Uncomfortable with evil

“I know that there’s a tendency to think that everybody can get counseling or can have a bowl of tomato soup and everything is going to be all right,” she said. “But I think that evil exists, and I think that he was a mean person.” — VT poetry professor Nikki Giovanni, on her former student Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech mass-murderer. Associated Press, April 18, 2007

bulletsHe used hollow-point bullets. At least that’s my guess, based on the photo Cho Seung-Hui sent to NBC News and the high death rate. Hollow-point bullets are designed to inflict the greatest possible damage to a human target. The slugs pierced heavy wooden classroom doors, and human bodies, with ease.

How does a bright, young member of our human community become so empty of compassion that he can coolly kill even one innocent, much less 32 of his fellow students and teachers — and with less concern than he might show swatting flies?

Secular modernism appeals to mental illness as an explanation for such horrors. Christianity blames Evil.

The word evil illuminates a point of strong disagreement between Christianity and modernism. Secularism cringes at the word and its implication that there are moral imperatives — we’re far more comfortable with moral suggestions.

Nikki Giovanni hit the nail right on the head when she said, “there’s a tendency to think that everybody can get counseling or can have a bowl of tomato soup and everything is going to be all right.”

This scientific age we live in sees all deviancy as a puzzle to be solved through the application of rationalism. Anti-social behavior and mass-murder are like the measles, dealt with by a therapeutic inoculation of counseling and medication.

And yes, therapy and anti-psychotic drugs work. Sometimes.

It’s tempting to believe that in this particular case, the best science was not applied. The system failed. Had Cho Seung-Hui not resisted the attempts of medical professionals to help him, science could have reached him.

There are people who don’t want to be reached. Cho appears to have turned his back on everyone who reached out to help him. He seemed unwilling to let go of his rage. Perhaps he enjoyed playing the victim. Perhaps he found it easier to withdraw from society than risk joining in. Perhaps, as many have before him, he bought into the lie that rejecting God and embracing Evil makes one free, unconventional, avant-garde.

Whatever his warped motivation, Cho clearly embraced the dark side. He hunkered down in human isolation, rejecting every social benefit the Virginia Tech community might have offered him. At a university rich in spiritual opportunities, he rejected faith outright, choosing instead to wallow in a terrible stew of anger, hurt and self-loathing.

None of these are the fruit of communion with God, whose Spirit lights in us the fires of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)

Evil lusts after death and delights in wickedness. It is emotionally untouched by the most sickening acts of cruelty. Evil, in the Christian view, is a way of thinking and behaving that is the antithesis of all that is good and just and pure. Evil is anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-love.

Most secular modernists are decent people. They have rejected God, but that is not to say that they don’t attempt to live decent and moral lives. They walk in the garden of earthly delights and breathe deeply, enjoying the fragrance of lilies on the breeze as much as anyone. They would rather not believe in the existence of a Gardener because of all that it would mean in the nitty-gritty realities of their lives. But they nevertheless enjoy the scents of life and benefit from the unseen handiwork of God in the world.

A few, like Cho Seung-Hui, are repulsed by the fragrance of God’s garden. They seal themselves inside a plastic bubble and spend their lives sucking in the stench of their own fetid breath. Instead of laughter and music, they only hear the ravings of their inner rage.

The New Testament tells of a man, or men, possessed by many demons. These men were thoroughly mad and isolated from normal society. The community was terrified of them. In Matthew’s account, he says:

When Jesus arrived on the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gadarenes, two men who were possessed by demons met Him. They lived in a cemetery and were so violent that no one could go through that area. They began screaming at Him, “Why are You interfering with us, Son of God? Have You come here to torture us before God’s appointed time?” — Matthew 8:28,29, NLT

Even without hollow-point bullets, Evil created its own terrors. A whole community lived in fear. The two men screamed threats at Jesus, the man of peace; they knew instinctively who he was. After causing so much terror themselves they found the tables turned — now they were afraid, of Jesus.

That’s odd, when you think about it. You don’t see many in the Gospels showing fear of Jesus, but these men were afraid. Irrationally afraid, as it turns out. Jesus didn’t intend them harm; he set them free from their bondage to Evil.

At the end of the account in Mark 5, the terrorist is at peace, fully clothed and in his right mind at last, because of Jesus’ healing touch. And the whole community was amazed.

Two millennia later, in a time of great spiritual skepticism, mental derangement of the sort exhibited by Cho Seung-Hui is as big a problem as it ever was. It continues to defeat our scientific approach, yet we refuse to give it a spiritual diagnosis.

Beside the names of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and Charles Manson, Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, we now add the name Cho Seung-Hui.

They all rejected God. They were all deluded, and ultimately betrayed, by Evil. Together they murdered millions of innocent men, women and children.

There will be more. And they’ll be armed with hollow-points — or worse.

Photo credit: NBC News, from Cho Seung-Hui’s “Manifesto”.

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  1. Charlie:

    This is a fantastic and insightful post. I’ve linked to it both at ‘Better Living’ and on my ‘ShoutLife’ site.

