What Culture Produces an Elliot Rodger?
Elliot Rodger’s gruesome Santa Barbara killing spree will dominate the news for the next few weeks at least. Elliot was clearly a deeply troubled, mentally ill young man. Everyone wants to figure out how to prevent such episodes in the future, and calls for gun control and better care for the mentally ill will abound.
But those answers ring hollow and incomplete in light of what we know about Elliot.
Elliot Rodger’s 140-page “manifesto” gives a window into the source of his troubles. The roots of his frustration and despair, and the issues our American society needs to more honestly face, are deeper than gun control, and more ethereal than perfecting drugs for the mentally ill or improving care for them. They are issues that are harder to talk about than calls for gun control.
Rodger wrote of his deep anguish over his parent’s divorce. Indeed, the young Elliot began (around age 8) his psychiatric counseling shortly after his parent’s divorce, and wrote in his manifesto that he was “shocked, outraged, and above all overwhelmed” over the divorce. Elliot was “completely taken aback” when his dad almost immediately moved in with a new woman.
We all know that some marriages are just better off ending. But the default intact family unit that blessed America for our first 200+ years of existence has been under assault in the so-called ‘post-modern’ culture, and marriage itself is less popular than it has been, leaving young people and children less rooted, less secure. I do not condemn Elliot’s parents’ divorce, but we must not ignore the obvious: the shrinking percentage of intact family units contributes to instability for children. Our society would be well served by a renewed commitment to marriage as the norm, and to the notion that marriage is a commitment to a spouse and to the family.
Another issue is that Elliot appears to have lived much of his life in a violent video game world separate from the real world.
We all try to protect our kids from “getting into the wrong crowd,” but the mental crowd our kids hang around with in their video and other entertainment worlds are just as impactful in shaping their worldviews and values as their friends are. Unless you play these games, you might not know that the level of cavalier violence is grotesque. We don’t and should not ban them, but we can treat them like cigarettes. We know they are bad for you, so we certainly don’t condone them or give to our kids as Christmas gifts.
Twitter was filled with defenses of Elliot’s parents’ good parenting and care, including lavishing “money, resources, housing, therapy, life coaches.” Stories abound about high dollar entertainment events Elliot attended, and he drove a BMW, and managed to save enough spending money from his family to buy a small arsenal. But there was no mention of church, instilling a faith in God, attentive parenting or of family time spent together.
Americans go to church less than we used to. Too many are reticent about mentioning the importance of instilling faith in God in our children for fear of being castigated as “far right Christians,” but where else do we learn our deepest values, our sense of self-worth, and our understanding of right and wrong?
I do not know how much ‘quality’ family time Elliot received, but counseling and life coaches cannot substitute for intensive, regular, sit down to dinner every night, family time. And there is no better source for teaching values, and a sense of purpose and self-worth than our faith. The Bible has not become irrelevant; it has never been more relevant. All the therapy in the world cannot produce the peace and confidence that flows from even a modest grounding in Judeo-Christian morals and faith in God.
Last, the drugs part. I don’t know what drugs Elliot was taking, or did take in his life. But I do know that in 26 cases in America since 1981 involving unprovoked mass murder, the killer was taking some form of psychotropic drugs. Experts have called more than once for an investigation of the link between those drugs and violence.
While blame lies ultimately with the killer, the societal lessons to be learned to help prevent future incidents need to be deeper than the latest iteration of gun control posturing or even of mental health advocacy. Giving kids the best shot at a healthy life requires family, hopefully an intact father-and-mother family, instilling of faith, and stepping up as an active parent in intervening to protect and steer them away from gratuitous violence as entertainment, just as we would steer them away from violent gangs.
These are the real issues shaping our next generation; and confronting them with openness, courage and stop-kidding-ourselves honesty is the only way to make real progress for every generation.
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