Friday, December 15, 2006

Reverend Auntie's Sermon

A man who calls himself Reverend Auntie believes that everyone should take more responsibility. Here are excerpts from a "sermon" in response to a post on the Shane Halligan shooting-suicide by my good buddy Will Bunch at Attytood:

This is going to be long. It may become a sermon. For Rev. Auntie is sick to the heart. But what Rev. Auntie is sick of is the adult and community dissembling around the topic of school shootings. The denials and lies. The coverups out in the open.

The PDN [Daily News] story about the Montco teenager was full of that.

I don't see this kid's actions as "tragedy." Some bolt out of the blue.

I see them as inevitable. How could anyone NOT see this coming?

Adults teach young people to worship war, guns, violence, and domination. Thoroughly. Systematically. And then after their kids murder themselves or others, and cause trauma, everybody's all wide-eyed and teary and "oh-we-just-didn't-see-this-coming!"

So let's take a look at the psychopathology called Violence Denial Disorder.

The PDN story said that "there was nothing unusual" about this teenager. Which proves nothing in a society where being normal means taking your place in the war machine -- war on other humans, war on other species, war on nature, whatever. Kill for the rich, get some of their privilege. (Though of course YOU, poor sap, end up with the wounds, the PTSD, the illnesses, the mental health problems. . . . But we'll give you a shiny piece of metal, special thanks for keeping the oil flowing to bolster the Bushes' and Cheney's and Binladen's and Saudi princes' profits! Oh yeah, and you get a few drops, to run your old Chevy to the corner store, for food that'll kill you early.)

Someone in the PDN story goes on to say this boy was eager to join the Army and go to kiddie boot camp.

GROW A CLUE, PEOPLE. Kids who grow up fantasizing about pumping up as big men, then getting paid and rewarded to kill others, will, of course, be made into heroes by those adults in their circles who think war is the answer.

But the likelihood of them growing up to be productive, creative, calm, content, loving, mature, peace-making citizens is pretty low. Unless like Big Brother you redefine war as peace and machismo as a great contribution to civilization.

Oh yeah, and this teenager was a military history "buff" who obsessed on details of the two most bloody and brutal wars in human history--hundreds of millions of murders, unprecedented torture, cruelty, bloodshed.

Oh yeah, and he wore military camouflage to school.

Oh yeah, and his dad was stockpiling AK-47s (and what else? and against whom?) and ammunition and kept the bullets unlocked.

Oh yeah, and the kid obviously knew enough about firearms at 16 to know how to modify as well as use one.

Oh yeah, and at age 16 he had a car and could drive himself to school (who gave him the money for all that? a kid who earned such privileges for himself wouldn't have time to obsess on the details of the mass murders of the 20th century).

Oh yeah, and he was a member of a jingoistic, theocratic society (Boy Scouts) that rewards elitism (Eagle Scouts). A single-sex society that sends viciously mixed messages about homoeroticism to minds too young to contain that tension, never mind resolve it. A society that rewards violence against gay or questioning kids, therefore implicitly causing panic and turmoil among children who may be questioning, but know it's not safe to talk about their feelings. You're either the bully, or you're silent. Or you pose as the bully. The best you can.

Oh yeah, and he was a member of a church that preaches an apocalyptic message, with salvation only for the few who agree with them and damnation for everyone else.

Oh yeah, and he hung out with some of society's most macho, reckless, often suicidal members--volunteer firefighters, men who by virtue of getting themselves killed are called "heroes" and "great family men" even though their recklessness deprives women and children of a husband and father.

Oh yeah, and this teenager's time at home was so unsupervised that he could get into a supposedly locked weapons locker, assemble tools and a work area, and saw off an AK-47 with nobody noticing the work in progress, nor note the weapon missing, nor the ammo.

Oh yeah. Nobody could have seen this coming.

My black ass.

The adults in his life are in deep, profound, socially rewarded denial. THAT is the tragedy.

His actions were an inevitability. This kid dreamed of killing, obsessed on it, was taught that that was a good thing to dream of--violence, machismo, and aggression in the name of ideology or creed or set of fairytales about the afterlife. (Rev. Auntie is here to tell you: Jesus's love is about LIVING and LOVING, not about any of that horse hockey after death.)

