“God, guns, and guts”

“God, guns, and guts” July 22, 2012

So, now there’s been another (what the media is calling a) massacre of Americans in a public place. This time not a school but a movie theater in a suburb of Denver. Many people are asking what these horrific events say about our society. I don’t have any final answers; mostly I have only questions and some thoughts about possible answers that at least, I think, bear further investigation.

As I drive around my part of the country (and I’m sure it’s not unique in this regard) I see bumper stickers that say things like: “God, guns and guts” and “Thank God for our soldiers–especially our snipers.” When I go into the “video store” (yes, a few really still exist!) and peruse the hundreds of “new releases” (some of them have been in that category for over a year!) I see scores, probably over a hundred, of extremely violent movies obviously aimed at impressionable young minds–mostly adolescent boys (even if some are still in their twenties!).

I see full page ads in the newspaper for “gun sales” at stores and in rented coliseums and event centers–often showing pictures of guns nobody would ever need for hunting. I have been told that up to half of all adults in some parts of the country carry concealed weapons (licensed or not).

My question is whether it is time for Christians to speak out openly from pulpits and pages (of Christian publications) about our obviously increasing gun culture and culture of violence. Is this a subject for sermons? I think it is.

One need not be a pacifist to abhore violence. Perhaps some violence is necessary, but surely not the kind of random, extreme violence depicted in movies and comic books (which many young men in their twenties are still “reading”). Why do I see Christians picketing abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood sex education events but not violent movies and gun “shows?”

In my opinion, this is one of those “frog in the boiling water” kind of social situations. We have simply gotten so used to the violence depicted in movies (and sometimes also on TV) and in comic books and everywhere (almost) that we are numb to it.

Would it be appropriate for a pastor to counsel a man (or women) who shows up to the church parking lot with a bumper sticker that proclaims “God, Guns and Guts?” I think so. Would it be appropriate for a church to encourage parents to go beyond the rating system of movies and video games and comic books (do the latter even have a rating system) and actively discourage allowing boys (rarely girls) from watching, reading and playing them? I think so.

Should Christian leaders speak out against the culture of violence and death that is so overtaking our everyday lives? I think so.

Would any of this decrease the incidence of extreme violence that we have witnessed in suburban Denver and other places? I don’t know, but it would at least raise Christian voices against the culture that, in my opinion, feeds it and enables it.

Another issue I think social scientists need to look more closely at is why all the mass killers in these incidents are boys and young men. Who has ever heard of a girl or woman carrying a gun into a school or public place and shooting a bunch of people? I suppose it has happened, but I have never heard of it. Obviously there’s something about boys and young men that makes them more likely to do it. What might that be? Well, could it have something to do with the combination of testosterone and visual violence portrayed as beautiful and even redemptive–if not for everyone at least for the socially alienated and disaffected?

All that seems so obvious, but too few strong voices are speaking out about it. I think for two reasons. First, they are afraid of being accused of going against publishers’ and movie makers’ rights. Second, they are afraid of portraying this as a gender issue. but one can certainly criticize movies, comic books, video games and publishers and producers and stores that make and sell them without calling for government censorship. And one can certainly raise questions about how society is treating one gender without being sexist.

What do I mean “treating one gender?’ Obviously boys and young men are being exploited by movie makers and publishers, etc., as they know most of the decisions about what movies to see are made by young men. When I go to the (huge) video store I see mostly boys and young men perusing the shelves. And more often than not the trailors being shown on the video monitors are of excessively violent movies.

Yes, I actually do think that boys and young men are being victimized as well as society at large. Testosterone is notably associated with aggression. Boys and young men are vulnerable to images of sex and violence; these can become addictive and can (not always) contribute to acting out in anti-social ways.

People who make movies and video games surely know all this. So do the stores that market and sell them. And the movie theater chains that show them.

I am not calling for government censorship. I am calling for Christians to begin to focus attention on this problem and speak out openly about it–especially within churches and youth groups. I think it would be a good idea for Christian groups to develop their own rating systems for movies and video games and encourage parents and young people to avoid those that are excessively violent. We certainly have done that for a long time with regard to sexual content (or have we given up?).

