Mentally Ill, Radical, or Evil?

In late July and early August, our nation experienced three mass shootings. The initial shock, horror, and grief quickly gave way to anger and the demand for answers: Why do people do this? How can we stop it from happening again?

First, I’ll review the typical answers. Next, I will offer another that touches the heart of the issue.

  • Mental Illness

Most people claim mental illness as the motivation for many mass shooters. Exploring the background of these men often reveals a fatherless home, a troubled past, and an obsession with violence. Society agrees that those who enjoy violence must be mentally ill. To stop the mentally ill from committing gun violence, pundits recommend restricting their access to firearms, encouraging family and friends to alert the authorities of a loved one’s suspicious activity, and improving access to and the quality of mental health care.

What I never hear is a proposal on how to prevent mental illness in the first place. But that is a topic for another day.

  • Radical Ideologies

Another motivation for committing a mass shooting is radical ideologies. For a few decades, the United States has experienced various forms of terrorism from the militia movement, radical Muslims, Antifa, and white supremacists, as in the case of the El Paso shooting. A strong sense of hate drives these people to attack innocent bystanders who represent the group they wish to destroy.

The solutions offered to stop this menace include collecting intelligence on terrorist groups, encouraging family and friends to tip off law enforcement if they suspect a loved one is considering an act of terrorism, and watching social media for red flags.

  • Anger and Infamy

Some shooters act out of frustration because they’ve been pushed to the margins of society. They attack others out of unresolved anger, the need for revenge, or the desire for fame.

The most popular solution for this and the other motivations is gun control. Whenever a shooting occurs, many clamor for more restrictions on the Second Amendment. A smaller group calls for a reduction of violent games and movies. Another solution, not to report the name of the shooter, has gained popularity, and I believe this may reduce the motivation for fame.

Since the Columbine school shooting twenty years ago, the number and frequency of mass murders have accelerated despite our nation’s attempts to implement the above solutions. Why have they failed? (See Book Review: Countering the Mass Shooter Threat for some reasons.)

What is the common denominator for all these criminals who spray death into crowds? Some people are willing to label such actions as evil. However, how do we combat evil? Laws can only curb behaviors. Evil is a heart problem, and the government is unable to shape the heart.

An Evil Heart

The common denominator among criminals is an evil heart. Although it is politically incorrect to say, it’s true. But what do I mean by evil?

Evil: adjective, morally reprehensible: sinful, wicked
Evil: noun, the fact of suffering, misfortune, and wrongdoing

Merriam-Webster

Evil, or sin, is anything contrary to the will of God. Throughout the Bible, God has declared that all people have sinned (Psalm 14: 1-3; Romans 3:23) because all fail to obey him.

Jesus pointed out that evil doesn’t come from outside forces, as many people might say, but from the heart. (See Matthew 15:19). (Dear Reader, if you doubt the reliability of the Bible, please see my series Dusty Pages or Divine Truth.) If this innate evil, what the Bible calls the sin nature, isn’t restrained, it will eventually destroy the individual and hurt those around him.

Restraining the Evil Heart

The ability to control the evil in one’s heart varies from person to person. To truly conquer the sin nature, we must surrender our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ. When one does this, Jesus gives him the Holy Spirit, who will transform his heart so he can live a godly life.

Sometimes even those who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus can live as a “good” citizen. Because we are all made in the image of God, we can model some of his characteristics, including goodness. Without knowing God, our conscience still tells us what is right or wrong. Apostle Paul explained this in Romans 2:14-15.

“For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them.”

Romans 2:14-15 (NASRE)

If evil has always been with us, why do we see more of it today?

From Restraint to Relativism

Since our nation’s beginning, most Americans lived according to the teaching of the Bible, or at least they listened to their conscience. Following the biblical worldview assisted citizens in governing themselves, and this kept the level of crime low. It also reduced the level of immorality, which causes various social ills such as substance abuse, out-of-wedlock pregnancies—and mass shootings.

Violence crimes and even massacres did happen in the past. However, these occurred less frequently because most people had self-control, and the culture as a whole valued and encouraged morality and scorned sinful behavior. This public peer pressure aided individuals in keeping their behavior in check.

For instance, it helped to keep gun violence low. Throughout America’s history, Americans have own firearms. Even boys as young as twelve have had small-caliber rifles for plinking and squirrel hunting. Up to the 1950s or so, in some areas, boys would bring their rifles to school so they could shoot rabbits on the way home or participate in a shooting club. The majority of people valued human life and knew murder was wrong. Mass shootings were rare.

Since most people controlled themselves, few firearm laws were needed. Not until the 1930s did Congress pass federal gun restrictions and this was to curb mafia activities. Since then, the federal, state, and local governments have passed several more firearm regulations. Despite this, mass shootings have increased. Why?

Because biblical worldview no longer shapes our mainstream culture. Secularism has taken its place. The Bible’s influence began to wane in the early twentieth century. Then direct opposition to it grew in the mid-twentieth century and led to the removal of prayer (1962) and Bible reading (1963) from the public schools. Without the fostering of biblical values in education and in society, American culture descended into moral depravity.

In the 1960s, the sexual revolution swept the nation, erasing over 1500 years of Western civilization’s adherence to the biblical view of sexual purity. With it, many other moral laws were cast to the wind, and a new culture of “if it feels good, do it” was created.

Instead of upholding moral discipline, the spirit of the age celebrates “the lust of the flesh (pleasure and sexual immorality), and the lust of the eyes (wealth), and the pride of life (power)” (1 John 2:16 KJV). Everyone decides for themselves what is right (Judges 21:25) and follow their heart to create their own truth, their own reality.

Instead of traditional morals, schools teach children this relativistic worldview: Morals have no absolutes. Therefore, killing babies in the womb is okay. Promiscuity is encouraged. Based on naturalistic Darwinism, we are just an evolutionary accident; consequently, we have no meaning or purpose. If these beliefs are correct, then how can it be wrong to randomly shoot people at a mall, if that is the gunman’s truth?

Heart Transformation

A mass shooting may be caused by a biochemical imbalance in the brain of the perpetrator. But more often than not, these crimes originate from an evil heart.

So, how can we bring this mass shooting epidemic to an end? Laws can only go so far to stop crime. Our cultural drift from a biblical worldview to a relativistic one has created a culture of death. We must confront evil head-on as individual citizens.

We must either choose to recognize absolute truth, value moral discipline, and teach our children to do the same. Or we will continue to face evil crimes such as mass shootings if we maintain our culture’s relativistic worldview that rejects moral absolutes and reality.

Out of love of our fellow citizens, Christ-followers need to be more proactive in sharing the hope of Christ with others. Only when more people have their hearts transformed by the Holy Spirit will our culture of death be redirected to the road of life.

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26 (NASRE)

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