2016-06-30
From Religion News Service.

The author of a new book says the recent shooting at California's Santana High School may point to significant cultural problems that cannot be understood without considering their religious dimension.

The lasting impact of what happened in California -- and the violence more than a year earlier at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. -- may be that many Americans reconsider the values being imparted to the nation's youth, says journalist Wendy Murray Zoba. She examines the religious implications of Columbine in her new book, "Day of Reckoning: Columbine and the Search for America's Soul" (Brazos Books, $17.99).

In an interview shortly after the school shooting in California, Zoba said she worries about the enormous questions posed by such violence.

"Our movies glorify people who lock themselves in rooms and go crazy with machine guns," she said. "It's hard to make generalizations, but we are in a cultural environment that makes it easier to justify (violence) in the mind of someone who is already kind of losing it, going over the top."

Zoba, herself the mother of teen-agers, is a senior writer for the evangelical magazine Christianity Today and a former overseas reporter for Time magazine. She spent months reporting and reflecting on Columbine and traveled to Littleton, Colo., three times, meeting with students, family members and friends of the victims.

"As a reporter, it was gnawing at me: What happened here?" said Zoba. "And no parent, myself included, can bear the thought that, in our well-ordered universe, kids can be shot execution-style by their classmates while studying Macbeth in the school library."

Zoba believes the Columbine shootings have significant religious implications. The rampage by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold was described by survivors of the incident as "a spiritual battle" in which a palpable sense of evil was present. But Zoba said she wanted to see the discussion taken beyond debate about gun control, media violence and parenting. In the resulting book, her training in theology lends authority to her exploration of such issues as martyrdom, the existence of evil and the meaning of the cross.

During the final hours of her last visit to Littleton, Zoba sat near the graves. "I wondered how there could ever be enough flowers, pinwheels and Jesus poems to compensate for this loss," she writes.

"There will never be enough blame," Zoba writes. "Brian Rohrbough had called the cross `a dangerous symbol.' I had come to see it is dangerous, not because it was used to memorialize murderers but because it is the only symbol that can bear the burden of doing so."

Columbine took "us to a place none of us wanted to go," as did the shootings in Santee, Calif., Zoba said. "One of the Columbine students I interviewed inspired me, putting it really well, saying, 'What I'm afraid is everyone is going to look upon us as the generation of the shooters. I want everyone to look upon us as the generation of faithful because we're going to get through this."

That student's vision offers hope in the wake of repeated tragedy.

Two students were killed and 13 injured in the shootings at Santana High School in Santee. Police charged Charles Andrew Williams in the case. News reports noted that law enforcement and schools officials responded quickly, knowing repercussions from the incident would be felt for weeks to come.

Zoba urges the nation to examine the fragmented soul-searching of its youth, turning to the work of Christian apologist C.S. Lewis to support that contention.

In his book "The Abolition of Man," Lewis writes that when young people are raised in an environment where "there is no sense of objective value or absolute truth," they grow up "bereft of that sense of the human disposition that shows grace, restraint and moral fortitude," Zoba said.

"It's that aspect of our human personality that enables us to say no to our visceral impulses. Sadly, it seems that in the age we live in today, we are living in an environment where we are raising young people lacking such understanding," she said.

"The question is not whether or not the killers (at Columbine) asked their victims whether they believed in God," she said. "The larger question that confronted us as a nation was not do we believe in God, but is God relevant?"

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