When so heinous an act is carried out that it falls outside the realm of normal human comprehension — like an elementary school massacre — people search desperately for “answers.” This impulse is certainly understandable. The shooter’s motives remain inscrutable, and it is very difficult to imagine what would possess anyone to systematically execute kindergartners.
“Evil visited this community today,” proclaimed Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy in the aftermath.
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.
Yesterday, Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Convention theologized that “Original Sin” is to blame for Lanza’s acts, and Mike Huckabee has cited the removal of God from public schools as a contributing factor. It is to be expected that these hard-line Evangelical Christians would proffer such explanations — they genuinely believe that Satan actively works to bring about “Evil” in the material world.
But people like Malloy ought to know better, and resist explaining away distressing events with simplistic platitudes. Mental illness remains heavily stigmatized, and the Christian tendency to conflate illness with sin only perpetuates the stigma. Declarations of “Evil” might give temporary solace to traumatized families, but in the long-term, they distract from society’s collective ability to identify and treat diseased people who have violent designs.
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