Saturday, 21 July 2012

Aurora massacre: no place for the hand of God

Overall, there’s only one possible judgment of the events in a Colorado cinema yesterday: the massacre of innocents was vile, incomprehensible, unconscionable.

Aurora: a community mourns
But the details reveal some even grimmer aspects.

First, there are the adjectives used to describe the attack. The most common seemed to be ‘senseless’ and ‘evil’. Now ‘senseless’ seems appropriate: an action that can bring no good of any kind can only be senseless. But what about evil? I distrust the word, since I think few people believe their acts are evil, but convince themselves they are serving some higher good which requires to break legal or moral codes.

Even so, we may decide that the ‘evil’ lies not in the man but in the act itself. But I think it’s not enough for an act to be destructive to make it evil, it has to be deliberate. A random violent act may be reprehensible, or even repulsive, but before we can call it evil surely we have to see a mind at work, carefully and rationally making it happen. So were the killings senseless or were they evil? It’s hard for them to be both.

As it happens, the evidence suggests that the attack was carefully planned and meticulously carried out. A mind was at work. This wasn’t mindless violence but thoroughly mindful violence. So perhaps ‘evil’ is not a bad word for what happened.

That, though, gives me my second problem with accounts of what happened.

Jennifer Seeger was one of the survivors of the shooting. The gunman came towards her, the gun pointing at her face. Then he fired, not on her, but on the person behind her. Later Seeger told her mother, ‘Mom, God saved me. God still loves me.’

Now that’s a chilling statement.

Perhaps we should just dismiss it as a spontaneous outburst by someone traumatised by an experience that I’ve never had and hope never to face. I’d like to be able to write off the statement in that way, because to take it at face value makes it shocking to the point of obscenity.

If she survived because God loved her, then the person behind died because God no longer loved him. Is that what she’s saying? The God makes that kind of choice? Save her, not him?

But even more shocking is the idea that the hand of God, of the Christian God, was at work in that cinema at all. If you believe the world is ruled by an all-loving God, a view I can understand though I don’t share it, then surely you cannot possibly believe that he can have ordained the arbitrary killing of twelve people and wounding of 59 others? After all, the choice of one victim over another owed nothing to love, and everything to a game of power and cruelty made possible only by the possession of lethal weapons.

To suggest that God was making any of those choices strikes me as a denial of anything that could be called Christian values. Which is shocking because I suspect Seeger thought she was affirming them.


Anonymous said...

Primo Levi makes a similar point when one of his fellow inmates at Auschwitz sees the hand of God in his being "saved" whilst someone else gets the full treatment.


David Flint said...

Maybe the god at work here was not the Christian god but one of the others. Apollo, Allah or even Kali. In fact Kali sounds quite plausible, see

David Beeson said...

Delighted to be in such exalted company as Primo Levi's. Though I imagine he expressed himself better.

Yes, David, it strikes me that if any god at all was at work here, it would something much more vengeful and ferocious than the Prince of Peace. Though in my view, as I suspect in yours, there was nothing there that couldn't be explained in terms of man alone.

Anonymous said...

You might like to see the what conspiracy theorists are making of Aurora:

The links between the younger and elder Holmes and U.S. government
research on creating super-soldiers, human brain-machine interfaces,
and human-like robots beg the question: "Was James Holmes engaged
in a real-life Jason Bourne TREADSTONE project that broke down and
resulted in deadly consequences in Aurora, Colorado?" In any event,
if the Batman movies are now serving as a newer version of J.D.
Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" subliminal messaging triggering
mechanism, -- Salinger's novel was of interest to a number of American
political assassins -- keep in mind that August 10 is the opening date of
The Bourne Legacy. It may be wise to skip that film in the theater for a while.
Wayne Madsen
It's all to do with the anti-NRA lobby.


Awoogamuffin said...

I had the exact same thought when I first read Seeger's quote. Saying that God is great because he spared you and not the many around you just sounds horrible.

David Flint said...

I guess, Awoogamuffin, it should just remind us that religion is a matter of feeling, not logic. That's why the faithful say such illogical things and why disproving their views doesn't change thwir faith.

David Beeson said...

Disproving their views is, as you suggest David, a perfectly vain activity.

To be honest, it should be as well. The most honest statement about faith is that belief is required precisely where things are not subject to proof: if it could be proved, why would you need faith? It's the 'credo quia absurdum', I believe because it is absurd, principle which at core is, I think, the religious statement of deepest integrity.

David Flint said...

Yet it shouldn't be vain. Most believers make claims that can be tested, eg that prayer cures illness. Many make contradictory claims. Many recommend pointless activity, eg paying to God that his will be done.

So logic ought to work.

David Beeson said...

I think if faith were susceptible to logical treatment, religion would be in far quicker and more widespread retreat than it is today. It is precisely because it is outside logic that it requires faith.

I love the idea of the vacuity of praying to God to ensure his will is done. Those who delight in paradox would take pleasure in a prayer that calls on him to act against his will.