The mass shootings last month in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, remind me of an era I would rather forget. The 1960s were a time of virulent and violent racism, when homegrown terrorists committed acts of cold-blooded barbarism out of the misguided belief that they were rescuing America from racial, ethnic and social trends that were destroying the country.
I was one of them.
Racist populism in the South was my undoing. I was a patriotic American and a nominal church-goer, who as a teenager was seduced by the racist, anti-Semitic, far-right ideology of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. I became filled with anger and hate and took up arms to fight against what I mistakenly thought were the enemies of America, Christianity and the white race. The consequences were disastrous, and I deeply regret having done so. Tragically, the same kind of seduction is going on again today.
A sign of turning away from God
Since the time of my capture, imprisonment, conversion to Christ, and ultimate release, I’ve had a long time to think about the conditions that breed this kind of violence— the kind that led me to try to bomb a Jewish leader’s home and, unrepentant, attempt a prison escape. Those conditions appear to be with us again.
Why do these shootings continue to plague our country? A number of factors have been cited by people across the political spectrum, including mental health issues, racist/anti-Semitic/extremist ideology, easily available assault weapons, social media run amok, and a toxic political climate.
Most Christians I know would see at least some of these as important contributing factors, but would go on to say that mass shootings are ultimately symptoms of a deeper underlying cause. That cause is the fallenness of human nature and the consequences of living in a culture where more and more people are turning away from God, thereby eroding the spiritual and moral foundations of society.
I suspect even secular people would find it hard to dispute that if there is no transcendent creator to whom people are accountable in a future life, and if human beings are simply the product of time and chance, without inherent value or purpose, then meaning and morality are a fiction, and there is little internal restraint for those who seek fame and vengeance through a murderous rampage.