I was actually raised in a church and denomination that forbid going to movies. I don’t think I really missed anything valuable or important. My parents carefully monitored what I watched on TV (when we had TV). Comic books were rare. The only ones in our home were “Classics Illustrated.” Ironically, I was allowed to play with toy guns, but only “old West” type toy guns–very unrealistic. I don’t think that damaged me, but, given America’s obsession with guns and violence now, I admire parents who do not allow their kids to own or play with toy guns.

I realize I’m not being original in all this; I’ve read and heard thoughtful Christians saying most of this for a long time. The one thing I’m saying that I haven’t heard very many people saying is that this is a problem specifically for boys and young men and through them for society at large. The solutions are elusive, of course. But perhaps if we, as a society, began to identify the sometimes lethal combination of visual violence and “raging hormones” (viz., testosterone in adolescent males) we might begin to think of some social conditioning that might mitigate the problem.

For example, we have long now identified how many young females are vulnerable to eating disorders. We don’t blame them; in fact we see them as victims. I’m not suggesting that a boy or young man who shoots people in a movie theater is a victim. However, I do think boys and young men are being made prey by overly zealous promoters of extreme visual violence and in that sense they are victims. All of society becomes victimized as the ripple effect goes out from a series of shooting massacres. What if we used some of the same teaching methods on boys that we use on girls with regard to body image–teaching them to resist the images they see in magazines and visual entertainment and advertising, etc.? What if we educators (and others) set up workshops and found ways to draw in boys and young men and educated them about the lethality for some boys and young men of feasting their eyes and minds on images of violence?

I have to ask myself this question. During 30 years of teaching in three different Christian universities and after many more years of being part of “Christian culture” in America–why have I never once seen a poster aimed at boys and young men about suicide and violence? (Boys and young men are much more likely to succeed at suicide than girls or young women.) I’m thinking of all the posters I have seen aimed at girls and young women about eating disorders and body image disorders–often inviting them to workshops about the subject. Who among the social workers and other concerned educators cares enough about boys and young men to identify their distinctive problems such as vulnerability to pornography and graphic violence? If they don’t care about boys and young men they should care about society that becomes victimized by some boys and young men whose minds have been warped by such graphic images. Why are preventive measures not taken by university counseling officials to stem this apparent epidemic of violence at its roots–mostly young, impressionable male personalities being warped by graphic images?

I am calling on pastors, counselors, youth pastors, Christian camp facilitators, etc., etc., to turn some attention toward boys and young men with regard to the destructive influences of some video games, internet web sites, movies, comic books and television programs. Don’t make it moralistic; make it a matter of “for their own good and society’s well-being.” If you just wag your fingers at them and say “Don’t!” they will. Use the same methods so widely used to discourage girls and young women from starving themselves to death–teach them to recognize and resist media images that are self-destructive and destructive of others with whom they have contact.


Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • During these times there will always be ‘a reaction’; some of it sound; some of it not. I like your attempt at generating questions and cautioning against waging the finger in your face approach, as well as not going down the road of government censorship. Having said that much, however, I must confess my ambivalence to this extent: eating disorders are not a good that is twisted (unless we say they strive for beauty, then with eating disorders, in the persuit of beauty, would reflect ‘a good that is twisted’). But the violence in movies is generally centered around the good vs. bad, and it shows heros performing acts of courage and valor. To this extent, then, while sensational and most often ‘far, far unbelieveable’, it is a good that is twisted, i.e., violence is glorified, heroics are beyond belief, etc… If one is a pacifist, then this would of course be wrong, but I am not a pacifist. I have yet to see a movie (and admittedly I don’t go to many) where violence as such is what is portrayed. It is usually done in the context of ‘the good’ and ‘the bad’; therefore, I think it really comes down to finding out what is ‘twisted’, i.e., too much heroics, too much violence, too much unbelieveable. What is obviously lacking is a Christian view in which violence is really a REGRETFUL NECESSITY. So I guess what can and should be done is for us to begin within our youth groups and casual discussions concerning a Christian view of war and violence. How many of us can cite our long held ‘Just War Theory’? How many parents have taught their kids a Christian view of war? This is what our young people need – a Christian view of war and violence and how it fits within the ‘real’ world.

    My further ambivalence comes from my willingness to go in another direction. The constitution aside, as a believer, I don’t see any inherent right to possess a firearm, so I’m willing to cough up my weaponry; furthermore, though I have weapons, I would not use it to kill a thief who had come into my home. There are simply too many scenarios whereby things could fall apart and go bad. Additionally, why would I take an unbeliever’s life over property? The last time I checked Scripture, an unbeliever’s destiny is not a desired end.

