January 14, 2014
In recent times, homeless people are increasingly becoming the victims of violence. Surveys indicate that the homeless suffer violence more than the non-homeless. Men, women, and even children, destitute and without a home of their own, are ridiculed, kicked, beaten, set on fire, and murdered on our streets. Even though many of these cases never are reported, the number of documented cases of such violence has risen over 30% in the last few years (cf.
Hate Crimes and Violence against People Experiencing Homelessness, the National Coalition for the Homeless
, January 2012). Is this rise in violence against the down-and-out part of a general surge in violent crimes?
For almost twenty years, there has been a decrease in violent crimes in America. But, recent statistics seem to indicate that decline in crime may be coming to an end. Today, 26 of every 1,000 people have experienced some form of violence, e.g. assault, robbery or rape. In the last two years, property crime, e.g. burglary, theft and car theft, rose 12% (cf. Donna Leinwand Leger, USA TODAY, October 24, 2013). The growing popularity of “polar bear hunting,” the cruel knock-out game of targeting the defenseless elderly, is not only a disturbing example of a senseless hate crime, but also an alarming indicator of a society without compassion.
The rise in crime that we are now experiencing should serve to put us on notice. If violent crime maintains its present rate of increase, violence will double in just six years. School shootings, mall attacks and workplace violence make the headlines and, then, are somehow forgotten as we try to go about our daily lives. If we are ever going to reverse the statistics, we need to take stock of the reasons why such a decline in respect for others is taking place in our society.
Chicago and Washington, D.C. have the strictest gun control ordinances. Yet they both have some of the highest rates of violent crime, including those committed with a gun. Just as the mere passing of a gun control ordinance cannot eliminate all shooting rampages, so ordinances against violence crimes cannot, of themselves, eliminate all violence from society. The problem is much deeper.
Our popular culture has created a climate that desensitizes our youth to the evil of violence. A child who views two hours of cartoons a day is exposed to 500 scenes of violence a year. By the age of 18, the average American youth will have watched no less than 18,000 murders on television. Television shows, video games and toys that use violence as entertainment teach aggressive and destructive behavior that erupts, at times, in violence against others.
Fortunately, most of us do not become victims of violent crimes. But, we do find ourselves in situations where there is a noticeable lack of respect for the other. One person sitting next to another traveler on a train conducts business or engages in a loud, personal conversation. A reckless driver exceeds the speed limits, crisscrossing lanes. A neighbor cranks up the music at a party, disturbing those living nearby. These forms of incivility rob us of our space and invade our privacy. In one way or another, they come from the underlying disrespect for the human person.
A major downturn in the economy has left many people jobless with little hope of securing a job in the near future. Certainly, helplessness and poverty foster a sense of desperation, frustration and anger that all too easily erupt into violence. Furthermore, the widespread use of illicit drugs and the abuse of alcohol harm all of us when they result in accidents, domestic disputes, loss of productivity, child delinquency, sexual promiscuity and the loss of human life. Where do we look to see the reasons for what is happening?
In the last fifty years, we have undergone a cultural shift of seismic proportions. Our society has jettisoned a sound morality embraced by all. The natural law is no longer accepted as basis for a common ethic. Tolerance of all forms of human behavior has been advanced under the shibboleth of non-judgmentalism. Traditional religion, along with its moral teaching, has been increasingly marginalized. And, the individual has been endowed with absolute autonomy. We have lost those influences that promote respect for the other and restrain violence. But, there is a deeper reason for the increase in violence in our society.
In Genesis, the very first story that takes place outside the Garden of Eden is the narrative of the world’s first act of violence (Gen 4:1-16). The two sons of Adam and Eve present their offerings to God. Cain, the farmer, offers God the fruit of the soil. Abel, the herdsman, sacrifices the firstborn of his flock. God accepts the sacrifice of Abel and rejects the offering of Cain. Enraged, Cain murders his brother. God is clearly displeased with Cain’s violence and punishes Cain.
With the fratricide of Abel, the evil lurking within the human heart has been unleashed in the world. Perhaps something of the mystery of evil is found within this narrative. Cain thinks only of himself. He makes distributive justice the standard of his judgment. He must be treated equally as his brother. He cannot accept God’s favor to Abel and disfavor to him. He sees the inequity as iniquity and becomes angry (cf. Jon D. Leveson,
The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son, pp. 74-75).
Cain centers on his own worth and merit. In his act of offering, it is not said that he sought to worship God. His worship is not selfless. He is interested more in winning God’s blessing than in pleasing God. God says to him, "If you act rightly, you will be accepted…” (Gen 4:7). But, he has not acted rightly. His point of reference is wrong. He makes himself the center of the universe. He does not acknowledge that God is the source of all that is good and the ultimate judge of our human activity. Not living in the right relationship with God: there is the root of all evil.
In the Copernican revolution, the sun replaced the earth as the center of the universe. Ever since the Enlightenment, man began to see himself as the center of the moral universe. As a result, we are suffering an eclipse of God’s presence. No God. No truth. No ultimate standard of right and wrong. No final judgment after death according to God’s law. This anthropocentric climate has proved to be the breeding ground for Cain’s legacy of violence to become a virus increasingly infecting our society. And so, the blood of Abel still cries out to God. And, to us!
Genesis tells us that Adam and Eve had a third son, Seth. Eve acknowledges that God gives them Seth to take the place of Abel. Immediately, Genesis mentions that Seth had a son, Enosh, who is the first man to invoke God by his proper name (cf. Gen 4:26). This is God’s answer to the cry of Abel’s blood. It is the practice of true religion.
As it was in the days of Adam and Eve, so also today. True religion is God’s answer to violence (cf. James 1:27). For, when we follow in the line of Seth’s son Enosh and offer proper worship to God, worship that includes compassion, forgiveness and patience, we are the antidote to the virus of violence that seeks to destroy us.