With riots passing through our country at the moment, the questions of why these things are happening come to the fore. The truth is that there is seldom an easy answer and there are often many contributing factors.
Here are some of observations:
1 They are generally young and the riots are not based on any ideology - they are not protesting against anything.
2 The violence is directed towards looting and destruction.
3 It takes place during holidays and is organised/has a pack mentality.
And there are questions:
1 Is it to do with lack of employment?
2 Is it a result of social deprivation?
3 Is it the result of the breakdown of the family?
4 Do these young people have a sense of value and belonging to a community?
5 Do they have a ‘future’ which modifies this destructive behaviour?
There are theological issues:
1 Catholic social teaching stresses that the individual must be valued in any social person with rights and responsibilities within that society.
2 There is the theology of the possession of private property which must be respected and also the call on those with property and wealth to us it for good.
Contributing factors for an individual within a riot situation can be:
1 Following the pack.
2 Peer pressure.
3 Desire for goods which you cannot afford.
4 Desire for goods to sell on.
5 Any combination of the ‘questions’ raised above.
6 Class/social war.
At the heart of these riots are individuals. These contributing factors may shape an individual’s culpability in any action, but it still comes down to the decisions of the individual.
This has to be at the heart of any theological reflection on these riots. Fundamentally it concerns the freewill decisions of individuals not just to break the law, but to destroy and steal. There is no ideological factor at play here which could justify the destruction of property, and, though possible, it is unlikely that the theft is actually the result of genuine need which cannot be met by legal means.
We do no one any good if we down play the importance of free will.
One has to choose to do these things. They are not the inevitable result of social circumstances. Even in the worst places in the world, in areas which have been infected by ‘structures of sin’, they are always “rooted in personal sin, and thus always linked to the concrete acts of individuals” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis).
We believe in human decisions and consequences leading to an eternal judgement. If any of these elements are missing, then you can do what you like. If we challenge an individual’s ability to make a decision (by stating that they are the product of their environment), or a meaningful consequence to that action (they get away with what happens, or they think that there will be no discernible result), then why not do what you like? And if there is no eternal judgement then as long as you get away with it on earth, then there really is no comeback on the individual.
There is no real theology of a riot. There is a, however, a theology of freewill.