    So I guess violence – testosterone and cultural – primarily taps into the male psyche of exterior engagement. We are wired for thrills and are programed to manipulate the environment. However, just like reading fiction, as a believer, I need not fear the fiction/fantasy, nor should I fear the excessive violence. I can distinguish fantasy from reality. The real problem is a lack of Christian instruction. I see the problem in the shallow Sunday school, gold star, fluffy approach to instructing young believers. Parents have abdicated their responsibility, and church’s are still stuck in the Rogerian goal of making everyone feel good. We need to return to an engaging presentation of truth, including but not limited to, a Christian view of war and justice.

    • While I agree with you on most points, I think your solution is just more preaching to the choir. Unless Christians change the cultural atmosphere at large, those individuals growing and learning outside of the explicitly Christian sphere of influence will consume whatever entertainment is out there for them to consume.

      And there is plenty out there that glorifies violence for violence’ sake. Not all of it comes from the US either.

      • rogereolson

        I don’t know what else Christians can do short of attempting to censor movies, etc. That doesn’t seem to have worked in the past.

  • Joshua Wooden

    I rarely rely on personal experience for my arguments, but seeing as this article is explicitly aimed at my demographic (boys and young men in their 20’s), and being that I regularly watch violent movies and television shows and play violent video games (like Halo, Call of Duty and Gears of War), I think my experience is relevant.

    With that said, I do not see the connection between violence in the media (including video games), and physical aggression in reality. If it is for some, then I would argue that this could only be the case if there were other factors IN ADDITION to media influences (abuse, neglect, or other psychological damage caused by depression, PTSD, etc.). My friend and I regularly played Call of Duty at school, and I regularly watch movies rated “R” for violence (including Gladiator, Braveheart, etc.), and from my perspective, I am unaffected by it in any way that you seem to suggest boys and young men my age are. I may be delusional as to how I am affected by it (a possibility, I must admit), but I don’t think so – I’ve never been in any fight apart from wresting or rough-housing and that was for fun (ie. friends and brothers). I’ve never so much as punched someone in the face. Would you be willing to concede that physical violence can only be explained by media influence as a SECONDARY influence, and does not necessarily affect boys and young men up through their 20’s UNLESS there are other factors to take into account?

    • rogereolson

      I will concede (and thought I did) that media violence only has the effect at issue (leading to acting out violently) for SOME boys and young men–just as media depictions of the “ideal female figure” only leads to eating disorders and body image disorder in SOME girls and women. In my opinion, both effects are prevalent enough that society needs to counteract the influence by training young people to resist these effects.

  • As I read Genesis 3 it seems clear that competition, anger and violence in males is one strong dimension of the fallen nature. When God spoke to Adam about his future compulsive drives he said, “You shall eat your food with flared nostrils”. (Most English translations say “Sweat of the brow”.)

    Flared nostrils is a perfect metaphor for anger, bitterness, intense competition and win-lose attitudes. The symbol for a great stock market is the raging bull with flared nostrils and for a bad market it is an angry bear. This may be why young males with unlimited testostarone are more likely to get out of control in sports and in life when they are mentally unbalanced.

  • I would like to see more discussion in church and Christianity on guns. Why do we support them as Christians? To be truly pro-life, shouldn’t we speak out on the thing that takes away the lives of an average of 9,000 people a year? Yet Christians are silent.

    I have lived in Asia for seven years; four in China and three in Japan. In Japan, ironically in WWII a very violent society, they have an average of 11-12 murders by guns every year. Last year no deaths by gun accidents. In China gun violence is rare as well. Even without guns, there are only around 600 a year, with a third of the population of the United States. The US in contrast has around 15,000 murders a year, with 9000 of those committed by firearm. Vietnam, Cambodia etc all have surprisingly low murder rates. Even India, with it’s long reputation for being a dangerous place has lower murder rates than the US.

    I have often wondered about the disparity. To match population Japan should have around 3300, not 600. But I think there is more going on than that. We glorify war in the United States, but we don’t remember it.

    The United States hasn’t had a war on its land since the Spanish American war. It hasn’t been destroyed by war since the civil war. Asia and Europe remember rebuilding. They lived through it. There are towns around Tokyo to this day that forbid planes to fly over them because they remember the bombs that were dropped on them. The people grew up in a country that was rebuilding itself. They have a “healthy” appreciation for the violence that we have forgotten.

