season began.  Roosevelt won.  Great improvements have undoubtedly been made, but sports violence has hardly been eradicated—either on the court or field OR among spectators. 

The debate about violence in video games runs on, and there is no definitive study that I’ve heard about proving conclusively that kids who play violent video games are more inclined to act out violence in real life.  A 2011 CBS news article claimed to prove conclusively that game violence breeds real world violence, but immediately the results were contested.  Part of the problem, of course, is that it’s not only children who play violent video games.  Plenty of adults play them too and in fact procure their copies of the game in the midst of retail store violence among would-be buyers.  

Not so long ago, a California case in which the prosecution was trying to stop manufacturers of violent video games from continuing to produce what might contribute to in-person violence found its way to the Supreme Court. The High Court said the manufacturers were doing nothing illegal.  In fact, said Associate Justice Scalia in the majority opinion, and I’m paraphrasing here, “The violence in modern video games isn’t significantly different from graphic stories of violence in beloved so-called children’s stories.”  Just about concurrent with last year’s Black Friday, though I’m sure it was purely coincidental, there was a widely disseminated study claiming that violent video games were actually good for kids who needed a boost to be appropriately assertive.  

This is old news now, but still worth keeping in mind:  by the time most children in the United States are graduating from high school, they have witnessed in their entertainment sources 200,000 violent episodes, 16,000 of which are murders, and less than 25% of these acts of entertainment violence are presented as having any consequences for those who commit the acts of violence.

The violence-themed entertainment for our kids isn’t contributing the disturbing increase in cases of bullying? 

Verbal bullying?  Name-calling, teasing, insulting?

Social bullying?  Rumor mongering, excluding certain kids from activities in- and outside the classroom, lying to break up friendship and puppy-love-affairs?  

Physical bullying?  Old fashioned pushing, punching, tripping, full-scale fighting? 

Cyberbullying?  Texts, emails. social media sources used to harm others?

“Typically those who engage in bully-like behaviors use their strength, popularity, or power to harm, control, or manipulate others. They will usually target those who are weaker in size or may have a difficult time defending themselves.”

 

Image

 

Where would we be in this country without violence in our television shows and films.  If those segments and story lines were clipped and left for trash on the cutting room floor, what would be written in that our fellow citizens would actually watch?  Aljazeera America reports that since 1985 gun violence—and that’s just one type of violence—has tripled in PG-13 movies. 

Violence in sports. Violence in children’s games. Violence in television shows and films. We US Americans and others around the world love violence in our entertainment—that on which we focus in our “down time.” 

Oh, wait!  Did anyone think about violence in holy writ?  Children and adults in so-called “Bible believing churches,” thinking exclusively about Christianity here for a moment, are routinely exposed to graphic violence in the pages of  supposedly sacred scripture, which they are told by their religious leaders must be believed in order to remain in good standing with the god who supposedly inspired these events and the stories subsequently told about them.  God Godself is the angriest and most prone to be enraged in parts of Judeo-Christian scripture.  The Flood Story is one of the most horrendous stories of all.  It isn’t a cute tale about an amazing floating menagerie.  It’s a story about how God as Creator of humanity becomes dissatisfied with how humanity is failing to live up to standards set by God so God decides to kill them all off, leaving only one family to continue the human race.  Biblical scholar, Phyllis Tribble, referred to these violence-based stories as “texts of terror.”  Indeed, they are in so many ways.

 

II.

For those Christian groups who follow the Christians year, a new season began this past Monday, the season of Epiphany. This season, immediately following the season of Christmastide, is a celebration of the arrival of the wise persons from the east to see and honor Jesus. By this time Jesus is not an infant, and he and his family are not in a barn with Jesus in a manger. Jesus, instead, is about 2 years old, and he is at home with his mother Mary when the Magi arrive. Joseph is apparently at work.

An elaborate story evolved about how these wise persons, and we have no idea how many of them they were, followed an intermittently-appearing star that was pulling them they ultimately believed toward Jerusalem. Once they were in town, they needed specific information about exactly where the locals would have housed someone who had apparently been born to be their king someday, namely at his maturity. Why bother with people who may not know such as bystanders or random citizens to whom you may speak when you can go right to the equivalent of a national transportation authority. In this case, that authority resided in the palace where King Herod the Great ruled, and I mean ruled as in iron fist.

