Denver Catholic Register
May 4, 1999
"These things shape the soul"
Testimony delivered May 4, 1999, before the Senate
Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. Archbishop of Denver
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Good morning. I know our time is limited, and your work is important, so
forgive me if I'm very direct.
Exactly one week ago today, I buried the third of four Catholic teen-agers
shot to death at Columbine High School. More than a thousand people turned out
for each of the funerals. Other pastors, from other churches, did exactly the
same for the other eight students and the teacher who were murdered. They had
exactly the same experience. These killings broke the heart of my community. You
may not know Littleton but I do. It's a good place, with good people. However
terrible the Columbine tragedy seemed on TV, it's another thing altogether to
sit privately with parents as they learn that the child they kissed goodbye
yesterday won't be coming home again ever. For their sake, I'm grateful to be
The discussion today is "marketing violence to children." I'd like to offer
just two observations from a pastor's point of view.
First, as a nation, we've lost our common sense, and we urgently need to
recover it. The reasonable person understands that what we eat, drink and
breathe will make us healthy or sick. In like manner, what we hear and what we
see lifts us up or drags us down. It forms us inside. Pornography degrades
women. It also coarsens men. I don't need to prove that, because we all know it.
It's common sense. The weekend after the Columbine killings, I saw a film called
The Matrix with a friend. The theater was filled with teen-agers. One scene left
me completely stunned: The heroes wear trench coats, and in a violent, elegant,
slow-motion bloodbath, they cut down about a dozen people with their guns. It
occurred to me that Mr. Harris and Mr. Klebold may have seen that film. If so,
it certainly didn't deter them.
My point is this: People of religious faith have been involved in music, art,
literature and architecture for thousands of years because we know from
experience that these things shape the soul. And through the soul, they shape
behavior. The roots of violence in our culture are much more complicated than
just bad rock lyrics or brutal screenplays. And it's clear that the Columbine
killings were planned well before The Matrix ever opened. But common sense tells
us that the violence of our music, our video games, our films and our television
has to go somewhere - and it goes straight into the hearts of our children, to
bear fruit in ways we can't imagine . . . until something like Littleton
My second observation is this: Blaming shock-rock performers like Marilyn
Manson for the violence in our culture is easy. It's also, in a way, probably
right. But the problem of violence isn't out there in bad music and bloody
films. The real problem is in here, in us, and it won't be fixed by v-chips. In
the last four decades, we've created a culture that markets violence in dozens
of different ways, seven days a week. It's part of our social fabric. When we
build our advertising campaigns on consumer selfishness and greed, and when
money becomes the universal measure of value, how can we be surprised when our
sense of community erodes? When we glorify and multiply guns, why are we shocked
when kids use them? When we answer murder with more violence in the death
penalty, we put the state's seal of approval on revenge. When the most dangerous
place in the country is a mother's womb, and the unborn child can have his or
her head crushed in an abortion, even in the process of being born . . . the
body language of that message is that life isn't sacred and may not be worth
much at all. In fact, certain kinds of killing no longer even count officially
as "killing." Certain kinds of killing we enshrine as rights and protect by law.
When we live this kind of contradiction, why are we surprised at the results?
The Columbine murders will mark my community for years to come. They're a wound
felt by the entire country - but I don't think they'll be the last. We live in
the most violent century in history.
Nothing makes us immune from that violence except a relentless commitment to
respect the sanctity of each human life, from womb to natural death The civility
and community we've built in this country are fragile. We're losing them. In
examining how and why our culture markets violence, I ask you not to stop with
the symptoms. Look deeper. The families in Littleton and throughout the country
deserve at least that much.
Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Copyright - 1999 The Archdiocese of Denver 1300 South
Steele Street,Denver, Colorado, 80210-2599 - (303) 722-4687
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