    The US military even is only 1% of the population of the US. Many of those are support who never see the actual violence. Why was there a movement to ban guns after Vietnam? Was it in part due to the horror of what was? With no concept of true violence and the devastation of war, kids glorify it on TV and heroify dark reality.

    Is it in part the memory of the horrors that befell them that caused Asia and Europe to give up their guns? Horrors that we in the US cannot fully appreciate? Is that why there is so much acceptance of violence? Because to us it isn’t real?

    What should a Christian in this culture today think of guns and the glorifying of the gun culture?

    • rogereolson

      And now it is becoming all too real to us–in Aurora, Colorado and all kinds of places all over the country. And yet, the die hard guns rights advocates will continue to resist common sense regulation of guns.

  • My test for such movies has generally been whether or not evil is portrayed as evil or good. Reading Nate’s comments above, I am not sure if I completely agree with him. Most heroes in today’s movies are anti-heroes, and even do quite sinful things. Good is nebulous, while evil remains pure. And even then, the villian is often glorified. The Joker is an obvious example of this.

    Now, I say this, but I also like comic book movies, and I enjoy action movies. I do believe that there is a limit though, and I have trouble putting my finger down on it. Perhaps it is my own enjoyment of it that blinds me, I don’t know. But I do know that this recent killer has caused me to rethink my entertainment.

    Guns on the other hand I do not see as evil. There is a distinction between the way in which guns are used in films and video games etc…, and the guns themselves. I believe in the 2nd ammendment, and I recognize that it has nothing to do with hunting. It has to do with defending ourselves against a corrupt government. While such measures are completely unnecessary now, it has to do with the future. the first thing that any tyrannical government does is unarm the population. This is an important part of any conversation about guns, and yet I rarely hear it talked about.

  • Jason Lee

    There’s an enormous social science literature on gender and crime, especially violent crime. As one recent example, see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3120233/

    • rogereolson

      A quick perusal of that article (which is all I have time for right now) seems to indicate the focus is on females.

  • James Petticrew

    I wonder if in American you have a kind of “national myth” surrounding guns which makes your connection with them so deep? By myth I don’t mean an untruth but a shaping defining story, that it was your ordinary citizens with guns that won your freedom, it was good ordinary people who won the West with their guns and so guns have become integral to American self identity?

    In Scotland we have a similar problem with violence from young men but because of our gun laws its mainly expressed through knife crime, the only redeeming fact about that being that is there is a limit to how many people you can stab quickly and so they can inflict a lot less injury than someone with an assault rifle and hundred round ammunition cartridge. I am sure the entertainment industry in bith countries (as its largely the same) has reinforced the message that to be a man means you can settle your grievances through violence,

    • rogereolson

      I think your theory makes sense.

    • James,

      That is part of it, but another big part is that idea of rights. Americans are deeply passionate about this idea, and it is much more fundamental to our founding myth than guns themselves. The artifact which defines and epitomizes this myth is the Bill of Rights, and the second right mentioned is the right to bear arms. I think identifying gun ownship was one of the top ten rights in America is the leading factor to our love of firearms.

      That said, I think there is some truth to the idea of the right to bear arms. Indeed, I am part of the politically conservative part of the country, and there is a lot of talk about the care of guns, and a lot of demonization of those who abuse the right and try to settle their differences violently as you say. It is much more tied up in the notion of “This is my right, and I am going to embrace it.”

      • rogereolson

        I don’t want to keep beating a dead horse, but last evening I saw a segment of a PBS program that illustrated my belief that America has an “over the top” gun culture. One of my favorite programs is “History Detectives.” Last evening one segment of one of the episodes (two were aired) was about a Civil War veteran whose family created a kind of shrine to his memory in the house that was passed down through the generations. The “shrine” (I don’t know what else to call it) featured his photo and his boxed pistols. (I won’t go into the rest of the story as it’s irrelevant to my point.) The boxed pistols had nothing to do with the Civil War. They were, apparently, his prized possessions and became those of his descendents about him.

