Violent video games may not have links to mass shootings, but they’ve helped distort our understanding of justice. Not long ago I wrote about violent video games, and action/super hero movies, observing that in each justice is defined as wreaking vengeance. They advertise that peace and security cannot be restored to the community until the bad guys are destroyed in the most gruesome way possible, and that players and viewers should be entertained by it. Their brand of justice is sold as just retribution for the evil perpetrated on society. They teach the worst kind of retributive justice, the kind associated with vigilantes, lynch mobs, white nationalists, nazis and antifas. They’re close cousins of tortured death in Rome’s coliseum, burning at the stake in medieval town squares, and public hangings on our own courthouse lawns. They glorify revenge and violent death. They demean the rule of law. For Christians, they violate everything Jesus taught. Who knows how many buttons they can push.
Fed a daily diet of them might bring some well armed person to look for bad guys in the guise of convenient scapegoats, who are always people not like their people. Games and movies didn’t create today’s gun culture, but they’ve offered justification for it. They can make being well armed for imaginary self defense look heroic. They can encourage the illusion of being the good guy with a gun ready to take out the bad guy with a gun. They can make lethal “stand your ground” reaction to otherwise non lethal confrontations appear justified. They can foster the delusion that killing others, many others, is nothing more than the elimination of dehumanized characters. They portray a monstrous mutation of morality and the ideals of justice held dear by leaders secular and religious.
So yeah, I don’t care for violent video games, most action movies, and even a few of our beloved super heroes, at least in their current manifestations. They wouldn’t be so popular if there wasn’t a market for them, and that says a lot about our collective moral character, but that can’t be. We’re Americans. We live in the land of the brave and free. Our ideals are founded on equality, the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. It can’t be a problem with our moral character. It must be a problem with somebody else’s moral character. We need to put them in their places, then everything will be OK again. In the meantime, best to stay alert with guns loaded and ready. That’s the way it looks to me, and we’re not unique. It’s pattern as old as human history.
Denying the fallen nature of our collective moral character isn’t a popular subject these days. Fundamentalists blame it on Adam and Eve, and the rest of us ridicule them for such a silly idea. Evangelicals are sure it’s mostly about sex. Rome pins it on Protestants, who return the favor in kind. Conservatives blame it on liberals, the elderly on millennials, nationalists on immigrants, and so on. The point is, everyone recognizes something is wrong, and no one wants to include themselves among the guilty. Maybe it’s time to admit Calvin had a point; we all, individually and collectively, are among the fallen because our selfish self righteousness corrupts the fullness of life, the path to which God has clearly set before us. For the secularists among us, Hobbes was right; we would quickly descend into the depths of mutually destructive savagery without the constraints of government. For others, that puts Confucius on Hobbes’ side, and the Buddha on Calvin’s side.
What are we to do? As citizens, we’re not going to do away with violent video games and action movies, and even if we did they would quickly be replaced by something else. But we can regulate guns. We can license guns and gun owners as we license cars and drivers. As Christians, we can educate our young and each other about the meaning of godly justice, and we can, as we are able, do our best to influence public policy in that direction. That we can do.