Mass Shootings: The Real Cause

In the aftermath of the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, President Trump and other leaders have expressed concerns that these acts are linked to mental illness. Some mental health professionals have been quick to point out that the data does not support such an assertion as more than 75 percent of mass shootings are committed by people without a history of mental illness.

If one allows the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) to be the measure of mental illness and disease, then these mental health professionals are correct: Most mass shootings are not committed by those with diagnosable mental illnesses.

If, however, we use a different standard of health, a different lens to measure mental illness, then the president is correct. And what is that standard? Love — the selfless, compassionate regard for the welfare of others. If our standard of health is God’s design for life, the principle of love upon which the Creator built life to operate, then selfishness is seen as sickness and exploitation and injury to others is seen as pathology.

It’s understandable that frightened people want an explanation for why violence and mass shootings are increasing. Some argue that these violent occurrences are mostly due to easy access to guns. However, guns have been easily accessible in America since its independence, yet the frequency of such violence is increasing; mass shootings are a problem of the past few decades.

Others argue that the problem is racism, but racism and class discrimination were much more pervasive and openly oppressive in America 75 to 100 years ago than today, and such mass violence was not occurring in our society then. I am not suggesting that racism doesn’t exist, but the data does not support the claim that it is the cause of this increase in violence. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, during 2012–15, the rate of white-on-white violent crime (12.0 per 1,000 white persons) was about four times higher than black-on-white violent crime (3.1 per 1,000). The rate of black-on-black violent crime (16.5 per 1,000 black persons) was more than five times higher than white-on-black violent crime (2.8 per 1,000).i

No — racism is just another manifestation of the root problem causing the increase in violence: the lack of love and the rise in selfishness.

Something has changed in America; an insidious attack on the bedrock principles woven into the fabric of this society has occurred — and it is the true reason for the rise in mass shootings. There are ideas, practices, and policies that have taken root in America that undermine love, increase selfishness, degrade concern for others, and are thereby the actual cause of the increase in violence we are experiencing.

All Symptoms Point to One Disease

I propose that the rise in mass shootings is a symptom of a movement advancing in America that undermines integrity, personal responsibility, moral decency, basic civic responsibility, and, ultimately, love for others.

This rise in selfishness, a lack of regard for others, is evidenced not only in these mass shootings, but also in recent online video postings. For instance, take Cori Ward, a 30-year-old mother who was arrested in Florida after she posted a video of her daughter licking a tongue depressor in a doctor’s office and then putting it back in the container with unused depressors; she posted the video with the title: “Don’t tell me how to live my life.”ii

Or the viral video seen by more than 11 million people of a 17-year-old girl opening a container of Blue Bell ice cream, licking the ice cream, putting the lid back on, and then placing the container back on the shelf. iii

Yes — love is decreasing and selfishness is on the rise!

Jesus, speaking about this time in human history, said:

Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:12 NLT).

There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:1–4 NIV84).

The real reason violence is on the rise is because love is on the decline. People are becoming more self-centered and are losing concern for anything other than self.

Recent studies have demonstrated that narcissism has steadily increased in the United States since the 1970s, with each subsequent class of college freshmen scoring higher on narcissism rating scales than the class before.iv This rise in selfishness, this “me-first” mentality, is rife in society today and heralds the death of love for our fellow human beings — and all types of violence are on the rise.

So what is destroying love and increasing selfishness?

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18 NIV84).

Love and fear are inversely proportional; as love increases, fear decreases — and as fear increases, love decreases. The more fear we experience, the more quickly we see threats, real or imagined, and take actions designed to make us feel safe. Rather than searching ourselves to identify and overcome our deficiencies in character, fear focuses our minds on self-protection, making us look outward to identify potential threats. This can lead to the projection of one’s own shortcomings onto others and can cause greater division and loss of love for our fellow human beings.

Why is fear and selfishness rising and love declining, with its subsequent increase in violence? I would like to suggest several factors.

Historically, in America, the national consciousness focused on three other-than-self objects; these virtues were considered so vital that it was worth sacrificing self to defend. These big three were love for God, love for family, and love for country. These three objects — God, family, country — were promoted as being greater than self and worthy of our sacrifice to support.

But in society today, it is taught that there is no God, all families are dysfunctional, and our country, being an evil exploiter of minorities and the poor, is one that cannot be trusted. Thus, a mindset of altruism, of love, of higher purpose is replaced with a sense of fear and isolation; when there is nothing greater than the self, and no higher power or institution can be trusted, fear increases and each person becomes an island to themselves, frantically struggling to survive.

One can even see this rise of self-centeredness evidenced by the change in U.S. Army recruitment slogans over the past century. One hundred years ago, during World War I, the Army’s recruitment slogan was the picture of Uncle Sam pointing his finger and saying, “I want you for U.S. Army.” The nation wanted you, emphasizing the value of the country and how your service would benefit the nation.

