Dare we believe in America’s future?

November 21, 2015

A Review of The Spiral Notebook: The Aurora Theater Shooter and the Epidemic of Mass Violence Committed by American Youth, by Stephen Singular and Joyce Singular (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2015)

Singular 1The title and sub-title of this book accurately denote the two narratives that are intertwined throughout its 290 pages. The Aurora theater shooting on July 12, 2012, and the slowly unwinding legal proceedings that followed is the attention getter, but the careful exploration of why so many young white males are committing these atrocities is, to my mind, the more important narrative.

The authors are investigative journalists who have spent two decades writing books about American violence. To write The Spiral Notebook, they spent time in places that are important to the Aurora event and the life of shooter James Holmes and conducted interviews over a two-year period with psychologists and psychiatrists, first responders, private investigators, and teachers throughout the nation. They also interviewed “many, many young people throughout the nation” and include quotations from these conversations at the beginnings of many of the short chapters in this book.

Perhaps the most important leads during their investigation came from their son who “like many teenagers…hadn’t shared much with us,” but after his first year in college “was slowly opening up, speaking about his classes and which professors had influenced him the most” (pp. 2–3). He helped them understand what they were seeing and hearing and gradually opened up new areas for investigation.

The central theme of the book is the shooter, James Holmes, and how and why he committed this act. The account begins with his apprehension in a parking lot immediately after the shootings, and follows him as he slowly winds his way through an increasingly frustrating, unproductive, costly, and inconclusive legal process. There are illuminating descriptions of his keen mind and academic achievements that contributed to his psychological imbalance and led him to become a mass shooter.

Read more. . . The Spiral Notebook

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Struggling with Divine Violence

November 5, 2015

Notes on How to Read the Bible and Still Be A Christian by John Dominic Crossan

Crossan ViolenceFrom ancient times until now, the deepest hopes and fears of human life have been vividly displayed and viciously fought in the lands around the Mediterranean Sea. This ongoing struggle is the constant theme of the Bible and the matrix within which biblical writers described God, developed contrasting systems of governing the affairs of humankind, and portrayed conflicting visions of how ordinary people are to live out their lives. These ancient lands have taken on even greater urgency in recent decades as human power to destroy has increased, seemingly exponentially. Therefore, the urgency of determining how governments, politicians, religious leaders, business people, and ordinary people should act is becoming ever greater.

In his book How to Read the Bible and Still be a Christian, New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan provides a way to understand this crisis, both in ancient times and in our own world that in so many ways differs from the historical circumstances of long ago. The book’s subtitle identifies its central theme: “Struggling with Divine Violence from Genesis Through Revelation.”

At the center of the narrative is the contrast between two visions of how the world works: a vision of nonviolent distributive justice in which all people and creatures of the world have what they need and a vision of violent retributive justice in which power rules by command and punishment and terrible discrepancies develop between those in command and all others.

In Crossan’s reading of history, the normalcy of human civilization depends upon what he calls escalatory violence as the characteristic process by which all things in life are be ordered. This violence is understood to be justified and carried out by religious systems of thought and ritual. Historical experience makes it seem inevitable that visions of a nonviolent and peaceable kingdom are transformed by using violence to force conformity of most people to the dictates of normal civilization. Read more Struggling with Divine Violence