In 1976, a primitive (by today’s standards) coin-operated video game was released called “Death Race.” The premise of the game was that an onscreen “car” controlled by the player would execute people by running over them. Each time a successful “hit” was made, a pixel tombstone would instantly appear. Kill as many as possible in the time allotted, and the high score wins.
The game was wildly popular and instantly controversial. Sneering skeletons decorated the game’s cabinet, stylized grim reapers that would have made a perfect graphic for the t-shirt of a biker, goth fan, or both. The vague, gray-screen graphics and game premise would raise nary an eyebrow today. But back then, it was enough to land irate mothers on local news shows demanding that the game not come to the convenience stores of their towns. I remember seeing ministers on television indignantly condemning this game that turned killing into an amusement. It was said that such “entertainment” would cause youth to be indifferent to human life.
The emerging video game industry may have pushed the envelope of decency at the time, but there were additional realities in the 1970s whose cultural influences passed “Death Race” by miles. It was in the ‘70s that America’s de-valuing of marriage and family began to really accelerate. The rapid spread of no-fault divorce laws made it easier than ever to dissolve a marriage, and with this came new behavioral problems in the lives of the children of divorce.
Movies, media and pop culture (more and more distanced from the Judeo-Christian moral code that shaped previous generations) inspired youth with increasingly deviant ways to act out on the hurt and frustrations they were feeling. By the late 1990s, a pop lyric from the group Black Box Recorder’s single “Child Psychology” proclaiming, “Life is unfair, kill yourself or get over it,” expressed a resignation that had been simmering in adolescent culture for years.
Regarding violence present in the media we ingest, in 2015 the American Psychological Association re-affirmed (and supplemented) conclusions of research dating back to the early 1980s, asserting that such content made children less sensitive to the pain of others, more fearful of their surroundings, and led them to behave more aggressively. The findings were called “consistently disturbing.” Violent video games, for example, have been documented by MRI scans to alter the player’s brain.
Death: Fictional, actual and profitable
The legalization (and social acceptance) of abortion would prime America to become even more accepting of violence and death. Three-quarters of a million lives would be extinguished in 1973, the year that the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion on demand. By 1975, abortions in America were at well over 1 million per annum, and have remained so ever since. That adds up to a staggering 57 million-plus Americans lost over the last four decades. It is little wonder that I hear young adults today refer to their friend’s abortions as, “taking care of it … .”
We’ve come a long way down a dark path since the transitional 1970s. By the ‘90s, when Pope John Paul II began to speak out against our “culture of death,” Western consumers had an appetite for darkness unlike anything known in prior generations. From zombie and vampire fixations, to a homicidal TV show named “Splatter,” to mock exorcisms by performers at the Grammys, wholesome just doesn’t sell anymore. And yet we’ve come to the point of a collective “yawn,” as celebrities who produce such (I am reluctant to say “artists”) can only grope relevancy by always aiming for outrageousness. Columnist Cal Thomas called this “the diminishing returns of explicitness.”
A quest for light and life
President Ronald Reagan (speaking in 1984) echoed the Declaration of Independence when he said, “God’s most blessed gift to His family is the gift of life.” What a contrast this is from President Obama, who in 2013 praised Planned Parenthood for, “… saving lives” (?), and enthused, “Thank you, Planned Parenthood. God bless you.” Not only do we not value life, morality and family, but we live and die as if we answer to no one. What is the answer?
Author and broadcaster Eric Metaxas (well known for his book on Bonhoeffer and the Holocaust) noted, on The Eric Metaxas Show on Nov. 19, that people crave “a heroic quest—something to invest their lives in.” In this culture of death, Metaxas says that we should challenge youth to something great that celebrates life—work to feed starving people in a developing nation, band together to end human trafficking and slavery, or gather to pray for the ending of federal funding for abortion. I agree that not only do young adults not shy away from attempting the impossible, such valor does arrest the attention of otherwise jaded hearts. Metaxas says that this is because, “We were made for this.”
But we don’t have to wait for some heroic opportunity to start being a champion for life. We can start overcoming the culture death beginning right where we are—loving our family members, helping our neighbors, consistently living lives of integrity, voting by principles, and even serving ourselves by remembering that each day truly is a gift from God. These things will make a difference. They always have.
Alex McFarland (www.alexmcfarland.com) is an author, speaker, religion and culture expert, and advocate for Christian apologetics who has written 17 books, including his newest, “The God You Thought You Knew.” Over his 20-year career, he has spoken to tens of thousands of young people and has preached in all 50 states. McFarland also leads the “Stand Strong Tour” with speaker and apologist Jason Jimenez, which is designed to assist churches in the much-needed effort to strengthen the faith of young people and their families.