Atrocities like the Aurora theater shooting force us to ask questions. CNN Belief Blog went to Twitter to ask Where Was God in the Aurora Massacre? Examiner.com asked Did Batman influence James Holmes’ actions? and proceeded to explore violent images (films, music, video games, etc.) and their potential affect on culture. Of course, the debate about gun laws is raging again. But by far the most interesting questions have to do with how a human being comes to do such a thing.
It’s fascinating, and a a little frustrating, to watch such a discussion unfold in the media. Because the secular press often eschews moral distinctions, it forms answers rather than judgments. So instead of condemning the killer, we often try to shift the blame; we look for chemical conditions and social forces, someone or something that will take the actual culprit off the hook.
It’s as if we refuse to see anyone as simply evil.
Two opposing paradigms are at work in our national psyche. Either, James Holmes, the killer, was
- An evil man, or
- A victim
But is there a middle ground? Can Holmes have been both a victim and an evil man?
Can bad people be helpless byproducts of their environments and also responsible for their maladjustment?
I think it’s possible. . .
So what causes “bad people” to happen? Nowadays, the answers typically fall into these three categories:
- Parents — familial influences
- Peers — social influences
- Predestination — genetic influences
One of the first questions asked about a “bad man” — like the Colorado shooter — concerns his background. Where did he come from? What forces shaped him? Was he abused, molested, abandoned, etc.? This, we believe, holds a clue about the man’s malfunction.
In 2004, Larry King interviewed the father of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. I watched the interview like psychological voyeur, looking for clues as to how serial killers were made. The questions were fairly routine — What was Jeffrey like? Any signs of maladjustment? What would you do different? — but underneath was THE nagging question. How can we prevent our kids from becoming serial killers? Or in this case…
How can you prevent your child from becoming James Holmes?
This is really the underlying question. Is there a formula for evil and a way to stop its spread?
As much as parents want their kids to grow up balanced, well-adjusted and happy, there are no guarantees. It is totally possible to do everything right — read bedtime stories, be affirmative, discipline with consistency — and still raise a “bad” kid. Conversely, many “good” people come out of dysfunctional households. In fact, it can be argued that every household is slightly dysfunctional. So the equation’s not as airtight as we’d like.
To complicate matters, there’s articles like this wherein an American psychologist suggests
Though relationships with parents greatly affect the day-to-day happiness of children, just as marital relationships greatly affect the day-to-day happiness of adults, neither leaves deep marks on the personality. In the long run, it is what happens to them outside the parental home that makes children turn out the way they do. (emphasis mine)
According to this professional, “outside influences such as popular culture, friends or street gangs have a much greater influence on children than family life or even genetic make-up.”
So much for good parenting.
Compounding all this is the reality that “internal” conditions — biological, chemical, spiritual — do affect people’s behavior. While Jesus told some people to stop sinning, others required exorcisms. Call it what you will, but the Bible affirms an invisible dimension to people’s problems. It’s not always about textbook parenting, healthy eating and a membership at the spa. Being the greatest mother ever will not stifle adolescence (which some equate with “demonic possession”). Likewise, perfect parenting is no match for mental illness.
So who’s to blame?
I’m wondering if the question is unanswerable; that we live with this modernistic hangover, this misguided notion that everything can be dissected and repaired — including humans. Some have referred to this as the “triumph of the therapeutic.” Thus, we abandon the Judeo-Christian model of evil and human depravity for something far more clinical and morally ambiguous. We approach marriage and child-rearing and social interaction with a therapeutic mentality. We want a formula for raising healthy children, a recipe for a long-lasting marriage, a manual for diagnosing and treating chemical imbalance. We want to know “the secret” to not producing shooters and serial killers, as if humans are robots on an assembly line needing circuits, fuses and fresh oil.
Could it be our species is too complex, too nuanced, too fragile for diagrams and definitions? Is it possible that there is no way to prevent James Holmes and Jeffrey Dahmer from happening, that we are far too broken for psycho-babble and medication?
And that evil is very real, lying just below the surface of each one of us?
So is it parents, peers or predestination? Hmm. It could be all three. . . or none of the above.