Thursday, February 15, 2018

Malevolence

Yesterday was another example of malevolence in our world: a school shooting in Florida. We don’t yet know all the details. But it appears there are 17 dead and another 14 injured and hospitalized.
Alaina Petty, age 14, a Mormon girl, was one of 17
killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Image from LDS Living

The 19-year-old perpetrator was previously identified as troubled. When he had been a student, he had been prevented from carrying a backpack, I’m assuming so that he couldn’t hide a weapon inside. He was expelled from the school for behavioral reasons. He was known to be threatening, and some say his social media declared his willingness, or perhaps plan, to become a school shooter. However, he had no criminal record.

The story is that he set off the fire alarm, which would cause students to pour out of their classrooms, where they were vulnerable to his onslaught.

He was apprehended alive. It may be possible to learn something in this case that we cannot learn when the perpetrator is among the dead.

But the real motive is malevolence: a delight in evil. It’s a conscious choice.

It is not a mistake to gather weapons, plan ways to do as much destruction as possible, and then take as many innocent lives as possible. That is a purposeful act, with many small actions leading to it.

In most cases, for malevolence of this depravity, we assume mental illness is involved. Because no one in their right mind would do such a thing.

A healthy mind shrinks from taking human life. There has to be an overwhelming need—such as self-preservation, preservation of loved ones, or protection of innocents—that allows a human with a healthy mind to take a life.

But there is a sort of “logic” in the malevolent mind. I quoted Jordan Peterson on this in the last post. Because you face bad experiences in this world, you could take either the immoral or the moral stance. Peterson said, “If you take the immoral stance and say, Well, the horror of the world has made me bitter, resentful, murderous, and genocidal; isn’t it no wonder?” that’s the logic of the perpetrator of great evil.

But, as he adds, the malevolent act still isn’t logical: “All that does is make everything that you’re hypothetically objecting to worse.” And, “You can’t logically conclude that you should act in the way that is certain to do nothing but multiply [the horror of the world] beyond comprehension.”

Since we all face bad things, and we all have the power within us to choose good or evil, we have to make a conscious decision to choose to be moral.

During church on Sunday, a man told a story from over 40 years ago that will remain memorable. Back in high school, his mother was on a date with a young man. Just a pleasant date, out to dinner, to get to know one another better. The couple were returning to their car, ready to drive home, when a drunken gang of four men set upon them and threatened. They ordered the young man to let them take the girl, and then they wouldn’t kill her. They planned to rape her and leave her on the road somewhere.

The young man told the girl to run, and then he took on the four thugs singlehandedly, without a weapon, long enough for her to get away. But he lost his life in the effort.

The two young people were about 17, and so innocent. It’s hard to know, until you’re faced with something really dire, how you will react. This young man was courageous. And good.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.—John 15:13.

A year or two later, the young woman met another young man, in another state she had moved to. In conversation, she mentioned where she was from. This young man knew only one person from that town, whom he’d met at a camp some years earlier. The one he knew was the young man who had given up his life for this young woman. So he was aware of the story and knew what kind of expectation she had of a good man.

These two eventually married, and raised several sons, including the man telling the story at church. He said you can be certain he and his brothers were raised to know what was expected of them. They would be expected to stand up against evil, and protect the life and virtue of women—even a young woman they only knew from a date or two.

Consider the difference, in the face of malevolence in the world, between the immoral and the moral choice.

Violence isn’t something we reduce by access to certain weapons; violence is reduced when we learn to make moral choices, even when life is unfair, ugly, or malevolent.

The policy questions surround what to do about the perpetrator, and/or what to do to prevent the next perpetrator. It’s a necessary debate. As long as we have people who choose to do heinous, immoral acts, we need ways to stop them.

If it is because of an identifiable mental illness, we may need better ways of identifying and preventing. That’s a tough question, because it requires, sometimes, physical restraint before a crime has been committed.

Depriving all of innocent society from having the means to defend themselves against a perpetrator, in the hopes of depriving the perpetrator of the means to do harm—that’s a common suggestion. But it’s not a satisfying answer. Even, hypothetically, if you could remove all weapons from all people in the world, you would still have evildoers who purposely do harm—using other tools, utensils, or muscles against people without those things.

Returning to civilization is a better answer overall. It begins with the individual. With each of us, choosing to do the right thing—as best we can discern it—each and every time we are faced with a moral choice. Then we have a world that is less unfair, ugly, and malevolent giving evildoers their rationale.

Larry Elder was talking about the horrendous event on his radio show today. During the discussion, he played the audio of the testimony of Darrell Scott, a parent whose daughter was killed in the Columbine shooting in 1999. It seems appropriate again today. I searched to see if there was video of that speech, and I’ve included that 5 minutes below. But I’d like to quote a couple of sections:

Since the dawn of creation there has been both good and evil in the hearts of men and women. We all contain the seeds of kindness or the seeds of violence. The death of my wonderful daughter, Rachel Joy Scott, and the deaths of that heroic teacher, and the other eleven children who died must not be in vain. Their blood cries out for answers.
The first recorded act of violence was when Cain slew his brother Abel out in the field. The villain was not the club he used. Neither was it the NCA, the National Club Association. The true killer was Cain, and the reason for the murder could only be found in Cain's heart.
In the days that followed the Columbine tragedy, I was amazed at how quickly fingers began to be pointed at groups such as the NRA. I am not a member of the NRA. I am not a hunter. I do not even own a gun. I am not here to represent or defend the NRA—because I don't believe that they are responsible for my daughter's death. Therefore, I do not believe that they need to be defended. If I believed they had anything to do with Rachel's murder, I would be their strongest opponent.
I am here today to declare that Columbine was not just a tragedy; it was a spiritual event that should be forcing us to look at where the real blame lies.
He shared a poem he had written about the sad change in our culture. And then he offered this:

Men and women are three-part beings. We all consist of body, mind, and spirit. When we refuse to acknowledge a third part of our make-up, we create a void that allows evil, prejudice, and hatred to rush in and wreak havoc. Spiritual presences were present within our educational systems for most of our nation's history. Many of our major colleges began as theological seminaries. This is a historical fact.
What has happened to us as a nation? We have refused to honor God, and in so doing, we open the doors to hatred and violence.
And then he suggested prayer—connection to God—as one answer.

As my son Craig lay under that table in the school library and saw his two friends murdered before his very eyes, he did not hesitate to pray in school. I defy any law or politician to deny him that right! I challenge every young person in America, and around the world, to realize that on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School prayer was brought back to our schools. Do not let the many prayers offered by those students be in vain. Dare to move into the new millennium with a sacred disregard for legislation that violates your God-given right to communicate with Him.
We get better at choosing the right thing with practice. That’s why “What religion do you belong to?” isn’t as useful a question as “What religion do you practice?” And it isn’t for one religion or sect to win out over another. It is to encourage a person in the way he has found in his life journey that leads him to honor God, life, family, property, and truth.

As I heard once: If all your life you will try to be more fair and more kind to others than some of them may sometimes be to you, then you will be happy, and your life will be full and useful."*



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* From a talk by Marion D. Hanks, entitled "More Joy and Rejoicing," October 1976.

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