The Virginia Tech Shootings and Aurora Colorado

(The following is something I wrote for the church I was attending when the 2007 Virgina Tech shootings occurred. There are several important points of contact with the recent tragedy in Aurora Colorado.)

Like many of you, I spent a portion of Monday night watching news coverage of the tragedy at Virginia Tech. My attention was arrested by a particular comment from one of the anchormen. As he interviewed two students who witnessed the carnage he commented that the shooter seemed to act “methodically, like in the movies like you see people reload in the movies and on television.” To which, one student replied, “Yeah he was… he looked to be trained in how fast he loaded the gun.”[1] My thoughts immediately turned to statements of the church fathers concerning theater. For centuries, a primary argument made against the theater was that it taught people how to commit sin. What could motivate a person to savagely slay 32 souls? Could television and the movies really be the source of his training? Consider the following testimony:

 …on what ground is it right to hear what we must not speak? For all licentiousness of speech, nay, every idle word, is condemned by God. Why, in the same way, is it right to look on what it is disgraceful to do? How is it that the things which defile a man in going out of his mouth, are not regarded as doing so when they go in at his eyes and ears—when eyes and ears are the immediate attendants on the spirit—and that can never be pure whose servants-in-waiting are impure?…What you reject in deed, you are not to bid welcome to in word.[2]

Each generation is reminded by what it hears, that whatever has once been done may be done again. Crimes never die out by the lapse of ages; wickedness is never abolished by process of time; impiety is never buried in oblivion. Things which have now ceased to be actual deeds of vice become examples. In the mimes, moreover, by the teaching of infamies, the spectator is attracted either to reconsider what he may have done in secret, or to hear what he may do. Adultery is learnt while it is seen…[3]

I am ashamed to tell what things are said; I am even ashamed to denounce the things that are done—the tricks of arguments, the cheatings of adulterers, the immodesties of women, the scurrile jokes, the sordid parasites, even the toga’d fathers of families themselves, sometimes stupid, sometimes obscene, but in all cases dull, in all cases immodest…People flock thither to the public disgrace of the brothel for the teaching of obscenity, that nothing less may be done in secret than what is learnt in public; and in the midst of the laws themselves is taught everything that the laws forbid. What does a faithful Christian do among these things, since he may not even think upon wickedness? Why does he find pleasure in the representations of lust, so as among them to lay aside his modesty and become more daring in crimes? He is learning to do, while he is becoming accustomed to see. [4]

Why should I speak of the actors of mimes, who hold forth instruction in corrupting influences, who teach adulteries while they feign them, and by pretended actions train to those which are true? What can young men or virgins do, when they see that these things are practiced without shame, and willingly beheld by all? They are plainly admonished of what they can do, and are inflamed with lust, which is especially excited by seeing… And they approve of these things, while they laugh at them, and with vices clinging to them, they return more corrupted to their apartments… [5]

The suggestion almost seems too fantastic. Who would be naive enough to believe that TV or movies would cause a person to kill 32 people and then take his own life? For centuries, the church made such an assertion, and its accuracy is once again demonstrated. On Wednesday, New York Times reporter Mike Nizza, in commenting on the materials the killer mailed to NBC, wrote, “The inspiration for perhaps the most inexplicable image in the set that Cho Seung-Hui mailed to NBC news on Monday may be a movie from South Korea that won the Gran Prix prize at Cannes Film Festival in 2004.”[6] The next day, SKY news reported on the same material, “In the chilling video Cho also appears to re-enact scenes from a film detectives say he had repeatedly watched in the days leading up to the massacre.”[7] So where did this young man receive his training? Not in the military. Not a secret jihadi war camp. He learned it in his room…sitting in front of his television.

For centuries, wise leaders of the church railed against all forms of the dramatic arts as inherently sinful. The world continues to demonstrate the fruit of witnessing, learning, and nurturing unrestrained passions. The sinfulness of the world is not the problem, however. If judgment indeed begins in the house of God, the problem is with us.

Consider your weekly TV and movie viewing habits. What blasphemy, what deceit have you been taught? What murder, what adultery have you learned? What judgment, what condemnation have you earned? What grace, what mercy have you spurned? Marvel not at the destruction that is wrought: a person does as he is taught. Ask instead why you continue to teach yourself and your children such things.


[1]NBC Nightly News, April 16, 2007.

[2]Tertullian, De Spectaculis available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf03.iv.v.xvii.html

[3]Cyprian, Epistle to Donatus available online at http://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf05.iv.iv.i.html

[4]Anonymous, On the Public Shows (attributed to Cyprian) available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf05.iv.vii.ii.html

[5]Lactantius, Divine Institutes, available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf07.iii.ii.vi.xx.html

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One thought on “The Virginia Tech Shootings and Aurora Colorado

  1. Also the Sikh Temple shootings to boot! The worst shooting ever to take place in a Sikh Temple is in Oak Creek, Wisconsin! Satwant Singh Kaleka was a hero!

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