The Young Are Dying to Matter in Our Secular World
In recent weeks, reports abound about wanton acts of violence. A story that gained grand publicity asserted that a young man targeted black people at a market, his gun bearing the name of at least one victim of the Waukesha massacre. This implies that he concluded that taking more lives would in some way be a just rebuke against the world that ignored those victims, or an offense against the black supremacist perpetrator thereof.
Instead, that world joined in indignation against the ideology that the market shooter professed. As it did so, public figures made sweeping statements not just against him, the act that he committed, or the ideology that he held, but against everyone of his color. They condemned white people and especially “young white men” as being inherently vice-ridden. They reiterated the very notions about supposed white institutional oppression and innate moral inferiority that convinced the Waukesha driver to enact his rampage on white Christmas celebrants. It’s a bloody cycle with no apparent end.
As is always the case after media coverage of shootings, others soon emulate the acts. Those who were teetering between despair and rage at the world that enabled their hopelessness feel inspired to follow along after such events, that maybe they too could matter, if only for a day. The more that we publicize the names and faces of such acts, the more likely that copycats will follow. It’s a well-studied phenomenon at this juncture.
It’s not just that we live in an age of narcissism, though we do. (Do you own a selfie stick? How many likes did that edge-of-the-cliff photograph get?) It’s that we live in a world of disconnected loneliness. We all have a drive to matter, to make a difference; for so many, especially our youth, that drive is aimless and reckless.
The young man who was recently charged for his plan to murder Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh and his family has confided that he had hoped the killings would give his life purpose, as if purpose can be fulfilled by notoriety.
We once told our kids, as parents, teachers, and neighbors, that they were of unique value to God. We told them that even when we didn’t know the reason for their being, and even when they had trouble seeing purpose in the suffering that is inherent in all of our lives, that He knew. He knew their worth and He had a plan for them. People don’t hear that much anymore, especially young people.
As God has been removed from education, many voids have been left in the hearts of the would-be educated. They’re told by tutors that they are simply raw matter, to be forgotten on a big enough timeline, and whose only value can be measured in currency or plurality of connections. Is it any wonder that our society is descending?
The boy who begins shooting in the supermarket is not meaningfully distinct in terms of motivation from the teenage girl who strips for her OnlyFans page. If we inhabit a godless plane, if we live in a timeless present, with no debt to forebears or posterity, then we’re just alone with the unscrupulous people of the present, and there’s no moral argument against the indulgence of surrendering to your rage, your innermost desire for vengeance, or your heavily rationalized plan to purge those that you have surmised are worse than yourself. It might even be your chance to be of significance, even if just for an instant.
The only trouble is that all of these assumptions are false, even if they may be common enough to be somehow considered “normal”. You, dear reader, do have value and dignity quite apart from what surrounds you. In fact, to live as a Christian is in many ways to live apart from the world.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn noted that the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. Good is opt-in only; if we don’t choose it and fight for it and gather allies for it, we default to evil. People used to know this. They need to relearn it now. We must engage in the kind of self-reflection that leads to the rejection of those things that would make us one with the world’s evils. It is in that rejection that we gain connection and relatedness with the transcendent. It is then that we matter.
“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
— St. Catherine of Siena
The man who committed the aforementioned atrocity, barely having breached adulthood, is but a microcosmic reflection, a single iteration of what our secular, vacuous world produces. Screaming for recognition, lacking direction, and firing his hatred at others who were locked in the same perceivably meaningless existence with him.
We’re about to see more of these representative offspring. Churches have become common targets, and will become moreso over the coming months. The young who have been raised in denial of their own value will feel indignant as they collectively screech the denial of the value of any life, invading Catholic churches for the sin against modernity of protecting the lives of the unborn.
Those churches didn’t just assert the right to life of the unwanted, they asserted the errancy of the societal lie — that we are all insignificant and worthless; that we have no value inherent. By doing so, those churches not only denied the “right” of abortion, they attested to the individual responsibility of one’s own actions. If we have value inherent, and we are significant, then it must also be true that the actions that we take matter. That’s a corrective narrative that many who have embraced the darkness of the age find to be too heavy a burden to bear. They would rather burn down the church than bear their own reflection. If you matter before God, then your every decision matters. You matter. It’s a rejection of our entire society, and it comes with its own cost, but there’s a toll of blood and suffering that we see in the fruits around us if we refuse to accept the burden.
“When the values of Christ and of the world are so divergent—so inevitably divergent—we should not feel surprised if we find ourselves now and then ‘out of step’. In fact, we should be worried if we are never that way. As Christ told us, we are supposed to be out of step.”
— Justice Antonin Scalia