What the Aurora shooting says about today’s society

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Century 16 at Town Center at Aurora
Century 16 at Town Center at Aurora

The shooting at the movie theater in Aurora early July 20 was a terrible tragedy, one that claimed numerous lives and injured many more.  In the aftermath, the search is on for the reason. Was it a deficient childhood? Abusive parents? Had he suffered a recent loss? Amazingly, none of those issues seem to be present with the suspect — a 24-year old medical student. 

James Holmes was described as a budding scientist, brimming with potential, who had been one of six pre-thesis Ph.D. students at its neuroscience program to be funded by a prestigious grant from the National Institutes of Health. He had worked as a summer intern at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla in 2006.  He had also worked as a cabin counselor to underprivileged children at a summer camp in Los Angeles in 2008. A friend who has known Holmes for more than a decade told the Los Angeles Times that when they last met for dinner, his friend seemed fine. So why did this calamity have to happen? 

In today’s modern scientific society, everything must be pointed back to a materialistic cause. Does this really answer the question? For example, we often assume that a killer of this magnitude is mentally ill, perhaps suffering from loneliness, depression and isolation. Maybe there’s a more serious disease, such as schizophrenia, a condition frequently marked by an inability to distinguish fantasy from reality. 

I’m not arguing that these aren’t valid causes. They are all serious and need to be addressed with all earnestness at our disposal. My point is that we can’t stop there. We certainly live in a materialistic world, but does that answer everything? Is that all there is to our existence? Does materialism fully explain people’s motives and the causes for their behavior? Evil is real. Even renowned atheists such as Joseph Conrad attest to its stark reality. But in our scientifically-dominated society, we have no way of talking about it.  We are constantly surprised by acts of evil. 

You don’t believe in evil? You’re just not looking hard enough. It’s there, deep inside each one of us.

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3 comments

  1. Hi Bruce…

    …good insights for sure: I have an off beat theological insight, if I may.

    According to classical theology the devil’s weakness is his pride. In the Bible for instance it speaks of the pride of the devil as being the reason for why he fell. For brevity sake I loosely highlight passages in Scripture where Satan is described as lightening falling from heaven and his pride being the reason for the fall.

    In contemporary theology the idea of the devil has been largely dismissed. Satan banished to the realm of goblins and ghosts. Yet: theodicy…justification for a benevolent God…is very much alive. In fact: without the realization that metaphysical evil of some kind does in fact exist…than it is hard to argue a theodicy that works (but this is another discussion).

    Even so and as you may know in the middle ages the Christian Church adopted the practice of mocking the devil’s pride publicly. This can be seen in architecture of grand cathedrals to dressing up in gross costumes (on special occasions) meant to openly mock the devil’s pride. Back then openly resisting the devil in this way and he will certainly flee from: was the primary motive.

    The eve of all Saints Day became a focal point…as this is what partly led to the development of Halloween (“All hallow’s Eve”).

    Besides mocking evil, people in western Europe would dress up to celebrate their favorite saint. Having a relic of some kind and doing rituals that actually help many cope with their understanding of the existence of evil: did have some healing benefits. This is why the Catholic Rite of Exorcism gained much popularity in this point of history.

    Nowadays many of us would look at such behavior as superstitious. Irrational, perhaps? Certainly unscientific. Halloween is much different now then it was back then.

    What about the devil’s pride? That concept. It is a relevant point. Not to mention the social need of human beings to publicly heal from evil things that happen.

    Even if the devil himself is nothing more but a theological metaphor: there is wisdom in this concept. Here’s why.

    When serial killers and evil things that people do get examined often what we call pathological is in essence what the devil’s pride is.

    When I consider for instance the terrible things that James Holmes did. The inexcusable, senseless acts of violence. I have to consider the fact he probably took a lot pride in what he was planning to do. Like the Biblical image of the devil, he likely exalted himself over others. Even if this guy is shown to be mentally ill and legally insane: he probably rationalized his acts (in his mind) as morally justifiable. What archetype was he following in his thinking? What twisted notions did he have that led him to do this horrendous action?

    Of course I have no way of knowing with full certainly. I am not God. My mindset is simply to let there be mercy where it’s needed with a sense of true justice. And yes, God can forgive James Holmes. But I am also aware that as it was with the mark of Cain, this guy will have to carry the weight of what he did for the rest of his life. Even if he is quickened by the Holy Spirit from his reprobate position.

    The one thing that all serial killers have in common is the pride they take in their work. For a lack of a better concept it is the devil’s pride. It’s a pride that can cause anyone to fall from grace and into reprobation. I don’t think mocking the devil’s pride as they did in the middle ages is the solution, unless if mocking is defined as Christ-like.

    True Christ-likeness isn’t about being the nice guy; letting others get away with injustices, to the contrary it’s about doing what is just while also forgiving.

    I cannot ask those who have been hurt deeply by this to forgive for the sake of this man with delusion pride. Forgiveness is not earned, it is given mainly for the benefit of the one most wounded. And can only be done when a person is ready to take that leap of faith.

    The word that Jesus used for forgiveness in Aramaic literally means to untie. This is why the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew closes with…”unless you forgive the sins of others your sins won’t be forgiven.” Holding on to trespasses is what causes the most damage, letting go is what unties from the damage. Medical science would arguably support this notion…the more a person hold’s on to a broken past; the more he or she would be weighed down by it.

    Healing is part of the forgiveness process and I hope we all can find healing in the aftermath of this. And I will say this openly to hell with the devil’s pride and I hope justice (not vengeance) is also served. What James Holmes did is evil and I hope his judicial sentence reflects that.

  2. Thank you, fascinating ideas. I always enjoy your insights and the wealth of history and knowledge.

  3. Thanks Bruce…

    Keep them articles coming, now: you’re great freelance writer.

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