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    Roger: It’s about time for an evangelical Christian to put the spotlight on the blood and guts violence in this country. I cannot turn on my TV without finding myself looking down the barrel of a gun. We have an entire generation of young men who get their daily kicks out of extremely violent media games and movies. It’s not without significance that many of those ‘young adults’? in attendance of that Batman movie were in costume, including the shooter who dyed his hair red and claimed to be the “Joker.” There is something seriously wrong in this country when a young adult can obtain possession of an M-15 automatic weapon and buy 6000 rounds (count ’em) of ammunition online. One doesn’t have to be a prophet to predict that unless we stop this nonsense, there’s more and worse to come.

  • icthusiast

    The attitude to guns and gun control in then USA is a great mystery to this observer from afar, and not least that of Christians.
    A collegaue of ours is married to a US citizen and has lived in the US for a significant period of her adult life. At one point, while back in New Zealand a group of us were having dinner and somehow got to discussing ethical scenarios. Someone posed the question: If there was an intruder in your house would you tell them you had rung the police and that it would be in their interest to flee, even if you hadn’t actually rung the police? Our collegaue strongly insisted that it would be wrong to do so. Lying as blatantly as this would be unconscionable. When I asked what she would do instead, she calmly, even off handedly, stated, “I’d shoot him!”
    I was gobsmacked. Maybe my response is incomprehensible to many in the US, but my impression is that many in the US are so steeped in a violent gun culture that they are unable to see how strange their attitudes are to many other Christians.
    Even if the attitude of our colleague could be justified, the type weaponry readily and legally availbale in the US is far beyond the legitimate need of self defence. To this observer from afar, a Christian defence of the current US gun culture, is near impossible.
    Please accept my apologies if this seems a little rude from a visitor to a US blog! 🙂

    • rogereolson

      No, I think we need to hear this. Too many Americans (the majority?) seem deaf to how the rest of the world sees us. It certainly came home to me while living in Germany. That is not to say, of course, that citizens of other countries don’t need to learn how others see them. In Germany we watched a regular TV show called Bilder aus Amerika. It was an hour long documentary program focusing each episode on a certain segment of American culture. I found it one of the most enlightening experiences of living in Germany.

    • However the second amendment isn’t about self defense. It is about our capacity to defend ourselves against a tyranical government. The biggest problem about the second amendment conceptionally is that it is based on a hypothetical, rather than a day-to-day need. Therefore, the gun industry has focused on self-defense and hunting as ways to show the a more common use for them. But these are actually distortions of the 2nd ammendment itself.

      • rogereolson

        And who really needs twenty-five guns of all varieties for the possible eventually of needing to join a militia to fight against an oppressive government? I have been in homes (especially in Texas) where men loved to show off their arsenals of unbelievably lethal guns that obviously had nothing to do with hunting or target practice or opposing a future oppressive government.

        • Yes, there are definatly those who take it too far. I am not actually arguing against that. Americans are passionate against guns, and more Americans take it too far than in other nations. I just don’t want the baby being tossed out with the bath water.

  • Fred Karlson

    I am curious to see where you would find scriptural support for the right to bear arms to oppose a corrupt government.

    • rogereolson

      I’m not sure to whom that is addressed. I don’t find any such scriptural support. This must be meant for a commenter.

    • I don’t see any scriptural support for the right to drink milk either. I also see nothing opposing it.

  • Ray Wilkins

    I have a couple of statements. One, automatic weapons were outlawed in the 1930’s. The iconic “Tommie Gun” made famous by the gangsters of the 20’s and its ability to rapid fire a high caliber bullet became the poster gun for why they needed to be outlawed. Did this prevent gangs from getting automatic weapons? No. Bloods, Crips, MS-13, Mafia, etc., routinely get their hands on automatic rifles. Mexico has outlawed gun ownership and it hasn’t done anything to curb violence.
    Second, I became an even stronger supporter of the 2nd Amendment after spending two years in Panama during the dictatorship of Gen. Noriega. I knew Panamanian citizens who were routinely drug from their homes in the middle of the night. Some were even beaten in broad daylight. They would always ask us Soldiers, “when are you guys going to take care of Noriega.” I would respond, “why don’t you take care of him.” their simple reply, “how.” You see, gun ownership was outlawed and only the police and Military had guns. Jefferson argued for an armed citizenry so that they could protect themselves from an overbearing government. I know that many Progressives would say that this could never happen in America. But I have seen too many things happen recently that I thought would never happen in America.
    Perhaps the churches should stick to talking about the root cause of violence; the human heart. The very thing that liberals reject. Why, 50 years ago, when more households owned guns, was gun violence much less than it is today?

