The day after the Connecticut school shooting, I posted this on Facebook:
There’s several reasons why I have NO faith in our culture’s ability to diagnose, treat, and significantly curtail such incidents. Perhaps the main reason is this:
We have no agreed upon paradigm for diagnosis.
If the secularization of culture has done anything, it’s kept us from reaching a consensus concerning the nature of the world, the nature of humans, and standards of morality. So we all come at this tragedy from different angles. One of those “angles” was the one suggested by Michael T at The Friendly Atheist in a piece entitled Stop Calling the Shooter “Evil”.
“Evil visited this community today,” proclaimed Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy in the aftermath. It was a line tailor-made for the newsreels — the state’s chief executive condemning Adam Lanza in the most greivous possible terms.
But Malloy’s rhetoric was unhelpful. Such condemnations are easily made; they satiate a yearning for harsh moral judgment in times of crisis. But we have no good reason to suppose that “Evil” — whatever that means, exactly — “visited” Sandy Hook on Friday. Rather, it looks more like a severely disturbed individual perpetrated violent acts. (emphasis mine)
Avoiding the term “evil” (“whatever that means exactly”) is tactically important for secularists. Without ultimate Good, much less a set of Moral Absolutes applicable to humanity, evil is simply relative to society, individuals, and the conditions (internal and external) that provoke it. Which is why the author of this article evokes the “mental illness” clause:
These paradigms [of invoking Evil] can inhibit the complex task of honestly assessing mentally ill individuals’ moral agency. If a psychotic person lacks any conception of moral rightness and wrongness, then he cannot be fairly said to act with “Evil” intent. In the same way that we would not declare a toddler “Evil” or an Alzheimers’ patient “Evil,” reflexively imputing “Evil” to the mentally ill is also wrongheaded.
Can the Connecticut school shooter have been evil if he was insane? This is a worthwhile, however nebulous, question to ponder. And it begs the question of ultimate Evil. Should we be reluctant to label such actions and the people who commit them evil?
May I suggest that this response is representative of a much larger worldview, one that keeps us from ever reaching a consensus. It is a paradigm that suggests
- No one is intrinsically evil
- What “appears” as evil has medical, sociological, hereditary explanations
As a result, people who do “bad” things (a kinder, gentler alternative to pronouncing someone / something evil) should be understood and studied rather than condemned and/or punished.
I couldn’t help but remember Richard Dawkins’ response to the execution of Saddam Hussein. Dawkins is a British ethologist and evolutionary biologist, an outspoken atheist and humanist. He wrote this after the Iraqi tyrant was hung:
Political scientists of the future, studying the processes by which unscrupulous leaders arise and take over national institutions, have now lost key evidence forever. But perhaps the most important research in which a living Saddam Hussein could have helped is psychological. Most people can’t even come close to understanding how any man could be so cruel as Hitler or Saddam Hussein, or how such transparently evil monsters could secure sufficient support to take over an entire country. What were the formative influences on these men? Was it something in their childhood that turned them bad? In their genes? In their testosterone levels? Could the danger have been nipped in the bud by an alert psychiatrist before it was too late? How would Hitler, or Saddam Hussein have responded to a different style of education? We don’t have a clear answer to these questions. We need to do the research.
In the secularist’s purview, Hitler, Stalin and Saddam Hussein are not seen as bad men worthy of punishment, but evolutionary anomalies, byproducts of faulty environments, poor education, and abnormally high testosterone levels. So instead of the hangman, Dawkins and his ilk recommend “an alert psychiatrist.”
The Friendly Atheist sounds a similar note:
Observers were similarly quick to denounce spree-killers James Holmes, Jared Loughner, and Seung-Hui Cho as “Evil,” but we later learned that they were all hobbled by extreme mental illness — paranoid delusions, hallucinations, etc.
Again, could mental illness, poor education, genetics, gun culture, and abnormally high testosterone levels have played a part in any of these shootings? The answer must, assuredly, be yes. The bigger question is: Does Evil play any role in our dysfunction?
- Spiritual Evil
- Moral Evil
- Societal Evil
Our inability to include Evil in the discussion, much less agree about what Evil IS, reduces this to pure math. As such, our responses must of necessity be legal (gun control, school security), psychological (“an alert psychiatrist”), sociological (violent video games, school system, family disintegration), and medical (treatment for mental illness). Anything but a spiritual solution to the problem. Taking Evil out of the equation reduces our responses to the purely materialistic.
Like many of you, I cringed when, after the school shooting, Mike Huckabee attributed it to the fact that “we have systematically removed God from our schools.” (He’s since attempted to clarify his statements.) Huckabee’s statement was ill-timed. Not to mention, it potentially employs the same materialistic approach to the issue as the secularist’s: Do this, and we can fix school violence. As if reintroducing prayer in school will make all well. Nevertheless, I agree with the basic sentiment behind Huckabee’s point.
Secularism is corrosive.
The worldview that strips humans of a spiritual component, that argues away Moral absolutes and Good, that ignores God, that ordains scientists and psychologists as the new clergy, and elevates hospitals and laboratories to the new sacred shrines, is destined for ruin. Why?
Because it doesn’t jibe with the way things are.
Which is why the secularist and the Christian reach two very different conclusions in this matter:
- Secularists believe humans need “cured”
- Christians believe humans need “saved”
If there is such as thing as Evil, and if people are intrinsically inclined toward Evil, removing it from the discussion seriously limits our understanding of the causes and cures for such acts. The biblical worldview roots Evil in fallen Man; that we have turned from God, made our own gods, and inevitably collapse upon the weight of our own hedonism, selfishness, self-sufficiency, and self-righteousness. The “cure” is not medicinal, psychological, educational, or legal — it is spiritual. Call it a simplistic answer if you wish. But it’s worlds away from the secularist’s.
And it’s because we have no agreed upon paradigm for understanding and acknowledging Evil, and “curing” it, that diagnosing societal problems will always fall short.