By now, I’m sure most are familiar with the recent shooting in Las Vegas. This one hit close to home because I just moved back to Texas from Las Vegas after living there for 9 years. A friend of my sister-in-law was shot twice in at that concert yesterday.
What disturbed me more than this event was how I felt about it. I lacked a deep and profound horror at the senseless loss of life; I thought, “Here we go again with another shooting.” As I reflected on my feelings or lack thereof, I felt that I had become desensitized to these violent acts. Three things came to mind that solidified into a firm resolve, and I’d like to share my thoughts.
My history with violent video games
In high school, my sister and I had purchased a Nintendo 64 entertainment system, and I immediately was drawn to the game Goldeneye 007 based on the popular James Bond movie at the time.
It wasn’t my first encounter with first-person shooters. Back in 1991, I got the game Wolfenstein 3D which was revolutionary for its time. The screen was from the players perspective, and you killed thousands of Nazis who died in a very gory manner. I also played Doom, a little bit of Duke Nuke’em and many other computer games that were very violent.
The game I excelled at was Goldeneye 007. I’d play after seminary in the morning and before and after school. It wouldn’t be uncommon for me to play over 7 hours a day and into the night. I would lower my health to the lowest level where I’d be easy to kill and raise the health of my opponents when we would play multiplayer, but I would slaughter them every time. I even beat the best kid at my school easily in a competition after lunch one day.
As time went on others lost interest with the Nintendo in the living room, I moved it to my bedroom where I had a small TV. I had beaten the game many times and would speed through levels dispatching enemies with headshot after headshot. I was really, really good and very proud of my skills.
One day, I went to school after my traditional morning gaming and groggily attended my English class. After class, I stepped out of the front door with heavy eyes. My high school consisted of several rows of two-story buildings connected by bridges where students passed above and below. My particular perspective at the moment reminded me of one of the multiplayer levels from my game. I then saw a red crosshair, just like in the game appear in my vision over the students on the lower levels and I unconsciously felt both my hands raise a little at my side as I began to position both hands into gun-like shapes with my fingers pointed out and my thumbs raised. This really happened. It all occurred in a flash, but it shocked me awake and left me traumatized for the rest of the day.
See, I was in high school when the Columbine shooting happened. While it was a horrible thing to learn about, it didn’t affect my behavior; I just went back to my normal life. Music, movies, and video games were all blamed for influencing these kids, and I thought those accusations were ridiculous. Now, I began to question and consider my ways (Haggai 1:5,7). The one thing that rang out in my mind were Mormon’s words concerning captain Moroni:
And Moroni was a strong and a mighty man; he was a man of a perfect understanding; yea, a man that did not delight in bloodshed; […] and this was the faith of Moroni, and his heart did glory in it; not in the shedding of blood but in doing good, in preserving his people, yea, in keeping the commandments of God, yea, and resisting iniquity. Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men. (Alma 48:11,16-17)
I asked myself why I continued to play the game even though I had beaten it many times. I thought about what I enjoyed about it and an honest assessment revealed that I enjoyed killing the bad guys. I liked watching them slump to the ground, blowing them up with explosives, and seeing the blood-splatter. I found that I delighted in it. I argued to myself that this wasn’t real, it was all just simulated death. True, nobody was actually dying, but what was happening in my mind was real. I was entertained with the feeling of pulling a trigger and executing a human form that responded to projectiles and violence in a manner that was very realistic. This realism only gets more and more profound as video game graphics and processing improve exponentially.
I thought about how I was preparing for a mission and concluded that such desires were inconsistent with a servant of God. God, though these experiences and the Book of Mormon, allowed me to see things as he saw them and from that moment I turned from violent video games and felt a great deal of abhorrence for them.
Something similar has happened to me today after learning about the shooting in Las Vegas.
The Baal Myth and Modern Violent “Entertainment”
The following is from pages 20-22 of Avraham Gileadi’s book The Last Days: Types and Shadows from the Bible and the Book of Mormon which is a great read, especially the first several pages where he compares ancient and modern cultural degeneracy. This is just one small part where he explains the cult of Baal in detail that is strikingly familiar and ends with a powerful scripture from Isaiah.
The Lord, on many occasions, warned the Israelites through his prophets about their carelessness in letting their neighbors’ Baalism influence them. Baalism itself, however, we have not well understood. The cult centers on a mythic account of a life-and-death struggle between the gods. In that story, Baal, the hero god, overpowers several rivals. He then celebrates his prowess by having intercourse with Anath, his female partner.
The fullest available account of the myth comes from the Baal-Anath Epic of Ugaritic literature. Its alternating scenes of violence and sex, explicit in their descriptive detail, were reenacted in real-life dramas that took their cue from the Baal myth. Pornographic imagery, carved or painted, accompanied such reenactments. The myth so incited Israelites who exposed themselves to the Baal cult that forthwith they “played the harlot” with non-Israelite women, losing all awareness of their chosen status (Num. 25:1,6).
Many people say that violent and sexually-explicit entertainment doesn’t affect people’s behavior. I disagree. People act upon ideas and just like people latch onto and act upon ideas they find in scriptures, they can do the same with any other ides no matter how they are delivered.
