As our country continues to mourn yet another tragic and senseless school shooting, a question confronts us all:

How does this continue to happen?

Regardless of political affiliation, we are all asking this question. Further, we are united as a people by our shared desire to fix this perennial and pervasive problem. Unfortunately, our unity and shared vision ends once actual solutions are proffered.

For example, immediately following the horrific event, gun proponents argue that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Insensitive memes resurface next:

A not-so-subtle message is being pronounced here –– the real problem is not the gunman, rather, it’s that we’ve not armed our educators better. Enter meme #2:

On the most basic level, of course the sentiment shared here is accurate. Obviously there is a “heart problem.”

Unfortunately, we are unable to see how our fascination and glorification of violent weapons is a “heart problem.”

Contributing Factors

Guns are part of the problem, and anyone who denies that is contributing to the problem. I’d also add that anyone who says that gun laws are the only problem are likewise contributing to the problem.

Guns, while central, are but one aspect to this very complex issue. For starters, we romanticize violence. It is almost impossible to get through an entire movie without witnessing an act of violence first hand, most of which are praised as heroic and salvific acts.

Another factor is the commodification of the human body, particularly women’s bodies. In ads of all kinds, women’s bodies are offered as an object to be consumed in whatever manner one so chooses. Pornography tells the world that women’s bodies are available whenever a desire arises; moreover, it describes women as passive recipients, removing any agency as well as humanity.

Capitalism then tells us that we are what we spend and subsequently own (or “owe”). The message is that we are all economic entities that happen to be human; nevertheless, it is clear that our “humanity” is an afterthought to the power and might of the omnipotent free market.

Moreover, our politics dehumanize the “other” through party lines, emphatically telling their constituents that the other is pure evil and wholly wrong. Falsified stories, many of which work hard to denigrate actual survivors, which is a familiar and pathetic tactic, further push this divide. “Those” people and “their” policies are THE problem.

Without ignoring these and many others, I want to take a moment to consider another destructive factor: “masculinity.”

Masculinity

“Be a man.”

“Toughen up.”

“Don’t be such a baby.”

“Are you really crying?!”

“Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

What are we communicating about “manhood” when we talk like this? How do our sons and daughters internalize and make sense of the roles they are supposed to play?

Michael Ian Black wrote an article recently discussing this exact issue. Have we noticed that mass shootings are done predominantly by males? If so, how are we processing this information? Boys will be boys? Men are by nature more aggressive? It’s simply a heart problem?

From birth, boys are told who they are: you are a rough and tough, head-strong, leader who never allows pesky emotions to distract. Isolation, consequently, is your closest ally. Bottle up your fears and insecurities. Let them fester, and when they do, dominate them once again. If you need to, find an outlet for these feelings through impersonal sexual encounters, or perhaps through more appropriate manly activities like shooting guns and watching sports. But remember, you are a man and a man looks like this.

Unfortunately, crises inevitably arise and us men are left with no supportive outlets. We’ve tried fitting into this specific “manly” mold, but we simply can’t.

We do feel.

We do need others.

We do long for intimacy.

We do want to be known.

And we do not find any hope in the “manhood” we continue to be pushed toward.

Manhood

Not long ago I experienced a crisis of identity. I was so convinced that I had to do certain things to be valuable to the world, which would make me the proper kind of man: independent, visionary, conqueror.

But the harder I pushed to finally accumulate these traits and titles I so desperately needed to validate my existence, the further it removed me from meaning.

For me, this crisis of identity led to me talking with a counselor. I still remember being confronted with the weight of my yearning for meaning, this strange amalgamation of ideas others had planted in me. From what others told me, I was called to do something great. I would, through the Spirit, do even more than I could imagine. Yet, here I am.

The “here I am” was me, sitting at my kitchen table, doing my absolute best to not cry, because I’m a man. The counselor asked, “What are you holding onto? Why can’t you just let go and cry?” Because I am a man. I am an idea; I am your ideas of me, and I work hard to be that fully.

Yet, as it turns out, I can’t seem to actually be those things. I’m sensitive, and even saying that, I (a man) feel the need to nuance it because I can’t admit to being “sensitive.” Of course, I also need others and I truly like “feminine” things, like art and HGTV and talking about my feelings.

Nonetheless, while I had the resources and community to lovingly move with me as I navigated this terrain, other men are left to their own devices. Many just commit further to work. If nothing else, men can work hard and that, as we’ve been told, is a good in itself.

For others, though, they feel impelled to exert their “manliness” in the most extreme murderous way, trying to convince themselves and the world that they really are a “man.”

God’s Love

Our country’s fascination with guns is a symptom of a deeper disease; nevertheless, the symptom should still be treated. My hope is that we can recognize the damage we do to our children, in this case male, when we tell them who they should be. And hopefully, in the process, we will be able to release the violent masks we hide behind and truly be who God created us to be: people whose identity is rooted in God’s love for us. Period.


Note from the Editorial Team:
Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.


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Joel Daniels

Author: Joel Daniels

Joel is currently a Chaplain-in-Residence and Ph.D. candidate at Georgetown University. He studies religion from a global perspective through world Christianity, particularly Pentecostalism, Chinese religious philosophy, interreligious dialogue, spiritual formation, and comparative theology, philosophy, and ethics. More importantly, he is the husband of a superstar and father of three world-changers. He's ordained through the American Baptist Churches, USA, closely affiliating with the charismatic branch of the denomination.

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Mark Burnham

Thought provoking article. I would add that a boys/man’s nature is different than a girls/woman’s. It’s hardly a surprise that these are have been committed by men and not women although I suspect the time may come when we may be unpleasantly surprised. You are spot on regarding the pressure that society places on some boys/men. I once had to sit up all night talking with a young man in the Navy. (We both were) I was afraid he was going to harm himself. His girlfriend had broken up with him. That wasn’t the problem. He has cried about it… Read more »