Bishop Barron on young men and guns
The culture of self-invention

2022-07-20T07:21:03-07:00July 20th, 2022|Bishops and church leaders, Church life|

Like every other reasonable person in our society, I’m worried sick about the phenomenon of gun violence, and I’m especially concerned about what it reveals regarding the status of young people, particularly young men. Time and again, disgruntled, angry, depressed, self-hating men, boys really, are the perpetrators of these awful crimes. As I write these words, images of Robert E. Crimo, the twenty-one year old who has confessed to killing seven and wounding dozens more in Highland Park, IL, are circulating on social media, and his face has rather burned itself into my mind. He just looks so lost—physically, psychologically, and spiritually.

Now, I fully realize that Crimo is exceptional and so I don’t intend to extrapolate from him to all young people, but evidence has been piling up for some time that youths, especially boys and young men, are suffering badly in our society. To give just one example, Derek Thompson’s article in the Atlanticfrom April of this year, reveals that from 2009 to 2021, “feelings of sadness and hopelessness” among American teenagers rose, astonishingly, from 26 percent to 44 percent. And the increase in depression was consistent across all major categories: male, female, black, white, LGBT, etc. In Thompson’s words, “Since 2009, sadness and hopelessness have increased for every race; for straight teens and gay teens; for teens who say they’ve never had sex and for those who say they’ve had sex with males and/or females; for students in each year of high school; for teens in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.” Houston, we have a problem.

What is causing this drastic increase in unhappiness? There is, obviously, no one answer, for the issue is multivalent and complex, but Thompson hazards four suggestions: social media use, a related decrease in real social contact, the stressfulness of the world to which contemporary media are giving young people far greater access, and modern parenting strategies. All are interesting and worth exploring, but I would like to focus on just one of his explanations and then offer a rationale of my own.

Social media are making a lot of people—but especially young men and women—crazy and sad. Period. This is the case, first, because social media produce an obsession with body image, looks, and popularity, and on the flip side, they give rise to a uniquely toxic atmosphere of judgmentalism, accusation, and criticism. Spend just a few minutes in comboxes and chatrooms on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, or God help us, Twitter, and you’ll immediately see what I mean. And what makes all of this worse is that the devices that communicate social media were designed to be addictive. As a result, even those who admit that Instagram and Facebook are making them sad cannot stop themselves from logging on.

A closely related problem is that social media are so dominant in the lives of kids that they effectively supplant activities that rather naturally bring joy. The average young person spends five or six hours a day on social media, and as a consequence, Thompson says, “compared with their counterparts in the 2000s, today’s teens are less likely to go out with their friends, get their driver’s license, or play youth sports.” Moreover, as sociologist Jean Twenge has shown, there is a tight correlation between screen time and depression, and for obvious reasons. One of the surest firewalls against feelings of sadness is steady contact with other human beings, but the social media preclude this, locking young people into a virtual world. I know this is oversimplifying a bit, but contrast the image of a young kid playing a lively game of baseball with his friends and that of a young kid hunched alone over his iPhone.

As for my own explanation of the phenomenon of teen depression, I would emphasize a theme that I have been harping on for years: the culture of self-invention. It is now a fundamental orthodoxy of the culture that values—epistemic, moral, and aesthetic—are generated from within one’s own subjectivity. In a word, each individual determines what is right and wrong, good and bad, beautiful or ugly for her. There is no “truth”; only my truth and your truth. There is nothing that is objectively beautiful, only what I think is beautiful and you think is beautiful. But this attitude is disastrous both psychologically and spiritually, for it essentially locks a person into the narrow confines of his own range of experience. It prevents her from moving outside of the tiny ambit of what she can imagine or hope for. The best moments in life, in point of fact, are those in which objective values—real truths, real moral absolutes, real beauty—break through the carapace of one’s own subjectivity and lift one up to the contemplation of something new, something that stands wonderfully beyond what one even thought possible. More to it, objective goods connect us to one another. As long as we are under the tyranny of subjectivist relativism, we are each locked in the prison of our own psyches, perhaps tolerating one another from a distance, but experiencing no real bond. However, precisely because they stand outside of anyone’s private experience, objective values can bring a plethora of people together in a common love and devotion. Once again, contrast two images: the first of an angry, isolated teen insisting that the world respect his private conception of truth, and the second of a group of teens, joyfully giving themselves together to a common purpose, a common good.

In addressing the plague of gun violence in our country, I do indeed think that sensible legislation is called for. But there are far deeper moral and cultural issues that have to be addressed, most notably that of depression among our young people. Two simple suggestions: we should set limits to the amount of time teens are spending on social media, and we should introduce them, any way we can, to the world of objective values.

