By Tracy S. Daub

Before we even had a chance to celebrate Christmas, we were confronted with the reality of Herod among us. Scripture records that after the birth of Jesus, King Herod, threatened by rumors of the new “king” of the Jews, went on a rampage, killing all the babies he could find.

This month, Herod visited us again, inflicting upon us a contemporary Slaughter of the Innocents. Like Rachel, who wept and refused to be comforted (Matt. 2:18), our entire nation is mourning the precious lives lost in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.

Arising from this grief is the essential question of what we can do to protect ourselves from such similar tragedies. First is a public policy matter: the need to reform our nation’s gun laws. Just as any of our constitutional freedoms are subject to being curbed in order to protect the welfare of others, the Second Amendment need not be threatened by restrictions aimed at ensuring that only responsible individuals have access to dangerous weapons.

Some say this tragedy was mostly a result of failed mental health policies. While a fresh examination of such policies would be worthwhile, statistical information from similar countries gives one pause. Last year, gun violence in Canada took 52 lives compared to 10,728 in the United States. Does America really have so many more deranged individuals living within our borders?

The Newtown calamity also raises spiritual issues. Recently I accompanied my 11-year-old son to a video game store. I overheard an adult customer discussing the various “first person shooter” games he found most appealing.

Whatever role such games play as a contributing factor among those already mentally disturbed who commit violent acts, I will leave for the sociologists and psychologists to determine. What concerns me is the likely damage such games may inflict upon the developing soul – of any age.

The psyche is shaped by environmental circumstances as well as repetitive behaviors. Compassion, generosity, self-control and gratitude can be learned through behaviors that promote these qualities – as when we teach our children to say “thank you” long before they may actually feel gratitude.

Whether through video games, television or movies, killing has become a staple of how we entertain ourselves. I am concerned by what this routine consumption of violence may do even to those who are not mentally ill. What important parts of our souls are injured, numbed or stunted? What does it say about the soul of a culture that addictively turns to killing as entertainment?

In a violence-infatuated society, no one is safe, in body or soul. As I wept over the deaths of these precious children, I prayed we might yet stand up to Herod and the damage he has wrought.

The Rev. Tracy S. Daub is pastor at University Presbyterian Church in Buffalo.