The movie “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” has been brought up countless times when discussing the life and death and murders of Elliot Rodger, who killed seven people, including himself last month in Santa Barbara, California.
The movie reference was a “guaranteed laugh line” in our “toxic culture,” one of my interlocutors put it, understood to be conveying the killer as a “dweeby, out-of-touch loser,” as another emphasized.
Is it any wonder that the worst thing in the world for Rodgers was that he was not having sex?
“Sex has become a sort of replacement god, an idol of our Internet age,” says Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, the associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine, observed.
In the writings, he left behind, Rodger pointed to his parents’ divorce and his first viewing of porn as perversely formative. “I was shocked beyond words,” he says viewing pornographic images at 11. “The sight filled me with strong and overwhelming emotions. I was traumatized. My childhood was fading away. Ominous fear swept over me.”
In a culture that doesn’t value men as protectors and fathers, all there really was for Rogers to hope for was sex. “This makes perfect sense, because deep in even the most deluded and anesthetized heart, we cannot fail to know that sex is meant to connect us to another,” Ed Mechmann, director of public policy and the Safe Environment Office at the Archdiocese of New York said. When Rodger couldn’t get what he wanted, there was an “existential anger” about him, “not just against his situation but even against who and what he is,” Mechmann commented. “And so he tried to destroy all that reminded him of the hurt he couldn’t get rid of or make sense of.”
“Our children are growing up in a split-personality culture. We tell them to be ‘good, kind people’ but they see the adults in their lives – on TV, in movies, on their computers, in their own families – using and discarding people, moving seamlessly in and out of marriages and sexual relationships,” Hilary Towers, a developmental psychologist, said.
This is the “throwaway culture” Pope Francis has often decried. Why are boys and girls right now sitting in bedrooms with computers their parents gave them, looking at porn or sexting classmates and strangers?
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, the acclaimed poet who recently passed away, expressed awe at her knowledge that God loved her. It was humbling and overwhelming to her. She didn’t have an easy life, but she was thankful for it, and it made her appreciate others’ lives. In imperfect ways, she would be the first to admit, she saw people a little bit through the eyes of God. At the very least, she saw a connectedness, a common dignity among all humans.
In another interview, she said when she “internalized” the love of God, she became courageous. “I dared to do anything that was a good thing,” she said.
How can today’s children – growing up in a shallow, exploitative culture that is raising them in place of their self-obsessed parents – ever see what Angelou did, because she had a family that taught her about religion and embraced her – and her unborn child – when she found herself 16 and pregnant?
What will we do and say, and how will we act in response to the violence, death and alienation that pervade all sectors of Western culture? Create a hashtag to decry victimhood? Or reach out in love to a young man or woman who can’t keep his or her eyes off of a screen? Goods and games and drugs won’t do it. Being fully present to others (in parenting, teaching and ministering) will.
• Kathryn Lopez is the editor-at-large of National Review Online, www.nationalreview.com. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.