April 19, 2007

Could it be... SATAN?

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at April 19, 2007 10:55 PM

Lots of people have come out of the woodwork this week making asinine statements about the supposed root cause of the Virginia Tech shootings, and pretty much every one of them has been incredibly stupid. Of course, some people distinguished themselves with exceptionally moronic scapegoats: video games, co-ed dorms, the teaching of evolution... but I think the winner has to be this bit from Fox News (of course):

Could Cho have been possessed by the Devil? Could that explain the massacre at Virginia Tech?

Dr. Richard Roberts, president of Oral Roberts University, shouts an unequivocal “Yes!”

“Based on what I’ve seen in the news," Roberts said in an interview, "there’s no doubt that this act was Satanic in origin."


Congratulations, Dr. Roberts and Fox News. This is the stupidest thing I've heard all week, and it's been a long and stupid week.

On a related note, I remembered this piece from David Brin in 1999 arguing for a law that changes the names of attention-seeking criminals to something mocking:

[A]ny criminal sentenced for a truly heinous crime could be renamed as part of his punishment, with a moniker that invites disdain. New history books might state: "Robert F. Kennedy was slain in 1968 by Doofus 25 *." The asterisk is there to let anyone find the assassin's former name in a footnote, if they are truly interested, so no one is actually suppressing knowledge.

Cho Seung-hui seems like an excellent person to start with. (We can't really punish a dead man, but who knows, it might help deter potential copycats.) Why not refer to him by the title of his (reportedly awful) play, "Richard McBeef"? Or if that's not silly enough, one of the remarkably similar names from the MST3K episode Space Mutiny. Crunch Buttsteak! Roll Fizzlebeef!

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Have you ever read The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis? It's an interesting treatise on the Christian faith as seen from the perspective of demons, specifically one involved in tempting a human and another mentoring the first demon. It's a fascinating look into a view that accepts the possibility of non-scientific forces in the universe.

Speaking as a Christian and as someone who does accept that there is more to this world than what we can scientifically observe, I can understand the view that the killer's actions were influenced by demons. That is not to excuse him or say that there was nothing that could have been done in our society to help him, but I do think the possibility exists.

In any case, I do feel that it was his personal "demons" (used in the figurative sense) that drove him to this act. Whether they were actual demons we won't find out for sure until we depart this world.

Posted by: Chris L-S | April 20, 2007 8:11 AM

As to your other suggestion, I completely agree that forthwith the killer should be known as "Crunch Buttsteak".

Posted by: Chris L-S | April 20, 2007 8:12 AM

I haven't read The Screwtape Letters, but as I understand it Lewis' demons are a kind of literary conceit that he uses to address more abstract theological issues. And while I might disagree with Lewis' worldview I don't find it risible like I do the Fox News article. I can understand talking about demons as a personification of man's evil impulses, but that's not what we're seeing here.

From an epistomological standpoint I'm objecting to invoking supernatural explanations where there's no reason to do so, no evidence of anything beyond natural forces. It's the kind of thing Occam's Razor was invented to eliminate, and for good reason: once you entertain an explanation like this you have to entertain just about anything: Crunch Buttsteak was possessed by demons, or he was traumatized after his alien abduction, or he was a victim of a secret government mind control program, or he was a terminator sent from the future to kill John Connor. It is, quite literally, a conspiracy theory.

But that's not the only reason to object. The concept of demonic possession is a particularly suspect one because it originated as a way for ancient and medieval societies to explain mental illness, before it was understood by modern medicine. Maybe the existence of demons has not been scientifically discredited, but the idea that demons cause mental illness certainly has. However, Dr. Roberts is advocating that we abandon the scientific understanding in favor of the superstitious idea of demonic possession. It's like rejecting the germ theory of disease, or suggesting that global warming is due to the sun god flying his chariot too low.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | April 20, 2007 10:40 AM

There is a quote I really want to cite here, but I don't feel comfortable doing it in association with a VT story so that my filters actually caught it. I think several of you know which line I have in mind, but you're just going to have to wait for another post.

In terms of the VT stuff, we also heard the usualy 'nobody could have seen this coming' tripe. But then apparently there are specific individuals who did see the potential for something to happen but their recommendations were ignored (I'm thinking of the person who was teaching the guy one-on-one at some point). Comments like 'we couldn't see it coming' (which we also saw with Katrina, 9/11, and lots of other things despite documented evidence that lots of people did see them coming, at least potentially) are a great way to shirk responsibility and any public figure who utters such a comment should be proclaimed an eternal deuschbag (sp?).

