A friend asked my thoughts about the terrible mass shooting in California, and particularly about the reports that the young man was driven by anger because no girl would have casual sex with him. She wondered what we can do to address the deeper longing that our culture is not addressing. Here is what I replied:
I think that you’re on to something very important by looking at the issue of sex in this young man’s life. That gives a perspective into something even deeper, something that makes this such a human tragedy, because it touches on a wound within us that we all suffer from — our deep sense of loneliness, isolation and alienation from others, and our desperate search for the right cure. Look at what we know about this young man’s life, and that’s what jumps out at me — he clearly was seeking some contact with an Other, in order to satisfy the longing and hurt in his own heart and soul. He and his family tried pretty much everything that our culture has to offer, in an effort to find peace — material stuff (just think of the mother’s comment about buying him a car to help his “self-esteem”), gaming (escape into unreality), psychiatry and medicine (the modern panacea), and entitlement sex (without which he felt even more isolated). Sometimes those things offer some degree of solace and hope, but this time they failed.
The festering wound of his isolation and loneliness, and the failure of all the remedies our culture approves, led him to be fixated on the sex. This makes perfect sense, because deep in even the most deluded and anesthetized heart, we cannot fail to know that sex is meant to connect us to an Other. We Catholics who know our theology of the body, know this very well, because we understand that sex is meant to be an icon of our connection to the Ultimate Other. This young man’s failure to find even the most pallid reflection of that icon, produced an existential anger — not just against his situation but even against who and what he is. And so he tried to destroy all that reminded him of the hurt he couldn’t get rid of or make sense of.
What do we do with this? As with any pathology, we have to recognize the real cause. It’s all well and good to talk about gun violence, misogyny, casual sex, violent games, and all that. It’s all true, and there can be all sorts of policy “solutions” proposed. But it’s all beside the point. It doesn’t matter.
We can talk about the real issue here, in terms our culture can understand. Why do people care about Kim and Kanye? Because even in a celebrity marriage they see a glimmer of the love that everyone wants and needs. Why are people drawn to the songs of guys like Eminem and 50 Cent? Because they hear the pain in their voices and lyrics and know that same agony is in their hearts. Why do people love the U2 song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For?” Because, like Bono, we haven’t found it either, and we can’t help keeping on looking for it. Why do people like romantic comedies? Because we’re all dying for some kind of happy ending in our own messed up lives. I’m not a country music fan, but even I know that all the songs about lost love are really songs about ourselves, and the pain and longing we feel.
We Christians have to stand up and offer the real remedy here. We have to talk about loneliness, and hurt, and pain, and brokenness, and isolation, and betrayal, and alienation. That’s where we all live. We have to talk about what love really is, and what it’s not — it’s not about me, it’s not about stuff, and it’s not about orgasms. It’s about people, and giving ourselves to them, and accepting their gift — not stealing the gift, and not using it. People will hear us, because they already know that’s the truth.
And we Christians have to challenge ourselves and our society with the truth — that we are all lonely and hurt and wounded, just as this young man was, just as his victims are. None of us will be even close to the path of healing until we encounter the Other who became one of us, so that we wouldn’t have to face our isolation and pain all alone.
So, how do we respond to this kind of tragedy? Preach the Gospel of love and mercy. Speak to the pain of our hearts. Invite people to the One who can heal us.