Morality as guide for change

“This is an opportunity for the United States to walk according to its moral compass” 

Rabbi Ken Chasen is senior rabbi of Leo Baeck Temple, a reform synagogue in Los Angeles. He told Variety’s Rachel Abrams about spending the Dec. 21 weekend in Newtown, where he was invited for a musical program for remembrance and healing. (Before he was a rabbi, Chasen was a composer for film and TV.)

Is there a connection between media violence and real-life violence?
As corrosive to our souls as we may believe violence as entertainment to be, it’s important to point out that people in Europe are watching the same movies and playing the same games, and not picking up a Bushmaster weapon and randomly shooting people. Is it worth exploring whether violence in entertainment is a piece of that equation? I think it would be irresponsible not to explore it. American gun violence is radically out of control by comparison to what you see in other nations.

Is one form of media — videogames, TV news, series, movies — more dangerous than others?
In the aftermath of the kinds of incidents that we’ve seen escalating in number in recent years and obviously (reaching a crescendo) with the incident in Newtown, we should be asking those kinds of questions. But I don’t know that there’s an answer at this time.

Is it possible for Hollywood to show violence that isn’t glamorous but that would deter people?
That is a great aspiration for those who are responsible for creating entertainment-based images of violence. Is there a responsibility? I don’t know that we’ve had the serious national conversation and done the kind of research to demonstrate the degree of violence at the core of what is very clearly a national crisis, but I don’t know how we see that issue on an island and continue to allow guns to roam free … (that) by somehow fixing the media problem we’ve somehow fixed the violence problem.

Why do “Hollywood liberals” make so much violent content?
I would have to assume that it’s a profitable venture.

Are incidents like Sandy Hook about mental health, the media or a gun issue?
I think, first and foremost, you have to take a look at the ways our nation may be different from other nations and try to assess what gives rise to the amount of gun-related deaths. Is it worth exploring the degree to which violence is in the media? The answer to that, of course, is yeah. I figure that in Canada, in Europe, in Japan, there are people with the same mental illnesses as here in the United States, and they’re not heading out to buy a legally obtained Bushmaster assault weapon and killing somebody, or large numbers of people. The same would be true of violence in the media. Are violent action films, horror movies, games, something that can be corrosive to the soul? I think yes, that’s fair for us to both be concerned about and be more serious in our discussion of. Step one has to be having some sort of common-sense gun reform in this country.

Is America losing its moral compass? If so, does that contribute to violence?
This is an opportunity for the United States to walk according to its moral compass. I think people will often throw (gun control) around as a political football. The reality is that no one saw Newtown and felt good about it. … Morality demands that we not sit around talking about it, feeling bad about it. Morality demands that we take action. The good news is that there seems to be more energy around that. It’s moments like this that get us to take out the moral compass and start walking with it.

Jewish tradition is not unclear pertaining to the sanctity of human life. We’re commanded not to murder as one of the Ten Commandments. The Talmud teaches that he who takes another life, it’s as if he has destroyed the whole world. And he who saves a life, it is as if he saves the world. This is at the core of any authentic Jewish understanding of the importance of protecting human life in the aftermath of what we’ve all witnessed and are aching over. … The idea that we could be careless with human life is in direct violation of the key foundations of Jewish tradition. I’m part of the reform movement — the largest Jewish movement in this country … the movement is on record pertaining to the need for common-sense gun regulation.