Friday, July 20, 2012

"He has a demon, and is mad" redux

By Donald Sensing

That my daughter and I briefly discussed going to the midnight showing of the new Batman movie last night somehow heightens my sickening at what happened in Aurora, Colo., last night. That my local theater is at least, oh, 1,500 miles from the scene of the carnage means that my heightened revulsion is not very logical, but it is nonetheless real.

So let me type out what almost needs its own text-message abbreviation: IHHA-GSS. "It Has Happened Again - Gunman Shoots Scores."

Colorado is no stranger to IHHA-GSS. It happened in a high school in Columbine there in 1999. Then it moved to Appalachian State University in 2002. Virginia Tech University suffered its abattoir in 2007. Then in Phoenix, Ariz., early last year and in a Christian college in California just three months ago.

Now Aurora. 

After the Phoenix shootings, I posted, "
He has a demon, and is mad."

In arguing that, "He has a demon, and is mad," I am not trying to argue the literal existence of demonic beings who actually enter the bodies and spirits of human beings, taking "possession" of them and controlling their actions. The modern mind has no room for that. I refer instead to sickness of the mind and of the soul, a spiritual sickness that aligned itself with the evil that is out there.

Evil is within us, but not only within us

French philosopher Paul Ricouer argued in his book, The Symbolism of Evil, that one of the things taught by the temptation stories of the Bible is that evil resides within the human breast but not only there. There is an "externality of evil," as he put it, symbolized in Genesis by the serpent. Within these texts is a strong subtext, not only in the Bible but in cultural myths around the world that there is a seduction of the human mind and the human body by the "tragic" of creation into which we are born, "which is alreadythere and already evil" (his emphasis). There is, he says, 
... a mystery of iniquity which is not reducible to the clear consciousness of actual evil, of the evil beginning in an instant; it points toward an underlying peccability which, as Kierkegaard says inThe Concept of Dread, endures and increases quantitatively. That underlying peccability is like the horizon of actual evil... .
"Peccability" means that we mortals are temptable. Because of this fundamental fact we will be tempted by an externality much and yield to it often - usually, happily, on harmless things like another piece of chocolate but not infrequently to evil itself. When we yield to the harmful rather than the merely frivolous it is sin, indeed, too often mortal sin which, as we saw in Tucson, can be lethal as well.

This is not a modern world view. We have exorcised sin conceptually from our vocabulary, our discourse and hence, our understanding of the human condition. "He has a demon, and is mad" is eye-rolled for the former part and medicated for the latter - psychiatry today exorcises pharmaceutically, not ritually. And yet for all its chemically-reliant wonder, no mental-health professional will ever be able to explain away that the human being is predisposed to cooperate with the iniquitous, a cooperation that not merely endures but increases until it forms the horizon of actual evil, evil that erupts so tragically.
I well realize that this is a decidedly unfashionable analysis. After all, do we not know that "everyone is basically good?" Well, thank God for that, or else the world's history of just the last 100 years would be unspeakably violent, with world wars, genocide of millions, atom bombings and brutal terrorism.

Oh, wait . . .

I wrote 18 months ago a certain though grim prophecy:
Always, the ancients knew that the tragic is woven inherently in the human condition because they understood what we have progressively dismissed: that "there is no one who does good, no not one," except now and then, here and again, but almost never as a habit. Virtue, said Aristotle, is excellence made habitual, which is exactly why virtue is so rare: the habits of man are rarely excellent and left to themselves, without rigorous moral training or an externality of constraint to the good, will always become corrupted. 

What makes the human condition tragic in this sense is that evil is never temporary and triumphs are never permanent. Salve of compassion, care and grieving is being applied to Tucson, but some must be saved for the next venue. For certainly another there will be.
And so, IHHA-GSS.

How ironic that a genuine insight into the Batman massacre is found in a short sequence from The Dark Knight:



He has a demon, and is mad.

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