    • rogereolson

      Who are you responding to? My post wasn’t about “gun rights.”

  • J.E. Edwards

    Guys like Lecrae Moore, Trip Lee, Tedashii and all the folks at Reach Records are doing a good job of producing music that confronts that type of culture. They have done a great job of addressing men & boys and many issues they face (i.e. pornography, violence, etc). They have been a welcome sight to my music collection. They also weave the gospel into much of their music, so as not to reduce this to moralism. Check them out when you get a chance.

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for the suggestion. May their tribe increase.

  • Rob

    I think all of this is really interesting, but it I do not see what gun ownership or even gun culture has to do with it. Obviously you cannot kill someone with a firearm unless you have one, but simply owning one does not create a motive to murder. Switzerland has a significantly higher rate of gun ownership compared to the U.S. and most of those weapons are assault rifles–perhaps as many as half a million sit in private homes and are even carried around in public. But there is no comparison between crime in America and Switzerland. And here in America, the rate of gun ownership is very high in places like Alaska, Maine, and the UP but those places have some of the lowest violent crime rates in the country.

    • rogereolson

      “Gun culture” isn’t about number of guns owned. It’s about love of weapons for reasons other than peaceful ones. I’ve traveled in Switzerland and know that the guns there are owned by people (perhaps the majority of the population) trained by the army to use them only in case of foreign invasion.

  • Dear Mr. Olson,

    Someone posted your blog link on FB which is how I stumbled upon this article. I want to say that I really appreciate your comments and think it took guts to write. Clearly bumper sticker slogans such as “God, Guts & Glory” have nothing to do with the Gospels so yes, I share your opinion that it is time for these issues to be addressed from the pulpit and theologically.

    Much of what drives the culture of violence is money. Like sex, guns sell (in more ways than one) but the long term ramifications extract a huge cost. I agree. It’s time to start a dialogue.

    Years ago I was a nanny for three boys. Their mother strictly regulated their viewing of violent content found in both movies and video games. Of course they wanted to know, “Why?” I remember having a long discussion with them about it. As their female nanny I asked them, “Did you ever wonder why it is always women in horror films that are chased with a butcher knife (or killed in the shower, or raped, or cut up into a thousand pieces?). It’s rarely a man who is being terrorized in such a fashion and even more rare that a woman is the perpetrator. The boys were fascinated by this observation. It had never even crossed their minds that these movies were not only violent but misogynistic because of course their sex was never portrayed as the victim. (And btw, violence against women (particularly sexual molest/incest) is one of the key factors that put girls at risk for developing an eating disorder (far more than media influence).

    I found Joy’s comments spot on. In the U.S. we have glorified violence without having a full appreciation for the trauma it evokes. As a psychotherapist, I know that people’s psychological wounds from violence takes far longer to heal than any physical manifestation of harm. And although some of the respondents feel that violence in the media only impacts kids if there is the addition of “(abuse, neglect, or other psychological damage caused by depression, PTSD, etc.)”, a large percentage of youth today have this additional component. I grew up in the theatre and am a psychotherapist and writer so I’m not saying we suddenly have to make all art sanitary and censored. Yet there is a big difference between movies like “Gladiator” and “Brave Heart” and movies with plots that advocate killing your teacher if you’re pissed she gave you a “C”. “Just kill the bitch!” might as well be the theme song for some of these movies. I’m with Martin on this one. Many of today’s films sensationalize and promote evil as the hero vs. the good winning the day. And with easy access to guns, all it takes is a pull of the trigger to act out one’s revenge fantasy with the point of no return. In the olden days one had to look one’s opponent in the eyes and actually physically have the courage to fight (not that I’m advocating violence). Yet a bloody noise from a fist in the face heals in ways that a bullet to the heart can’t.

    Going back to my year as a nanny, one afternoon I had all of the neighborhood boys in the kitchen with me which was typical. As I was preparing snacks for them, I asked one of my charges to stop banging on the counter with one of the butcher knives I was using. He put it down immediately but his buddy mumbled, “Just kill her with it next time.” He was all of eleven years old and this was a good twenty years ago. I looked him straight in the eye and quietly said, “If you ever say anything of that nature again, you’re never stepping foot in this house.” This little boy never spoke disrespectfully to me again and from then on clung to me like a puppy dog because he really needed attention more than anything else. But – he was exactly the kind of kid that without guidance down the road could have spelled trouble – of the kind we’re talking about.