Posted by: Mason | April 20, 2007 11:16 AM

Maybe this Roberts dude is just a really, really serious Stones fan (cue music- "Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name.")

Guns don't kill people, Beezlebub does.

Posted by: JSpur | April 20, 2007 11:21 AM

On the other hand, remember the words of Verbal Kent. "The Devil's greatest trick was convincing the world he didn't exist."

Posted by: JSpur | April 20, 2007 11:54 AM

Buck Plankchest!

Posted by: Josh | April 20, 2007 12:08 PM

I find myself too disgusted with the sloppy and even patently false reporting that immediately follows these tragedies to read/listen to/watch anything but a brief summary of the events. I'll read through the Wikipedia entry either this weekend or next, and then go from there.

Mason - Yeah, I know where you're going with that (the quote, I mean). Also, I agree with you re: responsibility, but I'm disgusted with the claims that campus security should have been able to prevent it... though my lingering ignorance may be shining through. I think college campus shouldn't be prepared to prevent a lunatic like Crunch from strolling onto campus with an assault rifle, but that's a whole mess in and of itself. I also worry about the related (but different) issue of a public backlash against your everyday social misfit.

Posted by: Lemming | April 20, 2007 12:57 PM

Lem: Crunch was armed with handguns (.22 + Glock 19), not an assault rifle. Still, I think your point remains valid. There have been many raised issues along that argument line about gnu control (misspelling intentional) and concealed weapons. There have been some very interesting discussions on this related issue in two or three recent threads on Making Light. For those interested in a good discussion of that, i'd head there and check out the comments threads and main posts.

I should also note that many news media outlets initially blamed video games (as usual), however there was absolutely no correlation as no video games were found in Crunch's apartment, etc. Still, annoying that they get blamed without any evidence. (Another recent shooting had this occur as well, when there was zero evidence that he even played such games.)

Finally, I have an option question - does anyone else feel helpless when such events like a school shooting occur? I can't change what happened, I can't help those who survived feel any better or get over the emotional damage any better. I feel like I have no immediate way to change anything about the situation or possible future situations. I know there's a few things I can do in the longer term, but nothing seems particularly effective.

Posted by: Zifnab | April 20, 2007 6:49 PM

If something bad happens to someone I know, I feel I can help them work things out emotionally by being a sounding board -- it's small but it is something. However, this refers to a limited number of people who trust me rather than something that would apply more generally (i.e., to an event I find out about on the news). Ideally, most of the people have somebody in whom they can confide so things don't fester.

For some disasters, financial help is a concrete thing one can do. That doesn't seem too applicable here. (I'm pretty much stumped on this one.)

Posted by: Mason | April 21, 2007 2:34 AM

Here's something you can do about that helpless feeling. Write your Congressman about how you're outraged that, had the law that is already in place been enforced, this might not have happened, and demand that something be done about it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/21/us/21guns.html?hp

Posted by: JSpur | April 21, 2007 5:35 AM

Another thing that we can do about the helpless feeling: get involved in your own college community or in a nearby school, mentoring the students, tutoring, or reaching out in some other way. There are always ways to get involved in the community and be a support to others who are less fortunate in one way or another. I am not saying that this crime could have been prevented by this sort of activity, or that this will make the people at VT feel better or heal faster, but it is a way that you can reach out with your compassion and contribute in a positive way locally, just as I'm sure the Blacksburg community is reaching out to those grieving students and families now.

I'm sorry I didn't see this thread sooner (I've been preoccupied this week.) All of you have great responses to the crazy talk and hype that has been going on. Thank you for that!

Posted by: lidarose | April 21, 2007 7:29 PM

Well said, lidarose.
When I was a boy, back in the mid '60s, I lived a county or two over from Blacksburg. On Homecoming weekend, I and my old Sunday School buddy Roger Roller and a couple of other kids would pile into Roger's daddy's station wagon and make the pilgrimage to VPI. Packed in the back were boxes full of corsages. Once we got there we kids would sell corsages on the street. The Rollers had a floral shop, and this was one of their big days. We corsage sellers got paid with tickets to the game, so far up in the stands that our view was blocked if God got up to take a leak.
I had fun, we all had fun, no one could have imagined way up in the bleeds that such a thing could ever happen within eyesight of where we watched the Hokies beat the everliving hell out of the Richmond Spiders.
But if life teaches us one single thing it is that tragedy can happen anytime, anywhere.
One might conclude from all this that the only thing left to do is offload that helpless feeling and go live life to the fullest. Although an outraged letter to a Congressman is still not a bad idea.

Posted by: JSpur | April 21, 2007 9:13 PM
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