One of my students asked me today, “What kind of person would do that?” It was a question that stopped me in my tracks.
We were talking about the killings that have been happening in Chinese elementary schools, and it was a seemingly innocent and understandable question, and maybe even one that seems a bit trivial or naive. But it bit deep into a real issue that I think really does bother most people when we read something like this.
So I thought for a moment, trying to answer this student, and was shocked at my own incomprehension. What would make a person do that to anyone, let alone 5 year old children who have never done anything to harm him? As I struggled, it dawned on me that the answer was that no human really would. It makes me think of Frank Herbert’s classic novel Dune, and the test of the Gom Jabbar, where the point of the test is to make sure our young hero, Paul, is really human. Herbert suggests that some people are not really human, and the test is one of the greatest parts of that book, and it dives into a huge realm of psychology about the “nature” of human beings and how they react to fear.
Fear really is the thing that makes us understand who we really are. And it is the place where we either abdicate our humanity, or accept and utilize that which makes us wholly unique on this planet. This man in China was not human. At least not anymore. He was lashing out indiscriminately, as a wounded animal might at its own rescuers. But does this really even explain the whole thing? In reality, it does not. We are still faced with the complete horror of what this man did. And the inability to understand it. An injured animal may lash out at someone who is trying to rescue it, but that is because it fears more harm. But an injured animal almost never goes looking for another animal or object to harm, as this man did. Injured animals usually are only dangerous if you cross their path. But this man, unlike a wounded animal, sought out innocents and lashed out at them, suggesting something even more than fear and woundedness.
As I thought about all of this, I realized there was an answer, and it was incorporated all in the idea that no normal person or animal would do something like this. And that answer is the fact that there are forces in our world – like Gandalf would say: forces for good and forces for evil. And they are not human. Those forces for evil would kill little children like that. That is what they do.
I know it sounds strange, or even cheesy to say that. But look around you. We know that we believe in supernatural forces. They’re everywhere in TV and the movies. So do we really believe in them, or do we only think about that as a form of entertainment? It reminds me of the original Dracula by Bram Stroker. The characters in the book try many different things to save Lucy by using science, but everything fails. And it is Dr. Van Helsing’s refusal to name the evil that is causing her sickness that eventually kills her. When Mina is also bitten by Dracula, the characters of the book finally realize that they must face this evil, which they do. Look at that version of Dracula and its message, and then look at the (ahem) crap vampire moves being made today, and I think that sums up how our culture has changed in its view of evil.
Will we wake up and realize that there is evil in the world, and that it isn’t just in us? Because it is that very denial of evil that gives it the power over us that it has. As J.K Rowling penned into Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” And that series also brings in those classic elements. How much greater was Voldemort’s power because so many did not believe that he had come back? And how long will we refuse to acknowledge that there is a supernatural evil? He may have many names, but we cannot ignore his existence. You can call him Satan, you can call him Beelzebub, Lucifer, or whatever. The important thing is to look around you at the world today and see through all the technology and all the science (which are their own religion and mythologies), and realize that there are things that will never be quantified or numerically categorized. To ignore something because you can’t see it never changes the fact that the things still exists. You can believe as hard as you want that a car is not made of steel, but no matter what, standing in the middle of the road will end in the same result.