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sandyhookLast week’s mass murder in Connecticut was so appalling that we find ourselves trying to fit it into a theory, to blunt its emotional impact with rational gauze. That, more than cynical posturing, explains why people are so quick to spin interpretations. And they come thick and fast: This sort of thing is what happens to punish us for…

•lax gun control laws
•lax divorce laws
•violent movies
•the culture of death
•worldliness and lack of prayer.

I don’t know what these murders mean. I suspect that they mean nothing. By committing them, the killer struck a ferocious blow for Nothing. That is the point someone makes by killing the woman who bore him, then slaughtering random children, then killing himself: Being itself is hateful, and he wants to blot it out as much as he can. The “Anarchist” in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent began by embracing violence to bring on political change, then fell in love with his means and forgot his end: He developed a spiritual fetish for mayhem, bombs, and death. Since God’s very essence is His existence, this is the most comprehensive rejection of God that is possible.

Such a negation of the Good is so perverse that it doesn’t reward our thinking about it. Without good reason and solemn guidance, we shouldn’t read accounts of exorcisms, or autobiographies of serial killers—lest we open ourselves to the darkness that they contain.

Because not one of us is immune. Every sin we commit is a “No” that we say to Being. A soul that is damned is one that has comprehensively preferred “No” to “Yes,” typically because saying “Yes” entails a surrender: The greatest “Yes” in human history was spoken by Mary to the angel, and the way she said it is telling: “Be it done unto me….” Every act, however great, can only be good if it follows upon a surrender to the nature of things, to the moral law, a code of honor, a greater good than one’s own. That is why those who sacrifice to save the helpless are greater, and vaster of soul, than those who wield earthly power for petty motives. Saint Maximilian Kolbe renders Hitler…ridiculous.

The “glamour” of evil, when seen clearly in daylight, is a residue found in the toilet. It is squalid, and stupid, and vulgar. When we think of those killers who sought out infamy by public murders, the healthy response is not so much anguish but holy contempt. They wanted to make their names by blotting out the Good? Then their names are not worth mentioning. The very thought of them should make one want to hold one’s nose and flush.

They tried to do something. They failed. The Good survives them, and thrives—though wrapped as it always is in a crown of thorns. Let’s make that Good the subject of our prayers. Yes, let us pray for the victims, whose earthly lives were cut short, that they will be welcomed in heaven. But much more than that, let us pray for their families. How many of them will lose hope in life, lose trust in people, lose faith in God? I cannot conceive what I would say to one of these grieving people in person. I hope that none of them read this in case it seems presumptuous. But I think I know what the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit is saying to each of these battered, mourning souls:

Don’t let him win. He wanted to blot out life and hope, to bring more souls into the darkness he embraced. He wanted to spread despair, to blot out God, to drag each one of you down with him. Don’t follow him.

Rabbi Emil Fackenheim is famous for answering those who cited the Holocaust as evidence for atheism: “Thou shalt not give Hitler a posthumous victory.” Every birth of a Jewish child, he said, every faithful prayer offered despite the shadows, was a blow struck against the Shoah. The good rabbi had it right.

And yes, at some point much, much later, we should throw in a prayer for the murderer—that after really hideous suffering in Purgatory (and it’s okay for us to picture that, if it helps), he might save his wretched soul. At some point, that’s worth mentioning. But it’s unseemly to mention it now, as it was unseemly to put the names of the hijackers on the 9/11 memorial in Pennsylvania. Such “charitable” grandstanding is simply perverse, and can render Christianity repulsive. Prayers said for the killer should be said, but silently and discreetly. We should pray that the murderer and his Master will be frustrated even in this—in their wish to damn his soul. Grant Satan no posthumous victories.

For now, while grief is fresh, a decent regard for the normal human impulses God gave us—which include, as Aquinas taught, anger—demands that we mourn, and rage, and flush.

Mr. Zmirak’s book and other books relating to the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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8 replies to this post
  1. At one point in the Strauss-Kojeve debates recorded in On Tyranny, Kojeve contends that since the Global Homogenous State will provide satisfactory and universal recognition for all citizens, there will no longer be any substantive causes for war, the friend-enemy dialectic will cease. Strauss replied characteristicaly, that given ideal conditions of universal recognition, humans will resort to killing for nothing. We have born witness to this ever since 9/11. So to this extent, I agree with Mr. Zmirak (and Strauss).

    That said, the problem of weapons proliferation is a real one. Lincoln warned us in his time that tyranny would be upon us if democratic government did not curb mob law, because law abiding citizens would lose comfidence in constititional government and turn to Caeser to keep them safe.

    We risk the same with regard to the right to bear arms. If advocates of
    this right are not at the forefront of good reform, they will find themselves eventually subject to bad reform.

    I think all lethal guns ought to be banned gradually and replaced (gradually) by nonlethal weapons (stun guns). I am working on a paper to that effect, because I think the idea would respect all rights and pub
    Iic safety. Thus forgive my statement of a controversial position with no arguments to back it up – they are coming.

    One final point: do a morally corrupt people who prove time and again incapable of governing themselves deserve the right to bear arms? Can Americans with their culture of decadence now enjoy the rights enjoyed by our Fathers whose culture was one of self restraint and responsibility for family and town?

  2. "Do a morally corrupt people who prove time and again incapable of governing themselves deserve the right to bear arms?" A morally corrupt people deserve no rights at all. God, in His wisdom and love, grants them rights anyway, knowing there is a remnant who will use them responsibly.

  3. Mister Zmirak, Mister Reagan said privately, to his wife, that after he was shot he thought it inappropriate to pray for his own life, and so in the ambulance he prayed for the parents of the young man who had shot him. So both of you are on the side of the angels. By the way, your good-marketing/bad-Catholic pose is blessedly clever and your secret is safe with me. I love it when the Holy Ghost (and his pals) play tricky. The bad guys must, as the Dutch say, "shit seven colours"!

    Mister Rieth, do please present a separate post of your own and, in which case, suggest how criminals may be convinced to trade firearms for stun-guns and over what time. Meanwhile I ponder a post on whether gun-ownership and concealed-carry laws save more lives (innocent and not) than otherwise. The problem is not logic, but rather fitting numbers to it (i.e., when a woman pulls a gun from her purse and wards off an assailant has she avoided abduction, rape and even death and has she even reported the event?). Despite the problematic numbers, the results look unassailable.

  4. I certainly do not want to derail the thread from its' explicit purpose, and I will gladly return to this subject (lethal vs nonlethal arms) at a later time. The paper I am working on is written in Socratic form, so all of the usual arguments on all sides should hopefuly be addressed. Mr. Zmirak's post happened to coincide with my writing on the same subject. I imagine many of us have thought about the recent tragedies. I will likely post my thoughts on my own blog, which for now is in its test phase:

    That said, I will leave it at saying that it is necessary to separate the problem of evil from the problem of the access that evil intent has to evil means. I suppose I am a romantic idealist, and refuse to accept these killings as the "new normal". There must be something we can all do as a nation. The paper I am working on is one small idea.

  5. I appreciate the idea–saying yes to life and no to death.

    Perhaps we all would benefit if we never learned anything about the mass murderers, their crimes being too heinous to "dignify" with an "excuse."

  6. The beauty of a soul longs for its Maker. When we see those that have stepped out of the light and watch as they seem to wholly embrace darkness, it should be an observance of anguish for our fellow. Instead, how easily do we turn to hate the sinner? Obviously, we are the choir but need reminding that souls-every soul-matters.

    John, you write superbly. (And yes, if you make it to GMU, I might take a trip, too. Watson would love it.)

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