In the Ugaritic account, Baal obtains permission from a higher authority, El, to command the gods Yamm (“Sea”) and Mot (“Death”) to comply with Balls’s rule or face him in a confrontation. Yamm and Mot represent forces of chaos or disorder that will make trouble for Baal and for the world if Baal does not subdue them. They resist Baal’s authority and each fights him to the death.
Sundry emissaries and cohorts assist Baal and his rivals in their life-and-death struggle. The versatile craftsman Koshar fashions the weapons Baal uses against his enemies. These weapons can kill, inure, or maim from a distance. As the central figure of the drama, Baal himself literally kicks up a storm, he being the “lord” of thunder and lightning. Baal nonetheless suffers reverses and at one time appears dead. But with the timely aid of his violent consort, Anath, he escapes the clutches of death and wins the victory at the last. The myth thus credits Baal with restoring order in the world, everyone profiting from his extraordinary prowess . Sexual relations between him and Anath, hitherto hampered by adversity, now receive full expression.
In comparing the Baal myth with stories in today’s culture, we recognize readily the basic plot that inspires so many movies and dramas in our media. Their very success lies in the amount of violence and sex they contain. The hero and his cohorts get authorization to kill and do anything they please, so long as they subdue the enemy and restore order. They do battle using weapons that kill and inure from a distance, weapons that strike swiftly like lighting, that clap aloud like thunder.
What amazed me when I first read this is how much this sounded like gun violence depicted in most action films. There is truly nothing new under the sun, but without considering the past, we would be blind to the subtle ways darkness moves among us.
In fulfilling his bizarre task, the hero nonetheless experiences setbacks, receives the wounds of battle, stares death in the face. But help always arrives in the nick of time, often by a woman driven to violence. In these stories, sexual aberrations abound–as they do in the Baal myth. Their scenes of sex and violence appear both subtle and explicit–as they do in the Baal myth. The many variations of their crude stories match ancient counterparts. In the biblical narrative we thus find Baal-Peor, Baal-Berith, Baal-Zebub, and other Baals.
The spilling over of violence and sex from fictitious dramas into real life is as well attested today as it was among the Canaanites. By making carnality legitimate in their culture, the Canaanites–and later the Israelites who conquered them–marked themselves ripe for destruction. Through the media that constitute an every part of our lives, we let characters enter our homes and minds to perform acts we would abhor in real life.
The pornographic images our media depict–the licentious manner of the characters, their distorted standard of values, their predisposition to murder and violence–all subvert and pollute our minds and hearts. Once there, they become a part of us. By indulging in such images, we do the contrary of “stopping our ears at the mention of murder, shutting our eyes at the sight of wickedness” (Isaiah 33:15). Yet that standard, an uncompromising standard, the Lord makes a prerequisite for salvation.
I recommend the whole book because Avraham goes into many more parallels that were a big call to repentance for me personally. The book isn’t preachy, it just draws the parallels, and when you see the connections, it makes you think. In a 2016 article titled How do you justify a gun-toting hero like the Punisher in the age of mass shootings? the writer observes:
Gritty films in which superheroes murder weren’t what studios once thought audiences wanted. Yet Batman v Superman, Kick-Ass, and Deadpool have proven that the public will cheer for and spend money to watch fictional vigilantes torture, maim, and kill in the name of justice. (splinternews.com)
When studying Baal in the Bible a while back, I came across this interesting verse:
“For she did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal.” (Hosea 2:8)
Now, this may be a bit of a stretch, but it was eerie to me to notice that the items prepared for Baal mirrored particular patterns found in modern movie theaters. We pay money (silver and gold) to sit in the dark and watch these films and eat popcorn (corn popped with oil), and many theaters offer beer now (alcohol). Is this modern Baal worship? We may not be worshiping the god by name, but we are paying a form of devotion to his story for sure.
I’m stepping away
Over the years I have felt the pricks of the spirit drawing me away from such things, but I’ve returned to them because so many others indulge in them and honestly, I enjoyed them as well.
In Elder Uchtdorf’s priesthood session talk he invited us to: “Step away from the shadows of the world” and as I wrote that down in my notebook I created a bulleted list with items I felt prompted by the spirit to write:
- Precepts of men
The first on that list was violence. After learning about the shooting this morning, all of these things gathered together in my mind as a single message. I see clearly what I must do and feel no reservations about how I should act moving forward.
It has taken a long time for the Lord to penetrate my thick head but once again he has allowed me to see clearly and the desire for violent entertainment has left me. The feeling of abhorrence has filled my heart with such things, and I no longer wish to support them in any way.
I cannot blame the media for creating such “entertainment” because I have demanded more of it by voting with my dollar. I don’t have any right to criticize what I was choosing to fund with the labors of my own hands. It is easy to point a finger outwards but like the adage says, you have three more pointing right back at you. We all want someone to blame, but perhaps we should begin like the apostles and ask, “Lord, is it I?” (Matthew 26:21–22)
When we seek after violence as a form of entertainment, it is hard to be horrified by it in real life.