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Have We Become Desensitized to Evil?
Jul 25, 2011
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The first reports that came out about Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer, described him as a “right-wing, Christian fundamentalist.” Here’s how CNN reported the story on July 23, 2011:

A picture is emerging, gleaned from official sources and social media, of a right-wing Christian fundamentalist who may have had an issue with Norway’s multi-cultural society.

CNN never told us what these “official sources” were. Social media? The social media sites were probably repeating what they read from CNN. In reality, Breivik’s worldview is varied and muddled.

Soon after Jared Loughner’s shooting rampage in Arizona in January of this year, conservative talk radio, Sarah Palin, and the Tea Party were blamed. He has been identified as an atheist and a nihilist. Here’s how one report described him:

Over time, Loughner became increasingly introspective — what one of the friends described as a “nihilistic rut.” An ardent atheist, he began to characterize people as sheep whose free will was being sapped by the government and the monotony of modern life.

If you remember, Timothy McVeigh was also said to be a Christian. He was not. In the 2001 book American Terrorist, McVeigh stated, “Science is my religion.”(1) Eric Rudolf, the Olympic Park Bomber (1996), because he was anti-abortion, was also described as a Christian fundamentalist.  Writing in 2004, Michael Shermer and Dennis McFarland claimed that Rudolph’s actions were an example of “religious extremism in America.”(2) But consider the following:

“Many good people continue to send me money and books,” Rudolph writes in an undated letter. “Most of them have, of course, an agenda; mostly born-again Christians looking to save my soul. I suppose the assumption is made that because I’m in here I must be a ‘sinner’ in need of salvation, and they would be glad to sell me a ticket to heaven, hawking this salvation like peanuts at a ballgame. I do appreciate their charity, but I could really do without the condescension. They have been so nice I would hate to break it to them that I really prefer Nietzsche to the Bible.”

Nietzsche is best known for the line “God is dead,” hardly a Christian thought.

Usually peaceful Finland had a crazed shooter in 2007. Not only wasn’t he a Christian, he was an outspoken Darwinist:

“At least seven people were killed when a teenaged gunman opened fire at a school in southern Finland on November 7, 2007 hours after a video was posted on YouTube predicting a massacre there. The gunman was a pupil at Jokela High School, a teacher who witnessed the attack told Reuters, and had walked through the school firing into classroom after classroom. . . . The YouTube video, entitled ‘Jokela High School Massacre—11/7/2007,’ was posted by a user called ‘Sturmgeist89.’ ‘I am prepared to fight and die for my cause,’ read a posting by a user of the same name. ‘I, as a natural selector, will eliminate all who I see unfit, disgraces of human race and failures of natural selection.’ Sturmgeist means storm spirit in German.”(3)

He described himself as “a social Darwinist.”(4)

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and one teacher and injured 24 other students at Columbine High School in 1999. Harris was wearing “a white T-shirt with the inscription ‘Natural Selection’ on its front.” It was based on a video game of the same name. “The game’s World Wide Web site says it encompasses a ‘realm where anything can happen,’ a place for the ‘bravest of the brave and the fiercest of the fierce. … It’s a place where survival of the fittest takes a very literal meaning….It’s the natural way, it’s Natural Selection.”(5)

Now there’s Anders Behring Breivik. Here’s how World Net Daily reports the story having gone through his 1500-page “manifesto”:

Yet, while McVeigh rejected God altogether, Breivik writes in his manifesto that he is not religious, has doubts about God’s existence, does not pray, but does assert the primacy of Europe’s “Christian culture” as well as his own pagan Nordic culture.

Breivik instead hails Charles Darwin, whose evolutionary theories stand in contrast to the claims of the Bible, and affirms: “As for the Church and science, it is essential that science takes an undisputed precedence over biblical teachings. Europe has always been the cradle of science, and it must always continue to be that way. Regarding my personal relationship with God, I guess I’m not an excessively religious man. I am first and foremost a man of logic. However, I am a supporter of a monocultural Christian Europe.”

How could anyone justify killing nearly 100 teenagers even if the cause was right and worthy? There is no legitimate justification for such an act in a moral universe. To inveigh against radical Islam, as Breivik did, and then follow its methods seems so incongruous.

Here’s a theory based on something I read about Kay Haugaard. Haugaard has taught creative writing since 1970. As with most of her classes, students read and discuss Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery.” Jackson’s lottery isn’t about winning millions of dollars by picking the right Lotto numbers; it’s about human sacrifice that a small town accepts and takes part in with no questions asked. Of course, the premise is absurd. Or is it?

