Young Men in Crisis: Pharmacia, Guns and God

  “An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life: ‘A fight is going on inside me,’ he said to the boy. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil, the other is good. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.’ The grandson then asked, ‘Which wolf will win?’ The old Cherokee replied, ‘The one you feed.’”–Dean Yeong

est selling author and pastor Tim Keller says there are four things in life individuals need in order to thrive—meaning, identity, satisfaction and hope. So what then is our society doing or not doing that is promoting isolation and hopelessness in young men, young men who are choosing to pick up guns and shoot innocent and unarmed school children?

The left will tell you that the problem can be solved by restricting access to firearms, which has been shown not to work in gun-free cities. The right will tell you that the right to bear arms is fundamental under the Second Amendment, but neither viewpoint addresses the underlying psychosis of these young men—and they are almost always young men—who are resorting to public shootings.

An international investigation into school violence by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a mental health watchdog, shed some light on the mental state of school shooters. The study revealed that at least 36 school shootings and/or school-related acts of violence are committed by those taking or withdrawing from psychiatric drugs, resulting in 172 wounded and 80 killed. The study also highlighted that at least 27 international drug regulatory agency warnings have been issued on psychiatric drugs being linked to mania, violence, hostility, aggression, psychosis and homicidal ideation, or thoughts or fantasies of homicide that can be planned.

Clearly, embracing the use of psychotic drugs to control troubled students and restricting access to guns are not going to eradicate school shootings. Instead, the facts point to a more complex psychological issue of a society breaking down from within. Is it possible that Keller is right? Are we failing to provide the four essential elements that make for a healthy individual and, by extension, a healthy society?

The Meaning of Life

Several generations of young people are taking psychiatric drugs to cope in a time of unprecedented peace in the United States. Why? The short answer is that they have been raised in an environment steeped in relativism. An environment stripped of any acknowledgment of the spiritual nature and makeup of human beings. They have been raised in a world where everything is questioned, from gender to traditional marriage, and dropped into a world of virtual reality and social media. And the resultant isolation and hopelessness is much more serious than people realize.

Timothy Leary was a pioneer in psychological drugs and encouraged an entire generation to, “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.”

Even ancient philosophers recognized that man was a tri-part being—body, mind and spirit. Taking the spiritual element out of the discussion of psychiatric drug use then, is a mistake. Even the Godfather of psychiatric drugs, Timothy Leary, recognized that there was a spiritual component to pharmacia and the human psyche and later in life even changed his position on LSD consumption.

In his famous early essay stemming from Plato’s Pharmacy, French philosopher Jacques Derrida contended that philosophy, characterized by rational thinking, and therefore also law as one of its offshoots, was founded on sorcery.

Solomon, purportedly the wisest man to have ever lived, conducts an experiment of sorts that, like Leary, allowed him to, “turn on, tune in and drop out.” He embarked on a journey of pure pleasure, including unlimited sex, the amassing of possessions and unlimited endeavors. And what did he conclude? That life is utterly meaningless:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

But if we read the entire book of Ecclesiastes, we understand that what Solomon is telling us is that life is fleeting and only meaningless apart from God. Throughout the book, Solomon explains why our work, our property, our children, all of our achievements, our education—all come to nothing on the day we draw our last breath. “Apart from God, does anyone have anything to show for their hard work? People are born, and then they die. The world is still the same.”

Our secular modern society has stripped God from all public spheres of life and generations of Americans have grown up without any knowledge of God and are bereft of life holding any meaning to them. They look up from their hand-held games, social media accounts and broken families and draw the conclusion that life has no meaning, and therefore, no value.

The Importance of Identity

In a world where news cycles last less than a day and relationships are formed and broken at lightening speed, young people are unanchored from any form of identity outside of social media, which is ironic considering we are living in a time of identity politics.

When young people are searching for who they are in life, typically during their middle and high school years, they are encouraged through the educational system to identify with a group based on their race, their gender and their sexuality. The truth is that these labels only serve to narrowly define who they are as individuals. Stripped from any individual, unique characteristics in the secular age and believing that individuality doesn’t matter, adolescents no longer know who they are or what they should aspire to be.

Diversity labels have stripped individuals from any form of self-identity except belonging to a group. This narrow definition of what it means to be human is fracturing our national psyche.

Young people are not taught the most basic premise of their identity, that is that they are made in the image of God and therefore, have intrinsic value and worth. Value that is embedded in our own Constitution and that declares that all men are created equal. This is also why the progressive liberal left seeks to tear down the Constitution, which they consider to be an obstacle to creating their utopian world of a collective society. They don’t believe in the importance and value of one human life, one individual.

All the basic building blocks that used to make up a life that provided individuals with an identity are under attack. Young people don’t strive for lasting relationships, such as marriage, or aspire to be parents, civil servants, or even productive citizens. Older generations were taught that becoming a civic minded, responsible adult that looked to the greater good of their fellow citizens was the way to find their identify and their most highest calling in life. Through self-sacrifice and service to others, this generation had something more to follow than just their basic instincts.

