Violence, the media and redemption

By Colin M. Morris
15 Nov 2007

Earlier in the summer, Mediawatch UK issued a report called Children and the Media. Its research claims that small children can be traumatised by images of war in television news bulletins.

Perhaps some teen-agers are also getting a message from such footage, one that has a bearing on the upsurge in gun crime? Day after day they see images of armed force used to resolve conflicts, win battles, destroy the enemy - fire-power in all its manifestations, used by all sides, in many parts of the world.

Now for many people it would be absurd to suggest there is any moral equivalence between the use of force under lawful authority and violence on our streets, but wrenched from its moral context, the image of the gun symbolises virility, excitement, power.

One report says that in a grotesque parody of military camaraderie, some youth gangs describe themselves as armies and call one another soldiers.

I'm not arguing for the censoring of news bulletins; I'm not proposing any simplistic solution to the highly complex social problems we face, merely suggesting it is an illusion to imagine our society consists of two hermetically sealed parts - one out there, where our armed forces are embroiled in war; and one over here, where we can expect normality.

In any community, waves of influence spread in all directions. We are bound together in one bundle of life. This human solidarity is recognised in the Christian doctrine of original sin. Any of us is capable of real nobility and sacrifice, but because there is fundamental flaw in our nature, we are also tempted to do what is wicked, not through ignorance or error but because part of us enjoys it.

The source of many of our gravest problems lies not in forces we can do nothing about but in a deep corruption of the human will - and this can be dealt with only by radical action; reform, rehabilitation or what Christianity unapologetically calls redemption.

In all our inner cities, there are groups from many religions or none heroically struggling to transform the lives of the marginalized. Many in our society doubt this is possible. When those who knew him best said that the man who murdered Philip Lawrence 11 years ago has turned over a completely new leaf, parts of the press ridiculed the idea.

Well, if it isn't possible to redeem or reform human nature, we can triple the number of police, pass a hundred extra laws, build a dozen more prisons and we will still not get to the root of the problem.

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© Colin M. Morris is a former President of the Methodist Conference and has held senior positions in the BBC. He was Director of the Centre for Religious Communication in Oxford from 1991-96, and is author of numerous books, including, most recently Things Shaken - Things Unshaken (reflections on faith and terror) and Bible Reflections Round the Christian Year. Dr Morris is a frequent contributor to BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day, in which form this edited article was originally broadcast. Reproduced with grateful acknowledgement to the author and the BBC.

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