It was a serious question from an earnest-looking, middle-aged man who had a strangely haunted look about him.
"Yes," I said, "Absolutely."
"Really?" he asked, "Why do you say that?"
"It's simple logic," I said. "If there is any balance in the world - and I believe there is - then, it follows that, if there is good in the world, there is also evil."
He considered this for a moment before asking the next question.
"The Governor of Connecticut said that they had been visited by evil. Do you agree?"
"No," I said, just as confidently. "That was not the result of evil. That was the result of psychosis. Mental illness. We used to think mental illnesses - and things like epilepsy - were demon-possession. A manifestation of evil. We also used to think the world was flat. We know better now."
"So, the murder of 20 children and eight adults was not evil?" he asked.
"It was not the result of evil. Not any more than the hundreds of people who died during Hurricane Sandy or the thousands of people who died in Japan after the tsunami or any other tragedy of unfathomable numbers of deaths of innocent people," I said.
"We used to think that earthquakes and hurricanes and tornadoes were 'Acts of God', or retribution for some transgression or 'sins of the fathers'. We know better know. But the person who did this was not 'evil'. I feel that very strongly," I said.
we've stopped allowing prayer in school."
"Mike Huckabee," I said, with absolute certainty, "is an idiot."
We laughed and then I continued, "The God I worship and adore is not capricious or malicious. God doesn't get his/her nose out of shape because we're not praying in school. Until Mike Huckabee can prove he has a direct line to God, I don't believe he can speak for God."
I didn't even get into the report that the Westboro Baptist Church plans to picket the President's visit with the grieving parents in Newtown. Members of Fred Phelps' church say that America is being punished for its acceptance of gays and lesbians. In recent days, Phelps family members have sent tweets about the Connecticut shooting that have said "God sent the shooter."
Maybe Mike Huckabee should talk to Fred Phelps so they can get their story straight about exactly what God is up to in all of this. Is it LGBT people or is it 'progressive left-wing teachers who don't say prayers in school?
Inquiring minds want to know, but we may have to wait for Pat Robertson to weigh in to get the most accurate read of God's mind. My guess is that he'll say it's feminists and all who support abortion. "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth". It's right there in the bible, after all.
"So," my friend continued, "Is what happened on 9/11 the result of evil?"
"Yes, absolutely," I said.
He looked surprised and asked, "Why do you say that?".
"Because it was a carefully planned and executed, intentional theological and political and violent act to take down the symbol of capitalism - The World Trade Center - without regard - and in fact, with great purpose - for the innocent lives that were lost in the process."
An unmistakably pained look came across his face. "I was three doors down from the World Trade Center on 9/11," he said. "Of the 300 people I worked with, more than 90 died. I think what happened on that day was evil. I don't think what happened in Connecticut on Friday was the result of evil."
Suddenly, I understood his haunted look. We briefly talked about his experiences - and mine - of 9/11. Neither of us knew much about what happened in Newtown, CT - we still don't know all the details and may never fully understand what happened that day or why - but we knew, after having experience 9/11, that 12/14 was very different.
I'm sure it feels the same to those who lost children and siblings and relatives and friends in the Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, but I think we name as 'evil' that which we feel is outside ourselves and not even a remote possibility of human behavior.
What I think may well be a manifestation of 'evil' is our inability to accept any responsibility when tragedies like this happen. We also deny our complicity in creating events like this.
We have failed to ban assault weapons - not hunting rifles but automatic or semi-automatic weapons used in combat. We have accepted the false narrative that the NRA is all-powerful and unbeatable. Somehow, the now almost routine death of innocent people in malls and schools and theaters has become the price we pay for constitutionally guaranteed freedom to 'bear arms".
Our mental health system has failed miserably. We have not made psychological health a priority for research and/or treatment. The diagnosis of schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder has become a waste-basket term for "we really don't know what to do" except provide medications that cloud the mind and dull the senses and make life for some of those who are affected not worth living - not on medication, anyway.
We do not even bother to understand the difference between a disorder or disability or mental illness. Adam Lanza, the man who was the shooter, is reported to have Asperger's Syndrome - part of the spectrum of Autism. Many people who have never heard about Asperger's Syndrome will now erroneously connect it with pathological violence and murder.
Here is an essay written by a person with Asperger Syndrome. It reads, in part:
"Asperger's does not determine the content of your character - it simply channels whoever you are into unconventional and sometimes highly enlightening pathways. If it is indeed the case that the gunman had this disability, then he was a psychotic who happened to have Asperger's, not someone who was psychotic because of that condition. I hope very much that this is not how people are first introduce to the disability, because there couldn't be a starker departure from its actual nature."Even so, there will be people who will not - can not, indeed, can't be bothered to - make the distinctions between a disorder / disability and psychosis / mental illness. They just need a handy wastebasket into which to throw their confusion and guilt - a handy hook on which to hang conflicting emotions.
Anything to not accept responsibility or systemic complicity when tragedies happen.
We all want to be innocent. We are not.
We all want our hands clean of horrid tragedies. They are not.
So, we rationalize ("Thousands more children die outside of schools than inside." "More children die of hunger than at the end of a gun." "Seventy children were shot to death in Norway which has some of the toughest gun control in the world").
We blame others. Or, the personification of parts of ourselves we'd rather not admit we have. Evil. Satan. Beelzebub. Lucifer. Mammon. The Son of Perdition. The Devil - who made me do it.
People who are mentally ill are not evil. They are just as capable of doing evil as people who are not mentally ill, but their mental illness does not make them evil.
Here is an essay written by the mother of a mentally ill child. She tells the story of one incident with her 13 year old son and then writes:
I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am James Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.It's difficult to talk about guns. It shouldn't be, but it is.
It's difficult to talk about mental illness. It shouldn't be, but it is.
And, it's time to talk about both of these issues.
My friend asked, "Why, then, does evil exist?"
"Because I believe there is good in the world. Because I believe there is balance in the world - between good and evil. Because I believe the world sometimes get out of balance and bad things happen to good people and good people do bad things. Because it is the terrible, awful price to pay for the gift of free will."
I believe that with all my heart.
Which is also why I don't think Adam Lanza was evil. I believe he was ill. I think the social stigma and isolation he experienced because of his disorder (Asperger Syndrome) must have been impossible and overwhelming for him.
What happened to those innocent children and adults was a a terrible, awful tragedy. Adam Lanza is not evil. I do not believe he did - or, could - make a choice for evil.
The world got out of balance because good people sometimes don't know how to deal with people who are different and disordered. Good people want to be innocent. And, evil had the opportunity to outweigh good.
As Edmund Burke once said,
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (sic) to do nothing."Fred Rogers of "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood" has some wonderful advice for parents of children in the midst of disasters like what happened in Newtown, Connecticut.
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."In the days and weeks ahead, let us look for the helpers. They are the ones who are choosing good over evil.
Indeed, in the days and weeks ahead, be one of the helpers who work for sanity in legislation about weaponry and help for those who are mentally disabled, disordered or psychologically ill.
Choose good. Choose life. For yourself and others.
In so doing, I believe we will help the world find our balance again.