The above comes from a July 19 posting in Angelus News.


  1. done July 20, 2022 at 9:30 am - Reply

    I’m done with Bishop Barron. Have been for some time. Just go be a bishop in your new diocese. Stop trying to be a celebrity or a pundit.

  2. thatdirtylittleratnunnheim July 20, 2022 at 11:08 am - Reply

    How many of these young men are on prescription SSRI’s or other anti depressant cocktails?

    There has been tremendous pressure on parents by schools to get “out of control” boys on this poison. All these poor boys get “diagnosed” as ADD, ADHD or some other variant. While some maybe, the truth is that this poison is a large contributing factor to suicide and mass murder.

    Bishop Barron should spend sometime in downtown Oakland, Detroit and Chicago if he wants a first hand experience with firearm violence. Other than that he should shut his pie hole.

  3. Benedict July 20, 2022 at 11:59 am - Reply

    Thank you CCD for sharing this post by Bishop Barron from Angelus news. I appreciate Bishop Barron’s insights and incisive analysis of our current culture. Undoubtedly, something has to be done about the proliferation of military grade weapons in our country as well as the “raw deal” many boys and young men experience during their formative years. Perhaps the Knights of Columbus could lead an initiative to strengthen the role of fathers in families. Godspeed to Bishop Barron in his new assignment. Hopefully, he will receive a Cardinal’s zucchetto soon.

  4. Deacon Craig Anderson July 20, 2022 at 1:35 pm - Reply

    I think the bishop is right about addressing depression and other mental illnesses. Yet, if we want to discuss young men and guns, we should include those who’ve used firearms to save lives. Think of the young man at the mall shooting in Indiana earlier this week, who saved an untold number of lives by utilizing his lawfully owned handgun. Another young man, a parishioner at one of our parishes, used his lawfully owned firearm and training to detain a felon who ran into one of our churches during a service. And, we should look at root causes. Fatherlessness is a major cause of harm in our society. (The crime rate among young men raised by their father and their mother is low and the same across economic, racial, ethnic, and educational demographics.)

    • cds July 20, 2022 at 5:33 pm - Reply

      Deacon Anderson, these young people grew up in a world of mass shootings. It is all they know.
      When The Terminator came out, when Call of Duty came out, it was said that this would be the result.
      It doesn’t take much for Satan to tempt people. People are not afraid of going to hell.
      Fatherlessness can cause daddy issues but most fatherless children don’t commit these crimes.
      There are websites where these killers are idolized.
      What can the Church do?
      Teach her teachings. Teach the four last things. Pray the rosary and say Mass for the conversion of sinners. Consecration to the Immaculate Heart.
      The secular reasons don’t matter that much.,

      • Deacon Craig Anderson July 21, 2022 at 8:13 am - Reply

        You’re absolutely right, most fatherless children don’t commit these crimes. But, crimes are committed disproportionately by those raised without a father in the home. And, you’re right about teaching the teachings of the Church. But, it’s not either or. As often for us Catholics, it’s both and. Grace builds on nature. Marriage matters, for both religious and secular reasons. And, you’re also right about violent media. Thank you for sharing that.

    • my father July 20, 2022 at 6:09 pm - Reply

      Gun violence is the 2nd leading cause of death of children. (not counting abortion.) A lot of children are killed by a parent. Or by a parent’s gun.
      The only time (so far) that I have been faced with gun violence, it was my drunk father who had the gun.

    • Anne TE July 20, 2022 at 7:52 pm - Reply

      I doubt Elisjsha Dicken will be getting a medal of honor from President Biden in the near future, although he surely deserves one. God bless him regardless of his political learnings as he did the right thing at the right time.

      • prayers July 20, 2022 at 11:56 pm - Reply

        They have asked for prayers for him.

  5. thatdirtylittleratnunnheim July 20, 2022 at 2:19 pm - Reply

    “…military grade weapons…”

    With all respect, this is pure nonsense. There are no military grade firearms legally available, and havent been since 1920 when fully auto weapons were outlawed.

    I can’t get a M-2 .50 cal machine gun that perches atop many a old humvee.

    The military still uses semi automatic pistols, rifles and shotguns. So can I and I do. In fact, I’ve built two ca legal AR’s during the obama years.

    So, exactly what are you talking about?

    • woke cred July 20, 2022 at 3:08 pm - Reply

      Barron is talking about upping his woke cred.

  6. Axiom July 20, 2022 at 3:33 pm - Reply

    The unchurched and the spiritually bereft should be included in the analysis.

  7. irony July 20, 2022 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    To the bishop’s point, when Roe v. Wade was overturned, a young man wrote on his FB-“The irony is that most people in my generation are sorry that they were ever born.”

