Subject: Special Article – “Newtown CT: The Murder of Innocence”
I was moved by our President’s grief on national TV. I had never seen him cry before. It was a raw picture of the anguish of a father who has no answers for why this could happen, and what do we do.
There have been other horrible and senseless acts of violence in our country in recent years. I recently stood outside the Memorial in Oklahoma City and read parents’ last words to their little children who died at the hands of a murderer. And we continue to witness these acts being played out across our country.
But this is terribly different. The leader of the free world confirmed what we all know: evil has now violated one of the most sacred of places we had assumed was safe from its reach. It walked right into an elementary school in broad daylight and murdered an entire classroom of beautiful, defenseless, innocent little children. And as talk radio and television ramble on about what they think happened, and what we need to do to stop it, we as a free society are numb on how to prevent it.
What is worst, we no longer even understand evil. We know it when we see it’s effects, but we are divided in identifying its source. Incredibly, here’s a quote from Richard Dawkins in his book “Out of Eden”, where he explains that evil doesn’t really exist (if anyone bothers to check, this is the prevailing philosophy now taught to our kids in colleges and universities across America): “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.”
Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer held a totally opposite view than Dawkins. He believed (and I quote) “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act… he also said “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.” After fleeing Germany to come to America as a safe haven from the Nazis, he immediately boarded a ship back to Germany to speak out and act to oppose the evil he knew was fast approaching. “I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America,” he wrote. “I shall have no right to take part in the restoration of Christian life in Germany after the war unless I share the trials of this time with my people.” He was arrested by the Gestapo, and sentenced to the concentration camp at Flossenburg where he was hanged, at 39 years old.
I am in agreement with Pastor Bonhoeffer. I do not believe the source of the evil we are seeing in America today is a gun issue, nor a political issue. It’s a MORAL issue. Its only been one day, but it seems to me the people we need to listen to right now are our pastors, our educators, and our community leaders. We can act right here, now, in our community, to make sure we are taking steps to leave a better world for our children.
If there are leaders among our pastors, educators and in our community who agree, please contact the Tribune now. We can start by assembling together and hearing these leaders, and engaging each other to not only begin to heal, but also to take a step toward getting involved as we learn the opportunities that exist for each of us to actively participate in shaping a moral culture for our children.
“It’s All About Him”
We should stop explaining killers on their terms. It’s not about guns or culture.
Essay by David Von Drehle, Time, April 30, 2007
“My reporter’s odyssey has taken me from the chill dawn outside the Florida prison in which serial killer Ted Bundy met his end, to the charred façade of a Bronx nightclub where Julio Gonzalez incinerated 87 people, to a muddy Colorado hillside overlooking the Columbine High School library, in which Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold wrought their mayhem. Along the way, I’ve come to believe that we’re looking for why in all the wrong places.
I’ve lost interest in the cracks, chips, holes and broken places in the lives of men like Cho Seung-Hui, the mass murderer of Virginia Tech. The pain, grievances and self-pity of mass killers are only symptoms of the real explanation. Those who do these things share one common trait. They are raging narcissists. “I died–like Jesus Christ,” Cho said in a video sent to NBC
Psychologists from South Africa to Chicago have begun to recognize that extreme self-centeredness is the forest in these stories, and all the other things– guns, games, lyrics, pornography–are just trees. To list the traits of the narcissist is enough to prove the point: grandiosity, numbness to the needs and pain of others, emotional isolation, resentment and envy.
In interviews with Ted Bundy taped a quarter-century ago, journalists Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth captured the essence of homicidal narcissism. Through hour after tedious hour, a man who killed 30 or more young women and girls preened for his audience. He spoke of himself as an actor, of life as a series of roles and of other people as props and scenery. His desires were simple: “control” and “mastery.” He took whatever he wanted, from shoplifted tube socks to human lives, because nothing mattered beyond his desires. Bundy said he was always surprised that anyone noticed his victims had vanished. “I mean, there are so many people,” he explained. The only death he regretted was his own.
Criminologists distinguish between serial killers like Bundy, whose crimes occur one at a time and who try hard to avoid capture, and mass killers like Cho. But the central role of narcissism plainly connects them. Only a narcissist could decide that his alienation should be underlined in the blood of strangers. The flamboyant nature of these crimes is like a neon sign pointing to the truth. Charles Whitman playing God in his Texas clock tower, James Huberty spraying lead in a California restaurant, Harris and Klebold in their theatrical trench coats–they’re all stars in the cinema of their self-absorbed minds.
Freud explained narcissism as a failure to grow up. All infants are narcissists, he pointed out, but as we grow, we ought to learn that other people have lives independent of our own. It’s not their job to please us, applaud for us or even notice us–let alone die because we’re unhappy.
