I’ve heard that question a lot today, and many of my students turned to me for answers. “Why did this mass shooting happen? How can someone commit such a horrible act?” And here’s my answer: I don’t know. And you know what…sometimes that is the only answer. We just don’t know.
Let’s talk about evil. I’m a believer in God and heaven, which also makes me a believer in Satan and hell. Evil exists. I know that to be true because it’s seen everyday. Babies get beaten and killed by their parents everyday. Children get raped by people who are supposed to love and care for them. Domestic violence is at epidemic proportions. The elderly are physically and sexually abused by the children whom they raised. And the list goes on.
But are there levels of evil…just like Dante thought there were levels (circles) of hell? I’m wondering if Dante was right…and that what our sin was determines our punishment. I like that thought. I want Hitler to be starved and beaten for eternity. I want child predators to be preyed upon themselves. I want people who murder to feel that pain over and over and over again. And yes, this is not a Christian attitude. I know I’m supposed to be forgiving…like Jesus. But you know what? I can’t be. I think hell was created because there are some people that deserve the punishment…that don’t merit entering the gates of heaven. Prophets in the Old Testament repeatedly speak of a time when God would have His “day” — a day of justice in which He would express His anger toward sin and visit judgment on sinners…this is referred to this as “The Day of the Lord.” Take a look at this: ‘Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.’ (Isaiah 13:9).
As I’m pondering WHY people do such evil, I re-visit Dante…his circles of hell include lust, gluttony, greed, anger, fraud, and treachery, and I believe you can look at each one of these as examples as to why people might commit evil acts.
There is such a difference between lust and love…people will say they fell in love at first sight. No they didn’t. They fell into lust. That chemical, feel-good reaction where you have the butterflies in the stomach with the person being on your mind all of the time. Love comes later. It’s something that needs to be built and nurtured…at least, mature love does. Look what people do in the name of ‘lust’ (it can’t be love…how in the world can you hurt someone you love?). Husbands killing their wives out of jealousy…women murdering their husbands after they discover their infidelity. We’re not rational when we’re in lust…our emotions are in control and we all know that the heart isn’t the source of logical thought. The brain is. Unfortunately, the heart supersedes the brain practically every time. I think we’ve all experienced that.
Gluttony is often associated with food, but the actual definition includes it being excessive indulgence, while greed is a very covetous and selfish state. People get a little…and then they want more. And more. And more. And if they can’t get it in a conventional way, they’ll do it any way they can. That indulgence can be adoration, recognition, etc. And in our society right now especially, people want that 15 minutes of fame. They want to be remembered, and they begrudge others who are already a focus of that attention.
Anger is another beast all together. I teach about this in my classes and here’s what I think: anger isn’t necessarily an emotion as much as it’s a primal reaction to other feelings we simply can’t express for whatever reason. So, like a baby who screams for everything they want, we too will go back to that primal state, and act out this ‘anger’ any way we can. Think about it. Your boss embarrasses you and your reaction? You go home and yell at your partner for no reason at all. Your kid runs out in the middle of the street and you grab them and give them a shake and yell “What were you thinking??!! You could have gotten killed!!” Our fear of losing a child comes out as anger…because sometimes, the actual ‘base’ emotion is too scary or confusing to actually express or even recognize. I know that at times I’ve been so ’emotional’ I simply don’t know what to express…so I get angry. At everything and everybody. At the world itself.
Fraud is when someone is deceitful and treachery is a betrayal. And we all know how easy some people can use these against others. Without a thought. I watched a video on narc abuse today with my Psychology students, and in the video, a narcissist actually said how easy it is to abuse people. But sadly, it’s so hard to recover from it.
So, there’s some ideas thanks to Dante…and I think they are a good beginning as to why people commit evil acts. I also believe some people are simply born ‘bad’. I know…it’s a horrible thought. But, there are almost 20 biblical verses that say we are all born into sin. And Freud believed the same…that we are born ‘bad’ and have to learn ‘good’. Don’t believe this?? Do we have to teach children to share or be selfish? What’s their natural inclination? Do we have to teach kids to hurt someone when they are angry or to use their words? Do we have to show kids how to throw their toys at others or to play nice? Hmmm. So I firmly believe that biology has something to do with evil.
Then the environment comes into play. Kids who are abused and neglected don’t learn love. Or empathy. They learn that you do bad things to people to show power and control. They learn that love means pain. They learn to believe they are bad. And guess what? Labels are a very powerful thing…and we tend to live up, or down, to them.
So, it’s a combination of so many things that can cause people to commit evil acts. I don’t think we’ll ever understand so much of what’s happening in the world today. Maybe there aren’t any answers. But we search for understanding…because if we understand and make sense of it, we know better what we are fighting against. That’s just not happening though. So many things transpire that make no sense at all. They are simply evil acts that lead to great tragedy and good people are the ones that are the victims. There’s no making sense of that.
This is what I know: Evil exists. And understanding it may never be possible. We can theorize, prophetize, and philosophize and still not ever get to that one thing we want: what it is and how to stop it. God bless you, the people of Las Vegas and all of those who lost their lives and family. You will be remembered.