  8. me July 20, 2022 at 8:07 pm - Reply

    The immediate cause is Satan and we need to start saying that.
    The only time that people attribute temptations to Satan nowadays is with chocolate.
    We need to talk more about hell and sin and temptation and guardian angels and St. Michael and Mary and Jesus.
    If anyone reading this is thinking about shooting or otherwise harming yourself or someone else, don’t do it. Call on the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.
    We need a homicide hotline as well as a suicide hotline.
    Every surviving school shooter has been interviewed and they all say that they told someone or more than one person or posted it online…Because they wanted someone to stop them.

    • Blue Dress July 21, 2022 at 7:33 am - Reply

      There’s that song, “Devil with a Blue Dress On”

    • Flip Wilson July 21, 2022 at 8:17 am - Reply

      The devil made me do it.
      How much “credit” to we want to give him (or her or they, not sure of preferred pronoun)?
      Satan and demons are real. But, people still have free wills and commit atrocious acts.

      • cooperate July 21, 2022 at 10:36 am - Reply

        Yes. You cooperate with grace. You cooperate with temptation.

  9. Mojave July 21, 2022 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    You’d think a Bishop would know the main cause of all this crime and hate is a lack of practicing some kind of religion. 1/3 of the Priest’s homily should be spent explaining the ten commandments and the Catholic dogma, not trying to focus 100% on scripture reading and trying to tie those readings into today’s society. Get back to the basics! And do it during Mass! None of this social justice!

    • how explain July 24, 2022 at 5:45 am - Reply

      Then how explain how so many priests abused boys?

      • Paul Stanley Bergeron July 24, 2022 at 10:22 am - Reply

        Do you blame Jesus for Judas?

  10. No more "social justice!" We need "real religion!" July 21, 2022 at 9:35 pm - Reply

    Wonder what the Jesuits of long ago (long before Vatican II!) would do with kids like this? They had “real religion,” in those days– not silly Fr. Barron, eager to “meet the (ignorant, filthy, rebellious, unchurched) culture.” Fr. Barron is quite entertaining. And that’s all.

  11. What would Fr. Flanagan do? July 21, 2022 at 10:34 pm - Reply

    I was just thinking of Fr. Flanagan, of the famous “Boys’ Town,” long ago. What would he do, with today’s kids with extremely serious problems? Fr. Flanagan was famous for helping many wayward, juvenile delinquent boys. Fr. Flanagan came to America from Ireland in 1904, and was a priest of the Diocese of Omaha, NE. He was quite famous as a social reformer, with his Boys’ Town, and had great success helping troubled, wayward boys.

    • still there July 22, 2022 at 12:20 am - Reply

      It still exists.

      • Reply to still there July 22, 2022 at 4:05 pm - Reply

        Yes, of course. But Fr. Flanagan is long gone. He is reputed to have had a special way with helping and rehabilitating troubled, juvenile delinquent kids. Not sure if he is replaceable.

  12. me July 22, 2022 at 1:41 am - Reply

    Social media credits Emelia Clark with saying “My father told me Never argue with anyone who’s TV is bigger than their bookshelf.” Which initially made me feel pretty good because my new bookcase is bigger than my 1998 TV.
    It is even bigger than my husband’s 2009 TV.
    Bu then I remembered all of my bookcases are bigger than both of them put together except for my son’s bookcase which is bigger than each of them but not both of them put together.
    Then I counted my bookcases.
    I wonder if this is why I am so argumentative.

  13. MrBill July 23, 2022 at 1:40 pm - Reply

    In this post-Christian era, countless souls are lost, left to fend for themselves.
    The wolves are feasting on them.
    The “do what thou wilt” culture and its rampant promiscuity breeds broken, fatherless homes.
    Big Pharma offers a convenient solution to the hapless victims of such godlessness: “We’ve got a pill for that!”

    Until 1965, the Magisterium continually taught that sin has no rights, there is only one true Church founded by Christ (the Catholic Church), and government must serve the common good by partnering with The Church to uphold Truth and the moral law.
    But Bp Barron and the vast majority of the human element of The Church don’t believe this any more.
    They fail to see the dead-end wrought by the errors they embraced in the post-conciliar pandemonium.

    • Reply to MrBill July 24, 2022 at 11:31 pm - Reply

      Yes! The Smoke of Satan entered the Church, and choked it on sin so badly, that many top prelates can no longer understand right from wrong, and the purity and holiness of the True Church- it is not of this world!

  14. USA July 24, 2022 at 6:54 pm - Reply

    This is the USA. The government did not partner with the Catholic Church until 1965.

  15. Seejay July 24, 2022 at 10:10 pm - Reply

    We need to call him

    “Bishop Badtake”

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