The New York Post ran an article recently by Maureen Callahan called Why Are Young American Men So Angry?  She noted that mass shooters are fitting a common pattern, which flows into their general disposition of being angry:

From those mass shooters who have attacked the innocent before, we know it’s a specific strain of anger — deep, repressed, biblically vengeful — felt most commonly by young men, almost always white, who report feeling alienated, dispossessed, misunderstood, victimized and all too often rejected by women.

Others are elaborating on the erosion of belonging, the constant barrage of insults toward men (“toxic” this and that), and the violence in video games and porn.  This is getting closer, and there’s much to be said about the simulated rape and killing games on the screens that we let our little boys enjoy in their safe bedrooms, alone.  There’s also much to be said about the death of place and culture.

But let’s focus in on this weird connection between a disordered relationship to women and violence, which, conversely, is a simultaneous lack of appropriate relationship to men (brotherly and fatherly).

Violent men often have a strange and disordered relationship with their fathers and mothers and, relatedly, with women generally.  This is not to say that mothers cause the problem of violence – far from it – but that mothers cannot direct and affirm masculinity the way men must, and in some this evolves into an unhealthy relationship to women, which can create a disposition towards violence. This can be caused by a mother that won’t “let go,” a father that won’t guide, discipline, and affirm, or a combination of the two. Very few turn actively violent, but boiling anger and confusion is within them, nonetheless.  Lacking fatherly affirmation, they look for ways to prove to their mother, and the world, that they matter and are mighty.

In my book on rites of passage I note how statistics back this up copiously – rapists, violent criminals, and arsonists, for example, are overwhelmingly fatherless.  And fatherlessness is often two sided – there’s a void of fatherhood and often an unhealthy attachment to the mother, which bears a relationship to violence.  But to see why let’s veer away from data, because it only goes so far.  Let’s turn to the intuitive wisdom of peoples and places and their music and culture, let’s consider what we already sense about mama’s boys (uninitiated boys) and violence through songs we know…

First, Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison Blues:

When I was just a baby, my mama told me.

Son, always be a good boy, don’t ever play with guns,

But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.

Next, Merle Haggard, Mama Tried:

And I turned twenty-one in prison doing life without parole

No one could steer me right but Mama tried, Mama tried

Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading I denied

Hey, let’s look at Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody:

Mama, just killed a man,

Put a gun against his head,

Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead.

Mama, life had just begun,

But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away.

Let’s not leave rap and hip hop out of this.  I’m going to reveal my era and age here, but there’s of course the classic song by 2Pac, Dear Mama, a song of appreciation to his mother:

No love from my daddy, ’cause the coward wasn’t there

He passed away and I didn’t cry, ’cause my anger

wouldn’t let me feel for a stranger

They say I’m wrong and I’m heartless, but all along

I was looking for a father he was gone

I hung around with the thugs

And even though they sold drugs

They showed a young brother love

And my personal favorite example is from the Wu-Tang Clan.  Here’s Reakwon in C.R.E.A.M:

I grew up on the crime side, the New York Times side

Stayin’ alive was no jive

Had secondhands, Mom’s bounced on old man

So then we moved to Shaolin land

A young youth, yo rockin’ the gold tooth, ‘Lo goose

Only way I be gettin’ the G off was drug loot

And let’s start it like this, son

Rollin’ with this one and that one

Pullin’ out gats [guns] for fun.

Why do these men refer to “mama” when they consider their violent lives and incarceration? They also revel in their domination (killing) of other men (in the live recordings of Johnny Cash at the actual Folsom Prison you can hear the crowd go crazy when he says he shot the man in Reno).  Because violent men are men disconnected from the healthy integration into the paternal and fraternal world, and in their aggression constantly look back to the mother and ask, “Am I a man now, mama?”  And, without the love and affirmation of a father, they look to other men as potential competitors, enemies to measure self-worth against.  Lacking fatherly guides, the brotherhoods they do form devolve into gangs, which are armies of insecure boys dominating the world around them because they see no other route to belonging and purpose.

When Cain and Abel go to offer their gifts, note that their father is not there.  Cain grows angry at Abel and hatred grows, at which point God pleads with Cain.  But after God speaks directly to Cain, Cain turns away from the Father to kill his brother (he doesn’t answer God at all).  The rejection of fatherhood leads to violence.  Without the received dominion and identity that a man is supposed to exercise (i.e. tradition), he tries to prove his dominion with domination.  Since he didn’t receive the life of a man, he takes the life of a man.  And, as we’re seeing, it also leads to the abuse of women – or taking the lives of women.  The next sins mentioned in the bible after the fratricide of Cain are those of Lamech, who not only brags about being violent toward anyone who slights him, but also takes multiple wives to himself (Gen. 4:19).

These are things our liberal society, and, sadly, even our Church are unwilling to talk about in human terms, sticking rather to rhetoric of tragedy and policy (here’s the USCCB’s response to the recent Dayton shooting if you want an example).