Young people today have no concept of being made in the image of God and how this identity is crucial to their understanding of the universe and their part in it. Being reduced to just a group with a label, they are denied their value, purpose and uniqueness. Psalm 139:13-14 tells us, “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.”

Finding Satisfaction

Finding satisfaction in life is certainly an allusive if not impossible state of mind to achieve, yet it is important to our mental health that we find a way to experience some form of satisfaction, which comes not through the lives we choose to live but who we will serve in life. The Rolling Stones laments how hard it is to find satisfaction in their hit record, “Satisfaction,” where Jagger sings:

“I can’t get no satisfaction, I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no
“When I’m drivin’ in my car, and the man come on the radio
He’s tellin’ me more and more about some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination.”

Life is indeed tough. Recent YouTube sensation and professor and clinical psychologists Jordan Peterson has become a rock star of sorts to young men, in part, by acknowledging that life holds much human suffering. In his lectures and new book, 12 Rules for Life, he seeks to provide ways in which young men can cope at the individual, personal level with chaos and pain.

Dr. Jordan Peterson throws a life line to young men through his lectures on how to order their life and, in his own words, “Grow the hell up, man.” Photo credit: Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images.

What I find interesting about Peterson is his sincere desire to remedy that which has been stolen by the last several generations on the meaning of life and our part in it. Peterson is providing the context these young men so sorely need in order to form a meaningful and satisfying life. Part psychology, part biblical guru, Peterson has hit a nerve.

The Bible is also honest about the suffering and injustices of life. The entire book of Job is about human suffering in a spiritual world. The Bible also tells us that, despite this suffering, we can experience satisfaction in this life. “And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. “ (Isaiah 58:11)

Peterson is quick to tell young men that they are called to order and control their world and those around them by sacrificing to the good of the collective through individual service to others and self-sacrifice. And that this can be achieved only after they have learned to master their own inner man and mental and spiritual chaos. In other words, which wolf will they feed? And in Peterson’s own words, “This is no small thing, man.”

Peterson’s popularity, in part, is because his message rings true and because our young men are desperate to know what it means to become a man in a secular society. They are desperate to make a difference in the world and to have a purpose.

It isn’t that there isn’t true mental illness in our society or even that we sometimes don’t need help in managing our depression through the use of psychiatric drugs, it’s that it isn’t the panacea for all that ails us. Young men must be taught to navigate their way through life, which includes suffering and meaninglessness, by first finding their own identity, which leads to satisfaction. And any identity apart from God and self-centric is no identity at all.

The Crucial Need for Hope

I personally know what lack of hope can do to a person’s body, mind and spirit. Like many writers, I tend to be introspective and can experience depressive cycles. And like many of you, I have experienced great personal pain and suffering. Without my belief in a God that is righteous, loving and compassionate, I’m not sure that I, too, wouldn’t feel as hopeless as these young school shooters. And angry. The world is full of injustices, deep suffering and simple human cruelty.

But hopelessness and anger can be a deadly psychotic storm in adolescence where the brain is not yet fully formed. Our jobs as adults are to teach young people that happiness should not be the end goal, nor a life void of any pain, but that joy, peace and satisfaction are the fruits of a well disciplined life in service to God and others. This is what gives us the power to transcend the disappointments and pain of life.

When we are never taught that we are more than biological entities, we neglect the feeding and care of our very own hearts, minds and souls. We become embittered, angry, narcissistic and hopeless. We cease to display the very best of our human attributes, such as peace, compassion, love and joy. Repressed anger combined with hopelessness is as dangerous as a nuclear missile and produces tragedies such as the Parkland school shooting. Particularly when we are replacing spiritual wisdom and hope with drugs in immature brains.

Contrary to popular evangelical TV preachers, serving God does not mean that we live lives free of devastating disease or pain, crushing failure, loneliness or financial worries. These things will happen to all human beings at one time or another. Rather, we are able to experience the peace that passes all understanding through our faith in a loving and compassionate God who will, in the end, sustain us in deep waters and ultimately bring meaning to our suffering.

The cynical secular world that does not believe in God, will accuse Christians of living in a fantasy world, but I take umbrage with that. When you deny that we are a tri-part being, it is you who are living in a fantasy world. We cannot fix mass school shootings by taking away firearms and we cannot fix our young men and women who are needlessly suffering with mental and spiritual confusion with just a pill.

Our national strength was built on shared ideas of virtue, moral responsibility and civic duty. Diversity has not made us a better nation, but fractured us into warring factions competing for power, resources and diverse goals. The divisive issue of school shootings and the right to bear arms illuminates the larger picture that most fail or refuse to see. The activism and rancor that has ensued since the election of President Trump is really just a battle for our national identity. Like individuals, our nation must have meaning, identity, satisfaction and hope. If we cannot agree on what type of country we want to live in, then we will continue to be at war with one another and be at war within ourselves and our God. Reign well.