Entertainment and Current Events

Twenty Years, Little Progress

Well, today is that notorious day. Yes, April 20. Hitler’s birthday (he’d be 130), Weed Day (blaze it?), and the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

Since Columbine, we’ve had a number of school shootings, and I don’t think much has really changed. Mental health and its importance to overall health has been given greater due in the media and by medical professionals. I don’t follow the gun control debate,* but I don’t think much has improved there. Video games have gotten more graphic, violent, and all consuming. Social media has made it harder to be a teenager… and teenagers will always be fascinated with death, to some degree.

I was reading in the news about an 18-year-old female named Sol Pais who was obsessed with Columbine, even to the point of having a strange online journal that looks to be straight out of the early Internet days of the 90s and imitating the musical tastes, writing/art style, and nihilism of the Columbine killers. It seemed like she was about to travel to Columbine from Florida to make a bizarre pilgrimage to Columbine and do some kind of damage. But it turned out that the only damage she did was to herself: she committed suicide.

Back when I was 18, I was fascinated by Columbine, mostly because I was roughly the same age as the killers and many of the victims. I liked the same music and had a fascination with darkness that most teenagers end up growing out of. I would skulk around community college wearing my then-boyfriend’s trench coat and his hat (turned around backwards), but I would never have hurt a soul. I think I just wanted to look like a badass, but in reality, I was just a shy, awkward nerd. And I obviously grew out of my fake-badass stage and became a somewhat reasonable adult.

The trouble is that it is difficult to tell which teenagers will grow out of this obsession with death and which will end up committing heinous acts. Nobody foresaw Sol Pais’s destructive tendencies. She was just a quiet kid, intelligent and talented in art. People probably would have thought she was smart enough to know better than to do what she did. I don’t have any good ideas of how to prevent shootings or suicides, and although help is offered and mental illness is not as stigmatized as it was in the past, some kids still will not ask for help or realize that they need help or be recognized as someone who needs help.

I suppose mandatory mental health screenings at school or the doctor’s office would be a good first step, but the person being evaluated could always lie if he wanted to. Maybe it’s just the way the world is. There will never be perfect happiness or peace. No amount of preventive measures can stop a killer whose actions nobody foresaw or a suicidal person who kept everything inside.

*I have never owned a gun and never fired a gun (except a paintball gun, but that doesn’t count). My ignorant thought on guns is that hunting rifles and tiny guns for self-defense are fine, assuming that the purchaser is thoroughly checked out, but the trouble comes when automatic weapons (and their ammo) that are designed solely for killing can be easily obtained. I don’t see the point of anyone other than the military having access to weapons like that, and they all ought to be banned. If a collector wants to have guns, he should only be allowed to obtain guns and not ammo.

Religion

Purity: Not an End in Itself

Evangelical Christians had a thing called “purity culture” back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I’m not an evangelical, so I was never a part of that, but it had to do with spreading word about the dangers of premarital “fornication” and preserving one’s purity for marriage.

A popular book on the subject was titled I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and the author, Joshua Harris, has recently recanted his view that dating in itself is intrinsically bad. I never read the book, but upon hearing the title and reading the synopsis, I wondered how one was supposed to find a spouse if one never dated. You have to know what kind of person you’re looking for, right? And how else can one do that without dating a bunch of different people?

I suppose the author must have advocated, in place of traditional one-on-one dating, group dates or supervised hangouts where young people get to know each other without spending too much time alone, which can lead to a loss of purity. That’s all well and good, but there are certain things that you can only know about a person when you spend time alone with him or her. People tend to behave differently when they are in a group setting. So I can understand why the book has fallen out of favor in even the eyes of its own author.

The “purity culture” made the mistake of having teenagers, especially girls, think that their entire self-worth was based on the status of their virginity. If they were virgins, they were pure and good and righteous. If they were not virgins, they were soiled and damaged and no decent guy would want them.

One can be a virgin and have the filthiest mind on the planet. On the other hand, one can be a non-virgin and be fairly innocent and of course still be an intrinsically good person. A person is more than the sum of his or her sexuality, although in high school, that can sometimes be hard to believe.

The true aim of the “purity culture” should have been on getting teenagers to understand exactly why premarital sex was bad rather than telling them that they will shrivel up and die and go to hell if they have sex. Human beings have intrinsic worth, sex is an incredibly powerful force, and honestly, when you’re in high school or even college, there are very few teenagers who are emotionally mature enough to handle the ramifications of sex.

Obviously, if you have premarital sex, you may not go to hell. St. Augustine was a notorious playboy and kept a mistress, but he eventually had a beautiful conversion experience and became one of the greatest and well-known saints of all time. Salvation is complicated, and purity is complicated. Sins against purity are, at their base, like every other sin. If you choose to continue in your impure ways without seeking or wanting forgiveness and knowing full well that what you’re doing is wrong, then yes, you have a high chance of going to hell. However, if you were once “impure” and even had premarital sex, and you come to an understanding of why that was wrong, and you seek forgiveness and sincerely attempt to turn away from your past behavior, then you have a shot at heaven.

Abstinence or “purity” education needs to be based on not just the fact that premarital sex is wrong, but rather on why it is wrong. St. John Paul II wrote a series of lectures known as Theology of the Body, which explains in detail how valuable we are as human beings, the correct understanding of purity, and much more. That’s the foundation on which we need to be basing abstinence education, so teenagers can get a sense of “why” rather than just a judgmental statement (“premarital sex is wrong and you’re going to hell if you do it”) that only leads to more questions.

Books and Authors

The Teenagers of America

If you want assurance that the teenagers of America are not all mindless zombies walking around with phones in hand, totally oblivious to anything of beauty or substance, look no further than Scholastic’s annual compilation: The Best Teen Writing of 2017. The book’s editors have gathered the best award-winning writing from the most talented among American middle and high schoolers and arranged it into genres (poetry, personal essay, journalism, memoir, short story, novel, etc.). The result is a hodgepodge of hard-hitting pieces that make you feel, in Emily Dickinson’s words, “physically as though the top of my head were taken off.”

The works have so much wisdom that it doesn’t seem like they were written by teenagers at all. The descriptions are evocative, the word choice nearly flawless. Honestly, it’ll make you jealous that you don’t have that kind of talent, even when you’ve been slaving away as a writer for years before these kids were born. Speaking of which, some writers are born, and some are made, and it seemed from reading the pieces, that these young writers were mostly born with this talent, which was honed and cultivated by dutiful parents and teachers.

Of course, you can’t write an (interesting) book review without a couple of complaints, so here are mine. “Diversity” seemed to be a major factor in choosing the pieces, but I would have no way of knowing if the pieces chosen for the compilation were chosen because they were actually the best or because the editors wanted to make sure that all races and ethnicities were represented equally.

Many of the essays and journalism pieces seemed to be biased toward the political left, but I suppose that’s a mark of the newest generation—they are supposedly more liberal than past generations, and they’ve grown up in a world saturated with media that is mostly biased toward the left. You are what you eat, I guess.

Regardless, this compilation is a worthwhile read and provides insight into the thoughts of the best and the brightest, which may not actually be representative of the thoughts of all teenagers in America—just the tiny fraction of those who can express themselves through words.