We are both a society that acts overly-maternal toward boys and acts inadequately paternal.  We punish and dismiss the need for fatherly discipline and care and are then confused at why they are weak and frail or brutish and aggressive.  We extend adolescence, dissolve local belongings and family life, communicate life as disposable through abortion, and condemn masculinity as essentially vicious and dominating.  None of the commentaries coming out now are dealing with the problem in the chest of men, in their unfinished and confused hearts, in their disoriented lack of brothers and fathers.  And the problem grows harder to ignore.  The New York Times, in response to new APA proclamations that trying to deal with “toxic masculinity,” said it well: “The Fight Over Men is Shaping Our Political Future.”

As I argue in Leaving Boyhood Behind, Catholic men are uniquely suited to recover belonging, brotherhood, challenge, purpose, and initiation.  Fixing men and fixing boys is the same problem – you can’t do one without the other.  Nature, grace, and fraternal culture – these are things brought into harmony truly and fully only in the Church, the Body of Christ.  To not live in this way means we are either denying the truth or failing to live it.  Sometimes its not just the killers of innocence that are the cowards.  Its also those that won’t do anything about it.

  • John Edwards

    Great article. I have assembled a handful of articles concerning this subject as reference material for classes I teach. I will add this to the list.

  • Ken Varga

    Mr. Craig – See also Matt Walsh’s column from a few days ago titled: ‘It’s not guns or mental illness. The Problem is deeper than that.’
    His article discusses the disconnectedness of people and how being nasty on social media can translate to horrible behavior in person. (my poor paraphrase of a long article)

    I think your ideas regarding fatherhood or lack thereof and Matt’s ideas together negatively complement each other. I would add lack of faith in Christ as the third leg root cause of our violent society.

    I had a great Dad and Mom and was raised to know and love Christ in The Church. Even with my advantages, there were bumps in my road and poor choices. Kids who lack these advantages are ripe for picking by the evil one.

    St Michael the Archangel, defend us!

  • Excellent piece. We need more of this kind of insight.

  • Pedro Montanez

    I went to jail at the age of 15
    A young buck sellin’ drugs and such who never had much
    Trying to get a clutch at what I could not
    The court played me short, now I face incarceration
    Pacin’ going upstate’s my destination
    Handcuffed in back of a bus, forty of us
    Life as a shorty shouldn’t be so rough
    But as the world turns I learned life is hell
    Living in the world no different from a cell

  • Jerry Rhino

    “None of the commentaries coming out now are dealing with the problem in the chest of men.” There is a famous lecturer who does deal with these problems. And Bishop Barren is one of his admirers. Please mention Jordan Peterson in these discussions and writings.

  • Phil Alcoceli

    After many years working as teacher and counselor to inmates and being in contact with others working in other institutions and branches of law enforcement, I can attest to their hard earned wisdom, and that few listen to them over the thuggish anti-Christian-anti-America radicalism (acting within and creating the very violence they pretend to fight), and that you’re so right on about the tragic REALITY of today’s boys, young and adult men.

    I now understand the plan of Satan and his puppets a little better. He did target Eve in the Garden of Eden through sensuality (enticing her senses) and sentimentalism (the very first activist-manufactured sentimentalist grievance against the “bully” God supposedly keeping knowldge from them). EXACTLY like today’s (anti) social activists. BUT, he was aiming directly at Adam by trapping Eve, Adam’s ideal complement created by God.

    He made Adam half the man by doing this and Adam made no attempt at suggesting repentance to Eve or even taking any manly responsibility as the head of the home created by God, becoming the first deadbeat dad. Adam’s fall sparked immediate violence among males, the guardian’s of God’s Beauty in women. Adam was Satan’s main target and we still are, until Jesus returns. Complete Men are the KEY. As you mentioned, too many of our bishops are talking in Eve’s hyper-feminized-God-betraying voice, which now is called Political Correctness. Like you did so well here, Mr. Craig, we need to continue talking in God’s voice and word, the Truth. No forms of tyrannical order (ever growing laws and regulations, Socialism, Communism, Islam, Satanism, etc.) are ever the antidote to chaos and violence, Truthful Godly Speech and Action are. “Truthful speech brings order to chaos”, (Jordan Peterson), just like in the very first act of God’s Creation.

  • Bill Sheridan

    Jason: An excellent piece. When my dad died a few months prior to my 8th birthday, I was fortunate to be surrounded with caring adults in a tiny Iowa village. I cannot adequately express how important for your readers to be aware of fatherless boys and do whatever they can to offer encouragement to them! You CAN make a difference in their lives.

  • David

    Leave it up to me while I be living proof
    To kick the truth to the young black youth
    But shorty’s running wild smokin’ sess drinkin’ beer
    And ain’t trying to hear what I’m kickin’ in his ear
    Neglected, for now, but yo, it gots to be accepted
    That what? That life is hectic