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Trouble in Paradise

'We need to look squarely at the root causes of such violence,
at the evils we tolerate daily in this violent and sick culture'

Commentary by Sam Hine

Posted October 5, 2006 -- I'm not Amish, but my children attend a small rural school that until this week seemed safely removed from the violence plaguing most of our world.

A world apart?

The truth is, we're not safe anywhere. The recent shooting at an Amish school here in Pennsylvania, only days after similar crimes in rural Colorado and Wisconsin, makes it clear that there is nowhere we can hide from the violence, and no one who can't be touched by it.

We need to pray for the grieving families, for the children who survived, and for the wife and children of the killer. And we certainly can and must act to make guns less available. But in the end, no amount of metal detectors or school police or other security measures will be enough to prevent another attack. No federal school violence summit will save us.

We need to look squarely at the root causes of such violence, at the evils we tolerate daily in this violent and sick culture. I could start at the top: The official justification of torture and sexual humiliation at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. The clear message from our military in Iraq ("We don't do body counts.") that the lives of people who believe and dress differently don't count as much. The congressman preying on teenage boys on Capitol Hill, while the leaders of the "moral majority" stand by.

Then there are the obvious culprits: The glorification of violence and sexual predators in film. Violent video games simulating everything from Columbine to Fallujah. The unabashed exploitation of women and young girls as sex objects in advertising, using their bodies to sell everything from cars to beer. The news media that love nothing better than a horrible crime -- the more sadistic the better. They wallow for days in the most salacious details, making criminals into instant celebrities with little thought to the copycats they might inspire. And then they turn away to shallowly cover the next fiasco.

Even more importantly, though, we each need to look in the mirror. What can I do about all this?

We're told the killer was angry at life and angry at God. This illustrates in a horrible way where festering resentment can lead. We can't do much to make our schools safer. But we can and must look at any grudges we have in our own lives and free ourselves from them by forgiving. We can't prevent the excesses of Hollywood or the Internet. But we can, through confession, bring to light the secret darkness in our own hearts, breaking the power of evil thoughts before they grow into evil deeds.

The Amish, in their quiet way, are showing us the most fitting response to such a horrible act. They can't find words to describe their pain, but they won't be seeking revenge. They won't be appearing on the Nancy Grace Show to demand blood retaliation or "closure."

Instead, they will be turning to their faith to carry them through. The rest of us Americans have a lot to learn from them. Their conscious choices to eschew television, to refuse military service, to dress modestly, and to live simply are among the sanest, most progressive, and most hopeful responses to an insane culture that I've seen so far.