Maybe this boy didn't have the patience to wait till he could kill with social sanctions (in the Army). Or maybe at the moment when he thought he wouldn't get to do it with sanctions, when his dad's threat that his grades would keep him from becoming a macho killer, he took things into his own hands.

But the fact is, he learned the most essential lesson of empire: I destroy that which I project my fear onto.

What he destroyed was himself. What does that tell us?

It's really sad that a kid with all his privileges would feel so hemmed in he'd commit suicide in this way. Auntie's guess is that he felt he couldn't stand up under the weight of all that machismo. Five-foot-five and pasty pale and facing the adult world, and adult expectations, that he couldn't possibly live up to. . . .

Merciful Christ, this kid's life was a logjam of machismo and violence. A train-wreck of it.

And then on Monday, his parents make him sick with fear and shame and humiliation that he'd never get to be a Real Man, because of his grades keeping him out of Real Men Camp, i.e., the army.

Sorry, but this sort of thing doesn't "just happen." Adults teach children this way of thinking, this way of action. Churches teach it. Friends and family teach it. Television, movies, books, and magazines. Systematically. Daily. Constantly. And then deny it when it all explodes. Deny it, redefine it, pretend something surprising or unforeseeable happened.

I have compassion for the suffering of anyone negatively affected by this kid's actions. I've been shot at. I've lost relatives, friends, and loved ones to bullets. I know about the anguish.

But it's inevitable that a kid raised with violent, macho values will eventually go seriously wrong. This child killed himself. If he hadn't, what damage he would have caused to others later, trying to live up to the stereotypes of malehood he was surrounded with? Who keeps track of that? Nobody. It's expected. . . .

How desperately lonely he must have been. Nowhere is this better proven by the fact that in his hour of mortal engagement, his self-implosion, the best anyone around him can say, of all those supposedly caring adults and teens, is that "they had no idea." "They're so shocked." "How could they have guessed?"

In other words, the person this boy was, his real self, was a person they didn't know. He had feelings and concerns they weren't aware of.

In effect, he didn't exist in their eyes. Not the real him.

What child can live with that kind of isolation? We are a social species. We go nuts without real, meaningful contact. . . .

Regarding the Montco teenager, all these comments by adults about how "they had no idea" amounts to them parading their indifference to him, while recasting it as some sort of innocence. A virtue on their part.

It isn't innocence, it's disengagement. It's a threat, for it says to teenagers, "You will be what we say, what we expect. If you can't, we will reject you. And if you disturb us, we will call you disturbed. And if you crack, we will disavow knowledge of your soul. We don't want to know; all we want is your successful conformity. If your soul is at odds with our expectations, too bad. You'll get no support or attention from us. We will not make the effort to identify with your isolation, your pain, your shame, your fear. Conform, or we will ignore you."

Which adults in this boy's life failed to pull him away from his morbid fascination with mass murder (20th century world wars) and take him to the mountains, or the seashore, or a garden, and give him more healthy, life-sustaining interests?

Which adults bought him things -- guns, cars -- instead of doing their job of getting, and staying, intimate with a teenager's soul, starting in childhood, and being there for him?

Where were his parents as he was sawing off a spray-and-pray automatic weapon in their own house?

Who was at home? What did they make of the noises he was making? Who heard, and pretended not to, or failed to hear, and check, and notice, and ask?

Teenagers demand adult treatment, but they need supervision and attention more than toddlers. Nowhere, no time, more than after a bad report card.

You mean to tell me that after a dressing-down for failing to live up to the parents' grade expectations, the parents didn't make extra efforts to spend every moment with or near him, watching for how their words might have fallen on his soul? That the very same night of this scene, they detached from him so severely that he could make lengthy preparations to commit self-murder? Hoisting and preparing a weapon. Writing a suicide note. And NOBODY NOTICED?

Are these typical parents, who don't notice the kid's performance till the report card comes in? Then lets them know that they're going to be a failure. "It's not to our liking."

Gee, thanks, mom and dad--I already know that; I already know you expect things of me that I can't deliver, and I'm trying, and I can't, I just can't.

What kind of parent justifies their own behavior -- "It's what any parent would do" -- at such a moment? What are they trying to prove?