From 1950 to 1971, the slogan “Modern Army Green” was used, emphasizing the value of the Army and how your service could benefit the military and, thus, the nation.

Then a very subtle elevation of the self and diminishment of the Army occurred from 1971 to 1980 with the slogan, “Today’s Army Wants to Join You.” Notice here that it isn’t about you joining the Army, an institution larger than you; rather, you are so important that the army wants to join you.

And from 1980 to 2001, it got even more narcissistic with the slogan, “Be all that you can be.” It’s really all about you advancing you, not sacrificing for the greater good. And this narcissistic corruption became pathologic with the 2001 to 2006 slogan, “An army of one.” Could any other slogan be so contrary to reality yet stand as clear evidence of the collapse of love?

The problem of violence in our society is a result of increased selfishness in the hearts of people, regardless of skin color or class. When selfishness reigns and love dies, people exploit those in their world. Thus, we readily abuse others for gain, even those closest to us (domestic violence and child abuse are also on the rise) — exactly what the Bible predicted would happen when love breaks down.

There are several other factors, in addition to the attack on the three big institutions (God, family, country), that are working together to destroy love, to increase fear and selfishness, and to cause more deadly violence.

The constant bombardment of society with fear-inducing messages: global warming, unsafe foods, terrorism, economic collapse, illegal immigrant invasion, drug crises, failing schools, increasing debt, healthcare crisis, economic warfare and tariffs, nuclear threats, war with North Korea or Iran, unstable political climate, destruction of the family — and on and on these fear-inducing messages go.

This fear leads to threat assessment, causing people to identify perceived enemies of the state that need to be removed. This leads to the next problem: trying to fix a heart problem (lack of love) with legislative solutions: gun control, border wall, free health care for all, protection of the sanctity of marriage, minimum wage increases, overturning Roe vs. Wade — and on and on the proposed legislative solutions go.

But these attempts at changing how we value each other with law will all fail!

Love only exists in an atmosphere of freedom. Love cannot be commanded, legislated, or coercively enforced; attempts to fix character problems with legislative or policy solutions always fail and, instead, contribute to further divisions in society with increased fear, selfishness, and protectionism.

Such legal solutions fail because the problem of violence in society is not due to having the wrong laws, but no longer having love in the hearts of people. We cannot increase love for each other by passing laws!

Fear leads to more fear as people seek to pass laws to fix the problem. Why? Because this process ends up only reinforcing the problem of ever-increasing selfishness as the other side responds with its own self-interested legislation.

What happens? A person or group experiences a real or imagined wrong perpetrated against them; being conditioned by society to be motived by fear — by survival, by threat assessment — and no longer having God, family, or a country we can trust, we don’t respond in love; instead, we proclaim how our rights have been violated and demand that the violators, or their proxies, be punished or be made to pay. This is the eye-for-an-eye mentality, one that leads only to ever-increasing cycles of hate and violence.

Martin Luther King Jr. knew such behavior would never work:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that (as quoted in Strength to Love, 1963).

Gandhi has been credited with the saying, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”

Jesus taught that love doesn’t seek to retaliate, doesn’t seek to get for self; rather, it seeks to save the abuser, to heal the oppressor, all to turn enemies into friends. Thus, Jesus taught that we should love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. But this requires that we stop living in fear, stop living for self, and begin to live to love others!

This love is not natural to the human heart and can be experienced only in a trust relationship with our God of love. This means we must present the truth about God as Creator, the builder of reality, whose laws are the protocols upon which reality works, all based in His character of love — the principles of giving and beneficence. We must love others like Jesus loves us.

But when we present God as functioning no differently than a human dictator, passing laws that require Him to inflict punishment, then we become like that false god; we become fear-driven, lose love, and become ever more willing to try to use government to mandate that others live by our standards — and inflict punishment when they violate our morals.

I invite you to embrace the God of love and practice the methods of love in how you live. Don’t get caught up in the world’s system of fear and selfishness, but instead seek to reveal Jesus in all that you do.

iv. Twenge, JM, et al, Egos inflating over time: a cross-temporal meta-analysis of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. J Pers. 2008 Jul;76(4):875-902; discussion 903-28. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2008.00507.x. Epub 2008 May 23.

Dr. Tim Jennings is an international speaker and author of Could It Be This Simple?, The God-Shaped Brain, The God-Shaped Heart, and The Aging Brain. A board-certified, practicing psychiatrist, Dr. Jennings has brought his timely message of God’s healing and remedy to tens of thousands around the world. Learn more about his profound, life-changing message of God’s love at comeandreason.com, where this article first appeared (it is reprinted here with permission). He is also a featured speaker at the American Association of Christian Counselors.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9814
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I’m sorry, but this seems like the fallacy of the single cause. It’s taking a complex, multi faceted problem, and reducing its cause to a single factor. While true in and of itself, It almost sounds like a spiritual platitude, to me.