    • rogereolson

      It should have been his father who sternly corrected the boy. I’m not saying you did wrong; I’m just saying boys that age desperately need fathers or father substitutes to correct such attitudes and behaviors (even verbal) early on. I agree with most of what you say. The only thing I’d disagree with is the implication (if not outright claim) that more females are victims of violence than males. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, more males are murdered in the U.S. every year than females. Of course, the vast majority of them are murdered by other males. So that fact doesn’t mitigate the force of my argument (that Christians need to educate especially boys about media violence and how to resist it). What I’d like to ask you as a psychotherapist is why the psychology and social work cultures in America have so little to say about boys and violence in terms of helping boys and young men learn to resist media violence? In 30 years teaching in universities (and more years before that being a student in one) I have never seen evidence of any workshop or seminar or anything aimed at boys or young men about suicide or violence. I see posters and ads for workshops and seminars and films, etc., aimed at young women about media images of females that can lead to eating disorders. The focus seems to be solely on females. Isn’t it time social workers and counselors and psychologists paid some public attention to boys and young men who are much more often the victims of suicide and who are almost always the perpetrators of violence? I think so.

      • Roger,
        She said more females are victums in movies. However, I am not sure if this is true either, but she is certainly right that it is mostly the men who are the perpetraters and the “heroes”.

        • rogereolson

          And yet that is quickly changing, isn’t it? I see more and more movies with women heroes committing horrible acts of violent revenge. Think “Kill Bill.”

          • I may have issue with the word “quicky”, but yes, it is changing.

  • Great post, Roger.
    I first really noticed society’s fixation with violence when I saw the movie Batman: The Dark Knight. I definitely see a connection between what is portrayed in movies and what young men are influenced by. In fact, the young man who killed those people in that theater called himself “The Joker”, obviously influenced by the fictional character.
    In Batman: The Dark Knight, the character known as the Joker truly makes evil seem fun. I couldn’t help but notice the impact this fictional character had on young men. I understand that a movie can portray an evil character in powerful ways. However, movies like The Dark Knight sometimes make their villains so funny and cool that disturbing scenes (like when the Joker blows up a hospital) do not carry the seriousness that they should. I find this to be very dangerous in media because young men end up praising the villain more than the hero. In fact, I saw more young men wearing shirts of Heath Ledger’s Joker than shirts of Batman. There is something erie and disturbing about what our young men find entertaining now. I, too, blame the movie producers because they really go out of their way to glorify evil and malice.

    David Martinez

    • rogereolson

      Thank you for the agreement. Now if we can just convince educators, counselors, psychologists, social workers, pastors, etc., to develop tools to educate boys and young men about the dangers of “cool violence” (to themselves as well as others) we might make some headway. I’ve never seen or heard of such educational events (in 30 years of teaching in Christian universities). Almost all attention (regarding gender-related problems) is aimed at girls and women. Rarely if ever at boys and young men.

  • Hi Roger,
    Thanks so much for your response both to myself and to other individuals who posted. Regarding the young man I mentioned, I agree the father would have been the better choice. Unfortunately in so many situations like this, fathers (and mothers too) aren’t around and even if they are, they are not disciplining their kids. And your point about statistics of violence towards men is very well taken.

    Regarding your other point, I 100% agree that there needs to be more focus on boys/men in the fields of psychology/counseling and social work. However, I do want to say that in my community, boys are definitely not ignored. There are groups offered specific to boys, violence, anger management, etc. But then I’m saturated in the therapeutic community so may be more abreast of things (as opposed to what is being marketed to the general public). Yet your point is quite significant. The only rationale I can come up with for this phenomenon is that men have left the fields of psychology and social work in droves. In most hospitals or clinics where I have worked over the years, the staff is predominantly female vs. male. And like boys needing fathers and male role models, boys need male clinicians out there too. Certain messages mean a lot more coming from a man than from a woman…

    You’ve got me thinking on this…. I agree it is a real problem.