    Blessings in Christ,


  2. There but for the grace of God…

    I am reminded of Solzhenitsyn’s words:

    “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” (The Gulag Archipelago).

  3. Charlie, I was waiting for your post of this and predictably you avoided two issues that came to my mind first. The first is that it is ridiculously easy for anyone to get a gun in this country. even someone with a history of mental illness in this case. No questions asked. ‘You’re an American? Here’s your gun, good for you son. It’s your right’ Apparently our nation holds it a high priority that anyone who wants one should be able to get a gun. Who opposes this? Not the Republicans. Do the Christians? Seems, eh, not so much.

    Secondly, the day of the massacre and the day after, there were well over a hundred killed in Baghdad bombings. I think this should give us perspective. While we grieve for our students, we should not forget that we have become accustomed and numbed to violence in Iraq. This is what it is like for Iraqi families… every day.

  4. Cap’n, there’s no doubt you’re right on both points. For example, according to the Bureau of Justice Crime Statistics comparing crime in England and the US, in 1966 there were about 1.3 murders in England to every 7.5 in the US. This is primarily because of highly regulated weapons laws in England and the free access to guns in the US.

    Of course, it’s a Constitutional matter here. But I think I have a compromise that both Republicans and Democrats could agree on. Let’s repeal both the 2nd Amendment AND Roe v. Wade. (which after all is not in the Constitution, but in the “penumbras formed by emanations” of the Constitution, in the words of Harry Blackmun.)

    What do you think? Ban guns and save 19,560 lives annually, AND ban abortions and save 1.2 million? A little lopsided, I guess. Maybe we could sweeten the pot with universal health care?

    Let me know when you’re ready to sign up, Cap’n.

  5. I’m sure that somewhere in the Bible it states that adult human lives are equal to a bundle of cells in a newly fertilized egg. However, I am not a Christian so I do make a distinction there. I have previously told you that I am against abortion when it is late term (embryo has a nervous system, beating heart, etc..) except when the mother’s life is in danger. In cases like that, if the mother dies so does the fetus. I do not see anything wrong with abortions that are carried out early, when the embryo is no more a human life than an unfertilized egg or a sperm, or my toenail for that matter. The world is overpopulated and we are fighting resource wars. Maybe back in the day when the Bible was written it made sense that whoever subscribed to it was made to feel obligated to multiply as much as possible (to continue the spread of that particular denomination). But this is 2007 Charlie, we need to think about sustainable living in an overpopulated resource-limited world. That will save real lives.

  6. While you’re banning things, don’t forget to ban cigarette lighters for all the arson deaths, and fertilizer (Oklahoma City), and machetes, and really big knives, and motor vehicles.

    Oh, and commercial jets too.

  7. Ok, Cap’n, truce. I baited you, I’ll let you have the last word. I don’t want this to become an abortion discussion, but gun control is on topic.

  8. Skye, I agree. As a pragmatic matter, I don’t see us putting the gun genie back in the bottle. But I do wonder about whether there is/should be a stringent regulation on buying hollow-point ammo. I honestly don’t know if there might not be such a thing already. I remember the controversy about the Teflon-coated “cop-killer” bullets a few years back. There is a federal ban on them of some sort, but I don’t know about other “high-lethality” bullets.

    I might call my local gun shop and find out.

  9. Thank you for the post, Charlie. When I see evil-doers, I tend to imagine the circumstances, probably early in life, that must have driven the person to such a dark view of things. And while there likely were terrible things that happened to him, your post reminded me that we are all still accountable for the choices we make, and that redemption is offered to everyone.

  10. Christinewjc says

    Hi Charlie,

    Excellent post! I plan to post a link here from my blog right after I finish this comment.

    I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when liberals and/or non-Christians spin off into gun control debates while ignoring what your post was really all about.

    What a great point you made when you said that the demons feared Jesus. Evil rejects goodness. Evil rejects all of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) as you stated. We can see how Cho rejected each and every one on the list of “fruit of the Spirit” in order to carry out his evil deeds.

    Yes. You are absolutely correct. The moral relativism of this age causes people to be very uncomfortable with evil. They don’t want to face it for what it is. They have to come up with excuses or other “solutions” (e.g. gun control laws will do it in their view). If they were forced to face this thing called evil, then they would see that there is such a thing as absolute truth. They would also have to face the fact there is such a thing as absolute morality and that God’s Laws have been broken by all.

    Can’t have THAT now…can we?

  11. Nikki Giovanni? Was she the professor that has been on the news? I LOVE her poetry! I studied her in college – oh my – she is fantastic. I’m not surpirsed she hit the nail on the head – she is very perceptive and gets to the heart of the matter – sometimes joyously and sometimes on the realities of the world.

  12. Jeffrey Dahmer reportedly received Christ before he was murdered in prison. As we believe, it is never too late!

  13. anonymous says

    You forgot Timothy McVeigh in your list of murders

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