Thanks…

Frank

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Hi Tim,
Very good article. May I add to your list of country highly regarded ideals God, Family, Country, Honor, Virtue and Integrity.
I suggest the destruction of the family unit has been one of the greatest destructive elements to society over the last 60 yrs. Narcissism on steroids by the “self esteem” on steroids movement in psychobabble. Yes, help develop true self esteem by praising when truly worthy things are done…not the everybody deserves a trophy view. When in the real world and that false praise ends that feeds their narcissism anger, confusion and frustration come. No longer does the importance and value of other life matter. it’s all about me and don’t tell me how to live. We all have our own truth. T-shirts often have in bold letters…NO FEAR!

Love is the answer Tim but how one grows in it can be as much misunderstood, I suggest, as the self esteem movement.
John Newton’s Amazing Grace, I suggest, has the biblical view. “It was Grace that taught my heart to fear and Grace my fears relieve.” An appropriate vision given of the HS to show us our true condition graciously does cause the receptive heart some fear and dissonance. It leads us as the Jailer in Acts, some Jews of the time and Martin Luther to later ask, “What must I do to be saved?”
Repent and be Baptized, everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins and ye shall receive the HS. Acts 2:38.
But Today, no fear, no respect, no true love. One Psychiatrist, Karl Menninger wrote a book close to 45 yrs. ago, "What ever became of Sin?,
For Martin Luther, Calvin others…Having been JBF we have peace with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. No more “law threatenings” for Justification, man’s, churches or God’s .We Love Him because He first loved us and gave Himself for us. Thus, the legitimate right to “No Fear” and loving others is, He has first loved us. Amazing Grace, Amazing Love!
Regards to you in Chattanooga still…I guess?
Pat

I will certainly try, but I am not sure I can finish reading this article. Based on the paragraph quoted above, I am really concerned with the health of the author’s perspective. Love being the factor to measure mental illness? Really?

And if this is the case, then who is the most selfish person in the country, a public figure? Shouldn’t that person then be “diagnosed” as severely mentally ill? How come, then, that so many people are supporting such a pernicious individual?

@elmer_cupino, WDYT?

I have to agree with this. Because it is exactly what we see our President doing, and saying. It describes Trump very precisely.

I hope that the rest of this article treated the NRA problem, and the corruption of politicians being bought, bribed by this nefarious organization. They are a real danger, and need to be condemned for their support to crime. Blaming “lack of love” appears a little childish when compared to what the NRA and the POTUS and many corrupt politicians’ (starting with Moscow Mitch!) have been doing against what should be common sense: protecting the public.

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" … love one another as I have loved you." [Jesus, as recorded in John 15:12]
Is this a platitude Frank M.? Really?
Dr. Tim Jennings [a registered psychiatrist] has touched on the root cause of what is indeed a complex problem troubling society.
Thank you Tim Jennings for reminding us re. the 101 of what it means
to be truly human.

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No, the President is not correct. He is using mental health as a scapegoat.

I highly doubt that lack of love, or excess of self centeredness is a cause of mass murder. If it was, then it would be happening all over the world. As usual, it is not.

See

You’re 55 times more likely to die of a gunshot in the US than in Romania. 220 times more likely than in Singapore.
In fact, you’re slightly less likely to die of a gunshot in Afghanistan than in the US. In a war zone.

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It’s always easier to blame externals than attempt to show the internal root problems of the individuals actually doing the crime!

Actually Tim, the shooters were full of love for others and completely mentally intact. The guns made them do it!
Now if you want to contend “Angry” demented people can more easily kill more in an incident with guns than knives this is valid. Perhaps not a truck however or airplanes that kill 2000.
If we only could remove all external problems and vehicles of harm that bother people then all would be ok!

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Of course, if everyone in the world practiced this, we would have no problems. But, to take a complex problem such as gun violence, in a country that is essentially secular, and throw that out as the reason for and solution to the problem, without addressing gun control measures, and other specific social factors, is to reduce this wonderful truth to a spiritual platitude. It also doesn’t explain why other developed countries, that are equally or even more secular than the US, have a fraction of the issues with this compared to America. Maybe the family systems are healthier? Or is it that gun control in those nations is far more comprehensive and stringent than here? It’s certainly not because Christianity and its belief system are regarded above the humanist organization of society in these nations.

Lack of love and human selfishness is at the root of every problem. But, this problem, as most societal problems, is complex. To speak of a relationship with God as the solution, is to ignore the reality of the need for laws and societal reform. Paul acknowledge as much, the need for the state and its enforcement of law in Romans.

