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Portrait of a Murder as a Young Man

06-28-2015Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

A portrait of a murderer as a young man.

Much has been said and written about the motivations and causes for the young man who massacred nine people at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. For sure we can never fully unravel the twisted darkness of evil but we can at least examine it by parts to learn how to disarm it.

The first thing that always crosses my mind when I hear of these violent tragedies is "what chemicals was the perpetrator using or withdrawing from"? In this case we quickly learned (often the drug history of killers is kept from the public under the guise of medical confidentiality) he was a regular drug user including the prescription drug Suboxone (which is more recently being used by the medical industry to treat symptoms of narcotic withdrawal, especially heroin and other opiates and to replace methadone since users don't have to go to a clinic to obtain each dose). The drug is indicated for short-term use but many people stay on the drug for a very long time. While it does not have the intoxicating power of heroin it does distort thinking and reflexes (which is why most psychotropic drugs including alcohol and medical marijuana, have warning labels that tell you not to drive or operate heavy equipment while taking the drug). Additionally Suboxone is known to push young people into highly anti-social and destructive behavior. As usual the focus is on guns but it is time we start looking at the role psychoactive and mind-altering drugs play in these mass shootings.

Now add to that the fact that this young man's heart was marinated in racial hatred and probably a lot of teenage anger and had a firearm you get a lethal combination. Unfortunately no one seemed to perceive the depth of the evil that he had sown in his heart but they should have put together at the very least that his drug use and having a gun is a prescription for disaster. Still no one intervened.

This young killer recently reacquainted with a friend via Facebook that he had not seen in quite some time. The friend said that his schoolmate ranted about racial segregation and that blacks were taking over the world and someone needed to do something about it and that he had a plan. The friend also saw the gun that would later be used to commit the mass killing. At one point after they had been drinking the friend hid the gun realizing that being drunk with a .45 caliber pistol might be dangerous but then gave it back the next morning. The friend when asked why he didn't tell anyone about his friends' racial rants and threats of violence simply said, "I don't judge."

There in lies one of the biggest problems we face in our society. The idea that we 'don't judge" is a mangled version of Jesus words in Matthew 7: "Do not judge lest you shall be judged." Jesus does not mean that we should not use our faculty of reason to judge between right and wrong actions. After all just a little later in the chapter Jesus tells us to offer fraternal correction: "when your brother sins against you, go tell him his fault…" What Jesus is asking us not to do is condemn someone or make rash judgments or stay silent about sinful behavior but rather offer them the path to reconciliation. Since we ourselves are sinful we should therefore approach others with humility. In Matthew 7, Jesus is teaching his disciples that we need to first scrutinize and judge our own actions so that we maintain our integrity. And beyond ourselves, it is an act of love to offer correction to a brother or sister who is clearly placing their soul in mortal jeopardy.

We have a moral code from which we can measure behaviors and even speech. That will require judgment of some sort. However since our culture likes to pride itself on not judging we suffer, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, from the "Dictatorship of Relativism". That is, we make every value equal to every other value and therefore can not even judge when an action is superior to another action. So in this case: that not killing is superior to killing or that racial harmony is morally better than racial hatred.

I don't blame the young friend for his failure to act as he and his contemporaries have had the "Don't judge" meme told to them from birth. Terminal Non-Judgmentalism results in all sorts of evil and harmful behaviors being permitted and overlooked and often judged as good.

As a Christian don't let yourself be bullied by others who like to use Matthew 7 to put you in your place and silence any discussion of moral principles. If someone would have taken our brother, the young killer aside and offered fraternal correction expressed in a loving way, who knows the difference it could have made.

Love, Fr. John B.

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