The tragedy in Connecticut raises many of the same questions we’ve argued about for decades. Mostly we talk about guns, violence in our entertainment and society, school safety, and increasingly, mental health. However, one area Pagans can add a unique and valuable viewpoint is how our culture has stood deification on its head. We deify killers, not heroes.
In some ancient Pagan cultures, persons who did magnificent deeds or were founders of cities were honored after death as divine beings. Their names were known to all, their likeness spread, and every tidbit of their lives were told and retold. They became immortal. Persons who did unthinkable acts, on the other hand, were erased. Their name was no longer spoken. Their name was stricken from all official record. All images of them were destroyed. When they died, they ceased to exist.
This is how it should be and yet, we do the exact opposite. We have wall to wall coverage of the shooter, his photo is on every tv, phone, and computer. Most every person in our country, and many outside of it, will know his name. We will learn every detail of his life and all of that information is passed along on social media and discussed in person among friends, family, and co-workers. There will be books about him and generations from now, people will retell his story. They’ll be on the TV 24 hours a day. That is a powerful honor to bestow.
Psychologists note that persons who do mass killings, such as what happened last week, crave the attention even though they may choose not to be alive to experience the attention after the act. They fantasize about being on the news, knowing their name will live on long after their death. They know this because they see how we glorify past mass murderers. In fact, we usually surpass their wildest dreams. Each new killer receives greater and longer attention.
I don’t advocate legislation to make it illegal to speak mass murderers’ names or display their photos, but I do believe if we voluntarily adopt the ethics of our religious and cultural ancestors, we will have fewer of some types mass murders. It will not be so attractive to those focused on writing their name in the sky. If the media, as they do with a few other specific types of criminal cases, stopped publishing their name and photo, that would help. If we placed our focus on the victims and heroes, passing along their photos and stories and saying their name aloud, that would help. If we deified heroes, not killers, that would help.