It usually takes me a day or more (or several) to absorb, contemplate, and respond to the kind of violence we in the US have experienced yet again with the horrific and overwhelming massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. The mandatory Facebook rants, reTweets, and petitions for immediate action have all been read and responded to, or ignored. Of course the customary & predictable political statements continue to be featured in the news, and now the NRA has finally made its incredibly senseless statement in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy. Personally I have run the gambit of emotions this week & I’m drained. For years we’ve all heard the term “culture of death” thrown around, but what does it really mean & how do we respond to it? As a woman of faith and a woman of art I can honestly say that this so-called “culture of death & violence” is not culture at all & I want no part of it!
Lately I find that people in “advanced” western society are more concerned with their “rights” and “privileges” than with something as primitive & common as “culture.” What do these words really mean? How do we define “rights”, and what is “culture”. I’m very fond of the dictionary. As my college Philosophy Professor John Ellsworth Winter, III used to say, “the dictionary is your toolbox”, and as Hawkeye Pierce once said, “If marooned on a desert island, the one book I would want is the dictionary. I figure all the other books are in it.” With that in mind, I opened up my toolbox looking for a bit of culture, and this is what I found: “The training, development, and refinement of mind, morals, and taste.” And (my favorite!): “6. Anthropol. The sum total of the attainments and learned behavior patterns of any specific period, race, or people, regarded as expressing a traditional way of life subject to gradual but continuous modification by succeeding generations.” Well, there you have it!
What I continue to see in our society is a pattern of accelerated regression of our minds, our morals, and our taste in art and expression. For the most part, the very things that help to define culture are not being improved upon; music, art, academia, social norms, government, and basic human rights. Where is our “advanced” sensibility when Hollywood, the arts, and the media glamorize violence? What makes our government so great when our laws show the world that we care more about “gun rights” than we do about “human rights”, our nation’s children, or the healthcare and safety of our citizens? If this is our culture, then I want no part of it.
The definition of “rights” is quite telling as well. The dictionary mentions justice, morals, standards, and truth. Pope Paul VI is quoted as having said “If you want peace, work for justice.” I believe this to be true, for without justice, there is no peace. Just ask any parent who has lost a child to gun violence. Ask anyone who has ever experienced helplessness, fear, anxiety, or anger. This “culture of death” society has made death & violence sexy. This creates a sub-standard, amoral, unjust society. And that’s the sad truth. Again: No culture here.
The United Nations “Declaration of Human Rights” uses words like “freedom, justice, and peace” in the first line of its Preamble. Throughout the 30 Articles of this document I am reminded of just how much more work we have yet to accomplish if we, all of Humanity, want to continue to modify in a positive way this thing we call Culture. Articles 29 & 30 are worth reading as they proclaim that we all have duties or responsibilities to the community, and in exercising our rights and freedoms we do not disregard the rights and general welfare of others. Although Article 3 is familiar to most US citizens (life, liberty, and security of person), I seriously doubt that our nation’s founding father’s or those who drafted this UN document had automatic weapons in mind when speaking about a person’s security.
I want to be a part of a culture of life and joy, and so do many people I know. To change our patterns of behavior we all have a responsibility to work for peace and justice every day. Like so many others I’ve talked to or listened to, I don’t have any answers. I only know that I am deeply saddened by the deadly violence that occurred in Connecticut last week, and I am troubled by all violence, war, and injustice. I will continue doing whatever I can to promote peace and justice, and I will continue to hope & pray that one day we will again be a society where our culture reflects our love & respect for all life.