Cigarette smoking changed in the US after a long period of raising public consciousness about its long term health risks and damage, and legislation against big tobacco. It wasn’t because the church preached a relationship with God and love as the solution for societal change. Why would we expect it be any different for this issue?

Thanks…

Frank

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More or less, yes. Easy access to guns appears to be the main difference between the US and much of the rest of the world.

It’s not just the ease of killing with a gun compared to a knife, but also the impersonal nature of shooting from a distance and the great speed at which the killings can happen with a semi or fully automatic gun.

If aggressors purposefully killed people with cars & airplanes at anywhere near the level they are doing so with guns, then that would also be a public safety issue. As it turns out, that is rare.

And yet, as a society we have done a lot in recent years since 9/11 to prevent airplanes from being hijacked. We’ve spend billions of dollars on it and continue to spend - every day with every flight. We’ve even taxed ourselves $11.20 per plane ticket to help pay for this security.

But it goes way beyond that. We spend billions every year on product safety enforcement - to prevent products from harming the public. Food, drugs, cigarettes, cars, houses, workplaces. You name it, we’re happy to regulate it.

Except for guns.

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It’s called the 2nd Amendment. And, law abiding citizens that own guns dont do mass murders by definition. People that murder really do hate…the opposite of love. And, I suggest they are not mentally intact.

So, something needs to be done about their access to guns…more than is being done now. The status quo is not working.

Frank

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I would like to thank the web editors for allowing an alternate opinion to our in house mental health providers by a mental health provider! I don’t see Tim offering a final solution but a valid root cause and things contributing to it. Perhaps avoiding personal responsibility and blaming externals is an extension of what helps create a narcissistic society. Simply not saying NO.

@webEd

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The adult disorder which show the strongest continuities with childhood disorder is that of antisocial behaviors. Four large studies show that antisocial behaviors are preceded by similar behaviors in childhood. Rarely does antisocial behavior arise for the first time in adulthood. And the dynamics of behavior is such that children learn adaptive and maladaptive social skills from their parents and/or children’s negative behaviors are tolerated by their parents. The old adage of “Watch what you tolerate in your children because that is how you teach them how to treat you and others” is often ignored. Ask a child where they learn their bad behaviors and the majority will say “my dad” or “my mom.” Therefore the failure to parent wisely is the largest contributing factor “that undermines integrity, personal responsibility, moral decency, basic civic responsibility.”

The biggest problem is, a child is born without a Users Manual.

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It is well known among mental health professionals that media reports also contribute to generalized imitation in public, The “copycat” effect has been documented in hijacking, bank robberies, suicides, school threats and now in mass killings. The media industry plays a significant part in this “contagion” disease.

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So Frank, How is that to be done. We have background checks for both purchasing a gun and for another for those choosing to carry a concealed weapon.
Law enforcement often says they were on the radar. Or, sometimes it is said of them afterwards, not surprised like Florida and El Paso.
There is info already. How to algorithm and share between agencies seems to be a problem for many mass killers. Assault rifles kill less a year than knives. Plus we need to stop politicizing it and look for traits of potential killers…not all guns.

It seems like an instant gratification to their self centered need and satisfaction… narcissism.

A fresh perspective and voice, thanks Doc.

I’d further posit that loneliness plays a role-and is a severe sequelae of our society.
Narcissism may itself be a symptom, and not a cause at all, in that perhaps it is an attempt-maladaptive albeit-to correct the lack of connection. In todays world we have all these smart devices that make talking too easy (facebook, spectrum, instagran, twitter et al) but is anyone learning to LISTEN? Few of us can afford the professionals paid to listen-and education has dropped the ball regarding psychological social skills. As noted, family (and church) has also dropped the ball.

Perhaps this boils down to “love of money” in the form of two-income families trying to survive in a world hellbent to tax and enslave. Perhaps we need to examine the offgrid concept, and disconnect, in order to reconnect to what is of utmost import.

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Viewer ratings, sales, advertisement and profit margins would be more relevant.

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Newtown, Vegas, El Paso, Dayton…all the way back to Columbine. Japan, South Korea, Italy, England, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Australia, all free nations. Add up gun deaths per year combined, and they don’t amount to a fraction of the tens of thousands of gun deaths we experience here. Sorry, Pat. it all starts to sound like excuses to me. Mass shootings in those countries are a rarity or never happen.

If we want change, then we have enough intelligent people in this country to figure it out. Go to school on what other developed, free countries are doing. Cigarette smoking was attacked as a societal problem beginning in the late 60s. Change happened. If we keep doing what we always have done with this issue, we’ll get what we’ve always gotten. That’s insanity. I don’t think that status quo is good enough.

Frank

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