Monday, March 14, 2005

Blame Someone, Anyone ...

As much as I'm inclined to shudder everytime the right-wing punditry renews its perennial charge that the mainstream media is anti-religious (or anti-Christian, to be more precise), sometimes the truth in the allegations is too much to ignore.

Case in point: The recent Wisconsin shooting in which the lonely, depressive sociopath du jour gunned down seven members of his church before turning the gun on himself.

News reports center on how gunman Terry Ratzmann had been mortified after Living Church of God evangelist Roderick Meredith predicted an imminent financial crisis that would sink America like an iceberg. Check out this Los Angeles Times report, for example, in which writers Scott Gold and Lianne Hart appear to seriously mull the culpability of the (admittedly flaky) sermon that Meredith had delivered to congregations around the nation via church publications and taped sermons.

"Ratzmann also appeared to have become agitated by recent messages delivered by Meredith, the church leader ... Acquaintances and church members said Sunday that Ratzmann may have been deeply affected in particular by Meredith's recent messages, delivered in taped sermons and editorials in the church's magazine, predicting financial collapse.

"One editorial written by Meredith said the United States would soon face 'total bankruptcy.' Meredith called for church members to pay off their credit cards and all other debts.'We should also have at least the equivalent of 60 days' living expenses in case of a sudden breakdown in the banking system,' he wrote.

"A spokesman said Meredith was not available to comment Sunday. The sermons and editorials were seen as a somber warning by many of the church's 7,000 members worldwide. The message, said Scott Winnail, a church elder in Wyoming, was that there could be a 'potential collapse of the U.S. currency.' However, Winnail and other leaders said the messages were not seen as particularly controversial among church members. They were, he said, 'not received poorly.'

"Indeed, in many ways they fit into the church's warnings over the years of an impending apocalypse. After [church founder Herbert] Armstrong's death in 1986, the Worldwide Church of God underwent changes that, while subtle at first, set it on a path toward schism.

"By 1995, its leadership had repudiated much of Armstrong's 'end-time' theology and even jettisoned hallmarks that helped define the church's worship on Saturday instead of Sunday, for example, and mandatory tithing. It also accepted the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which Armstrong had disavowed. The turn toward mainstream Christianity prompted the formation of eight breakaway churches.

"One was led by Meredith, who remained faithful to Armstrong's doctrines. After another split, Meredith founded the Living Church of God."

Maybe it's just me, but the Times' lengthy exploration of Ratzmann's church affiliation smacks of inferences about an alleged role that Meredith's doomsday rantings had on the killer. Why not assign a reporter to determine where Ratzmann secured the gun that enabled him to murder? What about an investigative piece into what make and model of car transported him to his date with death? And just who were his grade school teachers? My God, where did they go wrong?

Good grief.

John Hinckley takes a shot at Reagan? Blame Taxi Driver. Oklahoma City's federal building is bombed? Blame right-wing talk radio. Massacre at Columbine? Blame Marilyn Manson and violent video games. Too many kids smoking in the school parking lot? Blame Big Tobacco. Too many fat people on the bus? Blame McDonald's. 9-11? Blame the Bush Administration.

In the 1970s, our nation was hip on the adage that "shit happens." Somewhere along the way, however, it became a national obsession to ascribe responsibility for all that aforementioned shit. This is not to agree with some conservatives who claim the blame game is indicative of a country populated by put-upon victims and crybabies. Sometimes it is helpful to search for blame.

But not when it comes to acts of violence and sheer depravity. Too often the inexplicable is nothing more than just that: inexplicable. Perhaps the ultimate lunacy is searching for a rational impetus in the irrational act.

4 Comments:

At 5:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

EM Forster wrote "'The King died and then the Queen died' is a story. 'The King died and then the Queen died of grief' is a plot." The media simply attempts to fulfill a very real and human need, building a cohesive narrative from the random and disparate ends of the 24-hour news cycle.

 
At 8:39 PM, Blogger Darren M. Cary said...

I'm pretty familiar with the Living Church of God -- certainly its teachings and its leader -- because I grew up in the Worldwide Church of God. (I have since disassociated from the movement.)

The LCG's teachings are flakier than grandma's apple pie, but I don't believe it is responsible for the murders. But, at the same time, I think churches such as the LCG do tend to attract flaky people.

The gunman, Terry Ratzmann, was surely a disturbed individual. The guilt rests on him, not his flaky church.

 
At 6:20 PM, Anonymous M. Applewhite said...

With all due respect, allow me to quote Revelations 4:23 (I'm paraphrasing):
"And lo, the Dow shalt plunge, oil shalt skyrocket, and thy 401(k) shalt be as weak as the starving goat. Hoard thy toliet paper, I say, and maybe shoot a few folk."

Too much?

 
At 10:20 PM, Blogger Chase McInerney said...

Thank you for the reminder, M. Applewhite ... I kind of blanked out on that passage.

 

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