The “March for Our Lives,” which rocked our cities on March 24, is hardly history’s first mass movement calling for “change.”
Yet the “March” is strikingly different from so many of its predecessors. I think of the several religious “Great Awakenings” that swept America in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, to include the great revival in the Army of Northern Virginia, 1864-65. Such movements also included struggles for temperance and suffrage for women and minorities. My point is that all of them called upon their adherents to sacrifice, to reform their lives for the better. Heavens! Crusading medieval popes proclaimed that the retaking of Jerusalem would be impossible without individual and collective reform. Taken together, mass movements meant a commitment to higher standards of personal morality, a rejection of lying, murder and adultery (per Pope Gregory VIII in 1187) plus alcohol, and a recognition of women and minorities as social, political and economic equals.
And mass movements calling for personal improvement did not always have a religious basis. The French Revolution was fueled by visions of liberty, equality and fraternity, by “virtue” and whatever else could be squared with the Enlightenment and its philosophy of Reason. The Russian Revolution fashioned out of selfish creatures the “Soviet Man,” reborn into the service of state and proletariat.
Whether religious or secular, customary mass movements are reforming by nature, bent on encouraging each adherent to exercise self-control for the benefit of others.
Now we behold the young marchers and how different they are from the norm. I see no desire for personal betterment. Nor do I hear calls for sacrifice, for letting go of heretofore cherished values in order to make the world a better place. Rather, they are a high-handed if not self-righteous mass. Free of guilt, they refuse self-examination and fix all blame for their woes upon the White House, Congress, local governments/politicians and the National Rifle Association!
But there is great need for generational introspection and self-improvement here. Amazingly, they don’t seem to grasp that it is their own generation doing the shooting. Google “American school shooters” and be astounded by the great numbers of these deadly instances, e.g. Sueng-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech, Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook, Nikolas Cruz at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine and, most recently, Austin Wyatt Rollins at Maryland’s Great Mills High School. And, of course, not to overlook Charleston church shooter Dylan Roof.
Each of them had a beef, whether provoked by bullying, spoiled love affairs, academic disappointment, frustrated political/social agendas or by any one of the myriads of other resentments produced when things go wrong. More decisively, however, they also had in common something else, the curse of our age: a steroidal self-importance that transcends every human and sacred consideration, whether of family, religion, country or friends, a self-importance that could justify, even murder.
How unanchored this self-important generation has become from the foundations of self-control and discipline when compared, at least, to my own generation (none that I remember ever murdered!). And the foundations are nothing if not ubiquitous — whether Judaeo-Christian, Eastern, Islamic or Atheistic (see the atheist’s own “Ten Commandments”). Hell, even the polytheistic Greeks and Romans taught moderation, self-control, temperance, restraint and discretion. And taken together it’s certain that each of these faiths teaches, above all, this golden lesson: come whatever may, one doesn’t shoot!
Might such foundations of self-control not be useful places on which the March 24 marchers can build? That is if they ever aim for individual betterment and, therefore, the launching of a truly meaningful movement.
Richard Hoover, a retired Foreign Service officer, resides in southern Warren County.