By Joshua Charles and Chandler Schmidt
Has anyone noticed that all the mass shootings in recent memory—Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and now Newtown—have been carried out by young men? We don’t consider that a coincidence. While generalization from incidents to an entire culture can go too far, as two young men who know what it is like growing up in America, have dealt with our share of struggles, and have dedicated significant portions of our lives to helping our fellow young men find purpose and hope for the future, we’d like to offer some thoughts on what is happening to young men in America that we believe are relevant to these massacres. The debate on gun control can wait. What all of these mass shootings have made clear goes far deeper than guns, and to the question of what our culture teaches its young men.
What we as men in our early 20’s can say to you, our fellow citizens, is that unfortunately, Thoreau’s observation that “Most men live quiet lives of desperation” has become sadly all too common in our culture. The statistics are familiar and sobering, but they basically boil down to this: young men are falling behind in education, the workforce, and most importantly, in their families. More children than at any other time in our history are born out of wedlock, and miss out on that precious and essential security that comes from being born into a family in which your mother and father have already made an absolute commitment to love one another forever. More and more boys feel less and less connected to their fathers, who too often live vicariously through their sons instead of teaching them how to live their own lives with integrity, character, and purpose. Too often fathers emotionally neglect their children to a degree that they might as well not be there, and young boys are starved of the affection and selfless love from the one person who can give them the best kind they need, and when they grow up to be young men, they go looking to fill that void with all the wrong things, while finding themselves incapable of giving it themselves. It is a heart-rending reality of our generation of guys that too many of us have never had “the talk” with our dads, but are familiar with pornography often times before we’re even teenagers. Our culture—as heard in music, seen on television, and viewed on the internet, and too often without the aid of our dads to show us otherwise—teaches us how to sexually objectify women long before it teaches us how to respect and love them; it reduces violence to something which is cool and fun, rather than something which should be shunned, and only used to stand up for those that can’t stand up for themselves; it exalts the men who are either too macho to show love for fear of being weak, or too passive to care about anything in this life that really matters; and finally, it teaches us that morality is just a matter of opinion, so we should just do whatever seems like the most fun. The most important thing about life is no longer being and doing the good, but YOLO (“You Only Live Once”). The rule of the day is instant gratification, and the sense of living for something good and eternal has been lost.
And you know what? Our generation has bought it all, and we’ve come up empty, desperately empty. Too many of our young men live for nothing bigger than themselves, are depressed, don’t have a clue where they are going in life, or what it’s even about, and it is often for two simple reasons: they do not feel loved, and they lack the type of male mentorship only a father figure can give—the arm around the shoulder for encouragement, and the loving discipline that develops character. Into this horrible vacuum, in a desperate search for meaning and contentment, flow the idols of our culture: drugs, sex, alcohol, and yes, violence, and we are seeing the evidence of it everywhere.
While the situation is complex, it starkly reveals some simple truths: we need fathers to be fathers, we need sons to feel like they are sons, and no matter which side of the political aisle we fall on, we need to realize that at the heart of solving this issue is not a new law, regulation, or government program. The anguish and mental instability behind these massacres weren’t caused by guns. Rather, we argue that it was a culture that treats matters of the soul with indifference or outright hostility, and then preaches its own substitutes, which bring only emptiness. Our culture can no longer preach moral chaos and apathy and then act surprised when we see it on full display. It’s about time that we adults grow up for the sake of those kids that now never will.
Joshua Charles is the co-author of the #1 New York Times bestselling The Original Argument: The Federalists’ Case for the Constitution, Adapted for the 21st Century. Chandler Schmidt is a junior undergraduate electrical engineering student at the University of Kansas. Both he and Joshua served as Presidents of their KU Chapter of Beta Upsilon Chi (BYX), a Christian fraternity. They can be followed on Twitter at @joshuatcharles and @chanschmidt respectively.