A generation ago, the social critic Christopher Lasch diagnosed narcissism as the signal disorder of contemporary American culture. The cult of celebrity, the marketing of instant gratification, skepticism toward moral codes and the politics of victimhood were signs of a society regressing toward the infant stage. You don’t have to buy Freud’s explanation or Lasch’s indictment, however, to see an immediate danger in the way we examine the lives of mass killers. Earnestly and honestly, detectives and journalists dig up apparent clues and weave them into a sort of explanation. In the days after Columbine, for example, Harris and Klebold emerged as alienated misfits in the jock culture of their suburban high school. We learned about their morbid taste in music and their violent video games. Largely missing, though, was the proper frame around the picture: the extreme narcissism that licensed these boys, in their minds, to murder their teachers and classmates.
Something similar is now going on with Cho, whose florid writings and videos were an almanac of gripes. “I’m so lonely,” he moped to a teacher, failing to mention that he often refused to answer even when people said hello. Of course he was lonely.
In Holocaust studies, there is a school of thought that says to explain is to forgive. I won’t go that far. But we must stop explaining killers on their terms. Minus the clear context of narcissism, the biographical details of these men can begin to look like a plausible chain of cause and effect–especially to other narcissists. And they don’t need any more encouragement.
There’s a telling moment in Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine, in which singer Marilyn Manson dismisses the idea that listening to his lyrics contributed to the disintegration of Harris and Klebold. What the Columbine killers needed, Manson suggests, was for someone to listen to them. This is the narcissist’s view of narcissism: everything would be fine if only he received more attention. The real problem can be found in the killer’s mirror.”
“In America, an F in Religion”
Interview with Stephen Prothero, Prof. of Religion, Boston Univ., by Jay Tolson, US News & World Report, April 9, 2007
With roughly 9 in 10 of its citizens claiming to believe in God or a Supreme Being, America is widely acknowledged to be the most religious of modern industrial nations. Yet when it comes to knowledge about religion, it ranks among the most ill-informed. While close to two thirds of all Americans regard the Bible as a source of answers to life’s questions, only half can name even one of the New Testament Gospels. Similarly, in a land of growing religious diversity, only 10 percent of U.S. teenagers can name the world’s five major religions. Stephen Prothero, the head of the department of religion at Boston University, calls this condition a “major civic problem.” His new book, Religious Literacy, tells how we got here—and how we might do better.
Were we once a religiously literate nation?
Very much so. Religious literacy and basic literacy used to go hand in hand. The Bible was the first reader of the colonists and early Americans, so as they learned to read, they read the Bible. One important sign of this literacy was that Americans conducted many of their most important civic debates, including the debate over slavery, largely in biblical terms.
You name six links in the chain of religious education that once made Americans knowledgeable about religion. What were these, and how were one or two of them weakened, if not demolished?
The big links were churches, schools, households, Sunday schools, colleges, and Bible and tract societies. In schools, the chain of memory got broken not in the ’60s by secularists, as many conservative Christians claim, or by Supreme Court rulings that outlawed devotional Bible reading and prayers in public schools. Bible courses and the teaching of religion started to go away in the mid-19th century as a result of the debate over which Bible to read—and that was instigated by religious people, not secularists.
Another change was in the churches themselves, when they started focusing on loving Jesus rather than on listening to him. The Bible slowly became a kind of ornament and a source of authority rather than a book you actually read. Sermons became more about ordinary life and less about biblical narratives, while Sunday schools focused more on morality than on learning about your own particular denomination.
You say that the “United States became a nation of forgetters at the same time it became a nation of evangelicals.”
Evangelicalism became the dominant religious impulse in the early 19th century, replacing Puritanism. Puritans understood God through a combination of the head and the heart. They were keen on religious learning and reason. [But] evangelicals were suspicious of the mind. Focusing on experience and emotion, they slowly turned Americans away from religious learning.
What accounts for the neglect of religion in history textbooks?
Fear of controversy is one big factor. Publishers are determined to make textbooks as unobjectionable as possible so they can be sold in every school district in the country.
What other nations do a good job teaching religion in an objective way?
European countries do a much better job. … And not just about the state religion. You don’t only learn about Lutheranism in Sweden or Anglicanism in Britain.
Is it possible that religious illiteracy makes for relative religious tranquillity?
You could say that if Americans knew nothing about politics, then they wouldn’t get angry about politics. If they never went to movies, they’d never argue about movies. So while this is also true about religion, the cost of not knowing about religion is too high in a world in which religion is so volatile and so influential.
How should America address religious illiteracy?
I think we need to have courses about the Bible and world religions in middle schools and high schools, and I think they should be mandatory—with an opt-out provision. One course would cover the five or seven great religions. The other would be about the Bible. Students would learn the basic stories and characters, but they would also learn about the uses of the Bible in world and American history, in literature, and in politics. By the way, I think few students would opt out of these courses.