 

 

Image

 

The Wise Ones did not realize that by asking King Herod where the one who had been born to be king of the Jews was staying at the moment they would be tapping into his fear and anxiety and paranoia and unresolved, uncontrollable anger.  Herod had already killed a number of people whom he thought were trying to get in line to take his throne someday; according to some sources among those who may have put to death by the unbalanced old king were family members.  So, having this new information about someone born in the area who was destined to be king of the Jews was very threatening news to someone easing into senility on top of his pronounced paranoia.

Herod must have prided himself in the way he had built up the NSA, though in this situation intelligence seems to have been sketchy to nonexistent. He encouraged the Wise Ones to make their way to nearby Bethlehem where the prophets of old had said not a king but Israel’s military messiah would be someday be born.   He told them he was just dying to find out everything they found out so that he too might honor this one born by God’s design for greatness.

Sensing that something dastardly was brewing beneath the surface with Herod, the Wise Ones agreed among themselves that  Herod’s motivations were less than stellar. So not only did they avoid giving him any information that they are uncovered about little boy Jesus, but also they got the Hades out of Dodge without ever seeing Herod again or even being noticed by his spies.

This threw the senile king into a rage. And as an outgrowth of his rage he figures based on what he did get from the Wise Ones that the kid they were looking for had to have been about 2 years old. So to make sure he didn’t overlook any possibilities for threats to his throne, as if he were going to live forever or something like that, he orders what we now call the slaughter of the innocents. That is, he ordered that all the boys in and around Bethlehem 2 years of age and under would be put to death just in case one of them might be unwittingly in line to become king of the Jews. This is rage nearly beyond comprehension.

Ironically, Jesus’ father, Joseph, believed that in a dream God directed him to get his son and the son’s mother out of town because of the threat of some unspecified, probably horrific, tragedy. And being a person of his time and devout, he did take his toddler son and his wife to Egypt to be way out of harm’s way.  

Interesting that he went as far away from Bethlehem as he did.  A Joseph in Egypt brings to mind one of the great stories from Hebrew lore.  Egypt is where ancient Joseph found himself in what was supposed to have been a bad time in his life but which instead turned around and became the best part of his life with more opportunities and blessings and gifts coming his way than he could ever have imagined. And so here is another Joseph, namesake of the greatest of Josephs perhaps, taking his son, Yeshua, and his wife, Mary, to Egypt. Nothing stupendous happened for them there as a parallel to what had happened for the ancient Joseph, but at least they were safe—free from aggression and terror and wrath. And in the end safety matters more than any gift or opportunity. When the dust has settled as it were Joseph had another dream.  In that dream he was told it was okay to take his little family home. They would be now out of reach of the rage they had perhaps narrowly escaped.

 

III.

Herd mentality has been predictable behavior since human beings first began to form their own herds or tribes, to migrate in groups, and to perform would-be cooperative functions. The analysis of “mob behavior” was first done in depth in the nineteenth century by French social psychologists, Tarde and Le Bon. Freud was also interested in it as was author Wilfred Trotter, whose book Herd Instincts in Peace and War became a classic according to my social science colleagues.  I am very optimistic about human individuals!  I’m am less than optimistic about human beings in groups.  We all know rage can become a group activity.

So what’s up with Governor Christie and his creative retaliatory techniques?  One reporter wrote that the Governor certainly has tried to block the investigation. “He joked about it. And when it finally emerged that “Bridgegate” was a carefully planned act of political spite carried out by his closest adviser and the high-school friend for whom he’d invented a high-paid Port Authority job, Chris Christie did what many caught-in-the-act bullies do: He ran away to hide.”

More from that same gutsy reporter:   “Chris Christie’s signature tough-talking style earned him plaudits from the press and politicos alike from the moment he emerged on the national stage as a candidate for New Jersey governor in 2009.  It quickly catapulted him into a wider arena, the kind of place most politicians can only dream of: Whispers started coming soon after his election that he could star on a presidential ticket for the Republican Party. He seemed authentic. The real deal.  But that same quick wit and fiery spirit has caused his fans heartburn from time to time and led critics to make the case that the straight talker who vows to get things done can also be an intimidating bully.”

 

Image

If true, let it be said aloud, not all Americans dislike bullies. Many bullies are widely admired.  

Appropriate assertiveness should be admired—standing one’s ground, owning one’s convictions regardless of consequences.  But bullying?  NO!  Bullying is extension, a branch, of rage and wrath.

Uncontrolled anger will kill us, one way or another—on the inside or on the outside when we happen to be the target of some loose canon’s wrath.

Amen.

Advertisements

Comments are closed.