    • rogereolson

      Thank you. You are one of the few (including few men) in the field of counseling/psychological who have agreed with me about this. I would just once like to see a poster somewhere on a college/university campus aimed specifically at boys/young men that is educative and positive in a way analogous to the ones I see every February (eating disorders month) aimed at girls/young women. I once convinced the counseling staff at a university to do a workshop in pornography addiction. The poster for it showed a female student staring into a computer. Again, it shouted “for women!” I doubt any boys or young men attended the workshop. Also, all the posters I see about health (nutrition, disease prevention/wellness, etc.) are aimed at girls and women. You’re certainly right about men leaving the fields of student counseling and psychology to women. So, just as educators are working hard at getting women into fields where they are underrepresented (e.g., engineering), they need to launch efforts to recruit men to be teachers and counselors. I don’t see that happening. Every time I see a billboard, for example, aimed at recruiting teachers, it’s a woman who is portrayed as the potential teacher. No wonder men (and women) have come to think teaching is a “women’s job.”

  • Phil Miller

    I agree with this article quite a lot. It’s easy to become desensitized to violent images, and they seem to be everywhere now. What I find most disturbing are the times when I’ve seen youth and campus pastor use these sorts of things to “pump people up”. It’s not that I believe that all depictions of violence are wrong, even, it’s just that I think that we need to really discern what is worth digesting when it comes to media.

    Regarding your comment about shootings perpetrated by girls, one sprung to my mind immediately. When I was an undergrad at Penn State, there was a shooting on the lawn in front of the student union building. One student was killed and another injured, but it could have been much worse. Luckily someone was able to wrestle the girl to the ground before she could reload. I remember this incident pretty vividly because I was on my way to that building and missed being in that location by about five minutes.

  • Steve Dal

    The US is in decline. This is just one more example. There was a statistic thrown around here (Australia) recently that an average of 8 out of 10 Americans have a gun. You appear to be swimming in them. I just think it is symptomatic of what is a normal historic cycle. Namely, empires come and empires go. No politician over there will touch the issue because the gun lobby is so strong politically and your constitution enshrines the ‘right’ to them. So who do we get ready for next as the reigning world empire? Easy China/Asia. Its their turn now. Very interesting times in which we live. I never thought I would live to see America, land of the free and home of the brave etc etc drop off the perch. Amazing.

  • David


    I think you raise a great point in your post. It especially makes sense given the kind of post/beyond evangelical Christianity you talk about (I forgot if that’s what you call it.) My personal take is that at the end of the day I don’t think you are going to convince very many people to change the culture because violence and sex sells in our society. I don’t think you will see any change until there is, unfortunately, a really massive tragedy involving firearms of the sort used in these crimes. The almighty dollar rules the day. Violence in our day and age sells. Hollywood is banking, the NRA is banking, and people in general are comfortable living in a culture that feeds it violence and action. In a sense we are all complicit and I think that’s what makes it hard to have real change. I keep asking myself–how many of these senseless killings do we have to endure. The inability to have any real reform or change in our culture really coarsens us as a society. It’s like we have grown to expect these tragedies every so often. And I really can’t stand to listen to the news anymore after one of these terrible events because I am so familiar with the gun control debate and the talking points that each side operates from. It’s a lot of talking past each other (left vs. right.) I don’t see why we as Christians have to align ourselves with either side. Unfortunately, I think people are willing to live with these kind of events until they are personally affected by it. I don’t have a problem with guns. I have lots of friends who have them and I have been to the firing range plenty of times to fire everything from a sniper rifle to a glock but if you have ever been to a gun show it’s a little creepy to see how many firearms are available to the public. There needs to be some kind of reform both outwardly in terms of gun control laws and inwardly in terms of what we value as a culture. I’m just more pessimistic about the latter which is probably why at this point the only solution is to curb the availability of these weapons.

    • rogereolson

      Agreed. But my main point (which may not have been clearly my main point in the post) was to call for Christian educators and church leaders to develop tools for helping boys/young men to resist the culture of violence that is increasing in our society and that is fed by the entertainment media in many forms.

  • John C. Gardner

    The culture of our country has glorified guns for many years. More recently, however, is the gratuitous violence which is depicted. I am frightened by our gun culture and the relatively new concealed carry laws. There are horrible crimes depicted on both commercial TV and PBS(witness the Detective Lewis series). I think we need to be more responsible and not glorifyviolence and horrible crimes. I am not a pacifist but believe that some increased gun control methods should be tried.

  • I can think of two girls who were spree killers Brenda Spencer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brenda_Ann_Spencer and Laurie Dann http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurie_Dann Oh yeah my high school friend, Alton Coleman’s, girlfriend and killing spree partner Debra Brown. Yet female spree killers are in the vast minority.