What is evil? The dictionary definition is “profound immorality, wickedness, and depravity, especially when regarded as a supernatural force.” It’s also the word President Trump used to describe the shooting yesterday in Las Vegas. “An act of pure evil.” He’s not the first to describe such shootings as evil. And while no one can deny this act was indeed evil, I for one am tired of the word. It isn’t helpful and it somehow absolves society of any responsibility for such events.
I believe a more helpful word to call the people carrying out these shootings is sick. Just some of the many definitions of the word on dictionary.com include, “Affected by physical or mental illness, disappointed, mortified or miserable…suffering from serious problems.” Merriam Webster defines it as, “spiritually or morally unsound.” Or how about this archaic form, “pining or longing for someone or something.”
Sick. These shootings keep happening because we are not a healthy nation. Mental illness is rampant in our people. The CDC reports that in any given two-week period, 7.6% of the American population is suffering from depression and nearly 43,000 people a year take their own lives. Eighteen percent of the population is afflicted with an anxiety disorder. Nearly one in five people. And yet the Trump administration proposed a budget that included a $400 million dollar cut for mental health care, including a 20% reduction in mental health research funds. A google search about mental health care funding will quickly show a history of deprioritizing care for the mentally ill beginning with the closing of institutions in the 1960’s. America has a poor track record of cutting money to such a badly needed area of care for our citizens. We still don’t seem to be connecting the dots.
We’re living in an epidemic of loneliness. A recent study revealed nearly seventy-five percent of Americans reported feeling lonely. Many people have already stated more eloquently than I ever could that we live in an age of digital connection, but physical disconnection. Social media is no substitute for genuine community. Let it sink in for a minute. Three out of four Americans feels lonely. They are, as in the definition of sick, disappointed and miserable. When was the last time you spoke to your next-door neighbor? Asked a colleague to lunch? Called a relative or old friend?
People are more stressed out than ever. It’s literally making us sick. It’s a worldwide problem and is so pervasive, as a society, we’ve accepted stress as a natural part of modern life. It affects nearly everyone. I believe a huge part of that stress is caused by too many choices. From school choices to career opportunities to grocery shopping to online dating, people are bombarded with choices and it’s taking a psychological toll. The more options we have, the more wrong choices are possible and in a world of seemingly endless choices, so many of us perceive possible endless failures to do the right thing at all times. I cannot overstate how much stress it causes us to constantly worry that we’re not making the right choice.
We are pining and longing for something or someone. In Psalm 107:9, it says “For he satisfies the longing soul.” Human’s natural state is longing for something beyond the “food that perishes.” Whatever your religious beliefs or lack thereof, we can all agree the human soul needs nourishing and yet we’re living in a time of spiritual bankruptcy. We’re not feeding our souls with religion, art, or nature. Church attendance is down and fewer people than ever believe that church is helpful or relevant. The United States compares poorly to other countries on our spending for the arts. People are reading less literature than ever before. America is suffering a severe nature deficit. We’re not just disconnected physically from other human beings, we’re disconnected from life itself, spending less time outside and in nature. From 1997 to 2010, our attendance at national parks declined 19%. And yet study after study proves spending time in nature increases our physical and mental health and decreases our stress.
I’m afraid we don’t get to dust our hands off and call these shootings evil anymore as if these events suddenly spring out of some supernatural well of malevolence whose source can’t be identified. It can. Its source is a sickness that is gripping our nation. A sickness in our minds and in our souls that comes from a disconnect from each other, from nature, from our creator, and from life itself. We are disappointed, miserable, spiritually unsound and pining for something more.
We can’t ignore the crisis of mental health, of loneliness, of stress, of spiritual bankruptcy and expect that this problem will ever be solved.
And we can’t address the problem until we label it correctly. Sick. The importance of this label is the ray of hope it provides. Because a sickness can be healed. The world, in many ways is improving. We have the tools and research to create solutions, to bring healing.
My heart breaks for all the victims and their families in the Las Vegas shooting. My heart breaks for the shooter and his family. My heart breaks for all of us as a nation facing yet another tragic news story.
My heart is sick with it.