But in such a family being wrong, being vulnerable, having doubts would be the ultimate transgression, wouldn't it?

. . . To even insinuate, as the Montco DA did (damn you, sir!), that "he did this to go out in a blaze of glory" spits on this child's psyche, on his suffering. There was no glory involved, and this is a lie told about a child whose truth no one cared to hear. This isn't about the "illogical thoughts" of "undeveloped adolescent minds."

This kid ended his life in an adult way. He murdered the person he was closest to, because he couldn't haul himself over the mountains piled in his path by adults who didn't see that he was painting himself into a corner with his efforts to conform to their expectations. Adults who chose to distance themselves from how it feels to be a kid who is failing, the terror of that, the humiliation. . . .

Auntie's guess, based on raising two dozen of other people's kids and counseling thousands?

This child murdered himself rather than grow up to kill others.

If he'd wanted a murderer's glory, he would have taken others with him. Instead he destroyed himself in a way that disguised how lonely, how inadequate he felt. "Remember me as big, as mean. I may be forsaken, but as I destroy who I have become--my masks burned into my flesh--I will be in death what I never could have been in life: a killer. Of my false self."



Superdestroyer said...

It looks like Revernd Auntie is off of his meds.

Shaun Mullen said...


Always good to hear from you.

I agree that the Rev is a little over the top, but there is nothing he says that I disagree with on a fundamental basis.

Superdestroyer said...

I think that insulting the Boy Scouts, volunteer fireman, Christianity is way over the top.

Also, to imply that anyone who enters the military lowers the chances for a fulfilling life is also nonsense.

Since the Rev states that he is black, I think it is way over the top that someone of the group that has demonstrated the least ability to parent in modern America would so eagerly criticize others.

Shaun Mullen said...


You're taking the easy way out. You won't engage on the Rev's overriding message because you want to hide behind your upset that anyone would disparage the Boy Scouts, volunteer firemen or Christianity.

Like young Halligan, my son also was an Eagle Scout, and while it was a positive experience for him in most respects, I do not believe that aspects of the Scouting experience -- notably the officially sanctioned homophobia -- are meritorious. As it was, his Scout troop and the church where it had long met parted ways because the church welcomed people of sexual orientations other than those that were Scout approved.

Anonymous said...

My daughter goes to Shane's school. She saw him raise his gun to shoot at the ceiling and dove into a classroom when she realized what was going on. I agree completely with what you're saying here--these are questions my husband and I have asked ourselves about Shane's parents and the society at large that seems to value a one-dimensional, macho view of manhood that makes no room for sensitivity or caring.

Your words are strong and obviously many will be angry that you attack institutions (Boy Scouts, volunteer firefighters) that we perceive as being "good," but I believe you're right on in your sentiments. When we raise our sons in this kind of environment, we shouldn't be surprised that they turn to violence as the answer to their pain.

Shaun Mullen said...


Just to be clear, Reverend Auntie is the author of this "sermon," but I agree in principle with what he is saying.

I am so glad that your daughter was not physically harmed. I hope that her emotional wounds will heal.

And thank you for your candor. What that more parents thought the way that you and your husband do.

Anonymous said...

As a good friend of Shane, I would like to ask the good Reverend to please shut the fuck up, as she clearly has no damn idea what she's talking about.

Anonymous said...

As a freind of Shane I had an opurtunity to talk to him and get more credibile information at his death. I agree with some of the opening parts of your sermon about how emphasis is put on violence. Shane wanted to join the National Guard(not the army) and one of the main reasons he wanted to go to boot camp was so he could, in his words "Get in better shape." Also being that I'm (like Shane) interested in wartime history I know that all of the intrest was not in the blood sheed he was intrested in how military wartime technology has been atapted for civilian use. Also his dad had one civilian model AK-47 which was kept in a locked closet which required two keys two open. The reason Shane knew how to use a gun is because he is a hunter, people hunting at this age in PA. is not rare, it is the home to the second largest amount of hunters in the country. And the modifacation only including sawing the wooden but of of said rifle so it would fit in his bag. Firefighters are not crazy just because they run into a burning building to save the life of another, there is an inherent risk in doing so but its something that certain men and their families have to decide. Also the reason that no one saw Shane take and modify the weapon it was because he did this in the middle of the night.

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