As the years of teaching this story have passed, Haugaard began to see a change in the moral perceptions of her students. Their views on right and wrong had been dulled by the rhetoric of moral neutrality, “the danger of just ‘going along’ with something habitually, without examining its rationale and value.”(6) Haugaard’s closing comments are chilling:

No one in the whole class of more than twenty ostensibly intelligent individuals would go out on a limb and take a stand against human sacrifice.

I wound up the discussion. “Frankly, I feel it’s clear that the author was pointing out the dangers of being totally accepting followers, too cowardly to rebel against obvious cruelties and injustices.” I was shaken, and I thought that the author, whose story had shocked so many, would have been shaken as well.

The class finally ended. It was a warm night when I walked to my car after class that evening, but I felt shivery, chilled to the bone.(7)

We’ve become a nation of moral bystanders. Deep down we know certain behaviors are wrong, but we’ve been cajoled into believing that nothing can be said in objection to the new amoral climate. If we do react, we are labeled “intolerant” and “insensitive” to different “lifestyle choices,” for example, the latest immoral atrocity in New York where homosexuals are now permitted to marry. Christians are told that they are not being “loving” when they enter an opposing opinion on moral questions. These changes in moral perceptions and attitudes have been stunning. “After the horrendous crime against the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001, a young Yale student has this observation: ‘Absent was a general outcry of indignation . . . [M]y generation is uncomfortable assessing, or even asking, whether a moral wrong has taken place.’”(8)

We’ve become desensitized to immorality. We’ve so defined deviancy down that it often escapes our notice. There was a time when moral evil was condemned, and people took some action to stop it. The Civil Rights Movement is a good example. “Bull Connor” publicity of how Blacks were treated created moral outrage. This led to public shame of racists and eventual legislation. Today, people are cudgeled into submission by the marketers of social evil and people feel powerless to stop it.

I contend that it’s the absence of a Christian worldview that has gotten us to this place. Christians no longer view this time and place as important and redemptively significant or even possible. We’re always living on the edge of the end. God’s Word only applies to a narrow slice of life. Christian civilization is not possible, and those who once believed in it were “triumphalists.” And yet, what we know of civilization today is a direct result of those Christians who steadfastly applied their worldview to every area of life. They worked hard over time to overturn the effects of moral depravity in the world, not through the power of the sword but with the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. It took time, but Christians once believed in time.

As always, non-Christians benefit from what Christians have built and take advantage of the freedoms afforded them. They are attracted to the fruit of a Christian worldview but reject the root. Over time, with a shift from a Christian worldview that was vibrant, full-orbed, and optimistic to one that became anemic, limited, and pessimistic, culture began to show its cracks. There is no longer a legitimate moral center. Darwinism destroyed it decades ago. Now we are seeing the logical outcome of its “red in tooth and claw” worldview. But it’s not enough to be anti-Darwin. You can’t beat something with nothing, and you certainly can’t rebuild a society on corpses.

America’s economic crisis is a reflection of a deeper moral crisis. It’s a shame that so many Christians don’t see the correlation or the way out of it.Endnotes:

  1. Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck, American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing (New York: Harper, 2001), 142–143.()
  2. The Science of Good and Evil (New York: Times Books, 2004), 235.()
  3. [1]“Seven killed at Finland school after YouTube post,” Reuters (November 7, 2007). An almost identical article by “Sky News” does not include the “natural selector” and “natural selection” comments: http://news.sky.com/skynews/article/0,,30200-1291894,00.html()
  4. David Williams, “Eight shot dead including principal in school massacre predicted in YouTube video,” Daily Mail online (November 7, 2007): www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/worldnews.html?in_article_id=492268&in_page_id=1811()
  5. Kevin Vaughan, “Judge Unseals Autopsy Report on Eric Harris,” Denver Rocky Mountain News (June 25, 1999).()
  6. Kay Haugaard, “The Lottery Revisited,” Unriddling Our Times: Reflections on the Gathering Cultural Crisis, ed. Os Guinness (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 138. Also see Greg A. King, “Though the Heavens Fall.”()
  7. Haugaard, “The Lottery Revisited,” 141.()
  8. Peter Jones, Capturing the Pagan Mind: Paul’s Blueprint for Thinking and Living in the New Global Culture (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 50.()
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About author

Gary DeMar

Gary is a graduate of Western Michigan University (1973) and earned his M.Div. at Reformed Theological Seminary in 1979. He is the author of countless essays, news articles, and more than 27 book titles, His most recent book is Exposing the Real Last Days Scoffers. Gary lives in Marietta, Georgia, with his wife, Carol. They have two married sons and four grandchildren, Gary and Carol are members of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA).

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