Sunday, September 27, 2009

How about a completely useless explanation?

I just recently finished reading Columbine by Dave Cullen. It's a pretty compelling, while oftentimes thoroughly depressing, read. The point of the book is to try and separate fact from fiction regarding what happened at the Columbine Massacre of 1999. Basically, there was a whole lot of misinformation out there. Harris and Klebold weren't picked on, they weren't part of the "Trench Coat Mafia", they weren't targeting specific groups of students, and they weren't fans of Marilyn Manson. Not only that, remember the whole story about the girl who answered yes when one of the killers asked her if she believed in God right before shooting her? Turns out that didn't even happen. (She was praying for God to save her right before she was killed though.)

The hardest thing to deal with in this case is that there simply aren't any easy answers. The problem wasn't that they were into violent video games. (Perhaps the one who really did, Eric Harris, liked violent video games due to the type of person he was and not the other way around.) The problem wasn't bullying (which isn't to say that's not a problem). It wasn't that they didn't have any sort of religious upbringing either. (Klebold seemed to be a believer, while not being a church goer. However, if you want to argue that regular visits to church prevent homicidal tendencies, then might I direct your attention to Dennis Rader, the BTK Strangler?)

While there does seem to be some negligence on the part of the local police, there probably wasn't anything that could be done to prevent a kid like Eric Harris from wanting to do what he did in the first place. He was a psycopath, which means that his brain just didn't work the way a normal person's does. He lacked empathy, and he knew how to manipulate people to get what he wanted. As for Dylan Klebold, he was suicidal, and Harris was the exact wrong kind of kid for him to be hanging out with - which isn't to shift any blame around.

While the book was delving into how the community was reacting to what happened, there was one explanation that I found to not only be inappropriate but also completely counter-productive. See, it turns out that there are a lot of evangelicals living in that area, and a handy explanation became the Prince of Darkness himself - Satan.

I found this to be one of the most depressing aspects of the whole story. Satan. Seriously? Is this the explanation that we want to go with here? What exactly do we do about it then? Of course, their solution was to pray, but how could it have happened in such a religious community as that if prayer wards of Be'elzebub in the first place?

Blaming this whole thing on Satan is about as useful as blaming it on Darth Vader, fer Pete's sakes. It's basically just throwing your hands up in the air and saying, "You know what? We're not even going to TRY and solve this, as it's obviously the doing of some evil spirit who makes people do bad things even though they can choose to not do bad things but still somehow it's his fault. (That run-on was deliberate, by the way.)

Sure, identifying Harris as a psychopath doesn't exactly present an easy solution either. However, at least it points us in the right direction. If we can recognize and understand psychopaths better, then we can get them into treatment before they do something dangerous. Understanding them will lead to solving the problem. Blaming it all on some fictional evil spirit is completely counter-productive.

And whom do I blame for all these people blaming Satan? Loki, of course. Tricky guy, that Loki. (And the sad thing is, there are people who would dismiss that statement as a joke but still accept Satan as an explanation while not seeing the disconnect.)


Ingrid said...

The problem is that a crime has to be committed first before the person can be committed. How does one know that a person is a potential criminal? Afterwards it's easy to blame just about anything and anybody. Satan comes in handy, just as the parents or society ingeneral. Tough problem.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

In the case of the Columbine killers, they had both been arrested and there were some warning signs as well. Still, hindsight is always 20/20, as the cliche goes.

Connie said...

I think some people want to believe that "evil" is something that comes from outside (i.e. "Satan") as opposed to something that's rooted in human nature. Perhaps that's because if "Satan" is at fault, then it's really "God's problem" to deal with, but if "evil" is seen as a human failing, that puts the bulk of responsibility for dealing with it back on us. Society (or humanity) today isn't exactly known for its willingness to accept responsibility.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

Very true, Connie. Much of modern Christian thought strikes me as an inability to deal with personal responsibility. Why else would they have vicarious redemption? Basically, you can be a jerk, but so long as you ask Jesus to forgive you, it's all okay.

Ingrid said...

Lance, that is not how it works. You can ask for forgiveness if you really regret your sin, but you can't keep on being a jerk. Jesus forgave the adultress about to be stoned but told her to "sin no more". It is neither satan nor God who is to blame, but you alone are responsible for your actions, and society needs to deal with criminals acording to the existing laws. God's redemption comes in the life after.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

I'm referring to the "faith alone" brand of Christianity that basically states no matter how evil you were, so long as you repent before dying, you're good. However, you can be a good Buddhist your whole life and spend eternity in hell.

I know this is not the way you look at it, but it's the theism of most of these evangelicals and fundamentalists.