In chapel yesterday, Dean Carswell talked a little bit about the killer at Virginia Tech. He talked about the ways that letting resentment and anger boil inside of you can take you to a point where you explode, and about the desire to control other people and to “fix” what’s wrong with them. It got me thinking about how a person could get to that point.
First, a caveat: it’s possible that the killer, Cho Seung-Hui, had severe mental illnesses that he could not control. No one can judge whether he will go to heaven or hell, as tempting as that might be. But even if he was acting from a natural insanity, his natural insanity gives a saddening reflection spiritual insanity – i.e. evil.
In his insanity, Cho seems to have believed that he was exercising justice. He believed he was taking “just revenge” on the rich kids for their expensive and hedonistic lives. Evil thinks that revenge and hatred are synonymous with justice. Arcana Coelestia n. 1079 says,
Where there is no charity, there is the love of self, and therefore hatred against all who do not favor self. Consequently such persons see in the neighbor only what is evil, and if they see anything good, they either perceive it as nothing, or put a bad interpretation upon it. It is just the other way with those who are in charity. By this difference these two kinds of people are distinguished from one another, especially when they come into the other life; for then with those who are in no charity, the feeling of hatred shines forth from every single thing; they desire to examine everyone, and even to judge him; nor do they desire anything more than to find out what is evil, constantly cherishing the disposition to condemn, punish, and torment. But they who are in charity scarcely see the evil of another, but observe all his goods and truths, and put a good interpretation on what is evil and false. Such are all the angels, which they have from the Lord, who bends all evil into good.
I don’t think many of us are where the angels are; but it isn’t until you see something like what happened at Virginia Tech that you really see how heinous the other point of view is.
And although it certainly wasn’t his intention, it’s fascinating to me that Cho wrote “Ismail Ax” on his arm and “A. Ishmael” on the package he sent to NBC in light of what Arcana Coelestia says about the spiritual meaning of Ishmael in n. 1949:
[Ishmael signifies rational truth apart from good]. It seems incredible that rational truth when separated from good should be of such a character, neither should I have known this to be the case unless I had been instructed by living experience. Whether you say rational truth; or the man whose rational is of this kind, amounts to the same. The man whose rational is of such a character that he is solely in truth – even though it be the truth of faith – and who is not at the same time in the good of charity, is altogether of such a character. He is a morose man, will bear nothing, is against all, regards everybody as being in falsity, is ready to rebuke, to chastise, and to punish; has no pity, and does not apply or adapt himself to others and study to bend their minds; for he looks at everything from truth, and at nothing from good. Hence it is that Ishmael was driven out, and afterwards dwelt in the wilderness, and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt (Gen. 21:9-21); all of which things are representative of one who is endowed with such a rational.
Cho seems to have been in this state to the extreme. He spent all his time alone, not talking to anyone; perhaps he spent lots of time studying or reading – he certainly wrote a lot. I don’t know whether his insanity was a result of this or its cause or some of both; but its clear to me that it is related.
The really frightening thing, a thing that’s hard to admit, is that to a small extent I can relate to him. I’ve been in states before where I spent most of my time alone, reading the Word and the Writings, writing a lot, trying to shut people out because I thought everyone was evil. It wasn’t nearly to the same extent, but it was insanity. And I think one of the good things we can draw out of a tragedy like this is to see what happens when this insanity is taken to its extreme and shows itself for what it really is – hell on earth.
Finally, and I think this is important to notice, Cho compared himself to Jesus. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that someone so possessed of evil spirits as Cho seems to have been would profane something so holy. This isn’t going to convince anyone who doesn’t believe in the Lord that evil and profanity are connected; but to those who do, it’s an illustration of the truth so often mentioned in the Word and the Writings that evil spirits love nothing more than to attack what is from the Lord. Not that Cho knew that, and maybe he wasn’t even conscious that it was happening; but the evil spirits that were infesting him, whether it was in a physical malady or spiritual insanity, clearly showed their faces in his profanity.
My natural inclination is to want to feel anger at Cho; but I think the right thing to try to do is feel pity. Maybe that seems wrong when there are so many families and friends suffering from his actions. But his actions didn’t spring from himself. He was attacked and waylaid by evil spirits, poisoned with revenge and hatred, his connection to other human beings completely cut off. His life was miserable, and it may continue to be miserable to eternity. Why would anyone choose that? I don’t know. I can only hope that there was something wrong with his brain, that when he wakes up in the other world he will open up his eyes and be able to see and think clearly for the first time, that he will learn what it is to be human, that he will learn to love the Lord, and that he will leave his demented physical brain behind and live a life in heaven as a blessing to others instead of a curse. It’s hard for me to hope that, but to wish him any evil would be to fall prey to a lesser degree of the same insanity that led him to do what he did.