Paul Kengor: Give the devil his due
Our nation yet again finds itself in a dreadful news cycle of sickening tragedy — namely, mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. The tragedy is exacerbated by politicians and pundits playing the blame game.
This time, in August 2019, we have various sources blaming President Trump, as well as predictable arguments about insufficient gun laws, about the shooters being motivated by certain political-ideological beliefs, or customary arguments that the shooters are symptomatic of a culture lacking values, morals, or proper family life.
Another natural explanation is that these shooters are mentally ill. I was surprised at the swift backlash when Trump said just that.
I was readying to check out of a hotel in Washington when I caught a Fox News roundtable debate on Trump’s statement. Two of the pundits, citing a statement from the American Psychological Association, smacked down Trump, stating that the vast majority of people who are mentally ill don’t become mass shooters. Thus, Trump pointing to a “mental health problem” was an unfair slap at the millions diagnosed with some form of mental illness who are not violent.
Fair enough. Still, I see what Trump was trying to say — namely, that these shooters are not normal. Something is seriously messed up.
Personally, I find myself again and again in these episodes retreating to another diagnosis, one that likewise might not apply perfectly in every situation, but I think needs to be acknowledged. This is evil. Plain, pure, unmistakable evil. Evil exists, and this is it, personified.
Of course, many of us say that in these situations. In this case, however, there may be more to it.
Only minutes after the Fox News roundtable debate, the next segment quoted a young woman who knew the Dayton shooter. “He was in a dark place,” she said. “He heard voices in his head.”
She wasn’t the only one saying that. The young man’s former girlfriend attested to him hearing voices, being tormented by “dark, evil things,” and having what was reported as “hallucinations” of some sort. Other friends described him as “kind of dark.”
Given the backlash against Trump describing these shooters as mentally ill, can we dare venture a spiritual explanation? Consider:
What is chilling about the Dayton shooter was that he literally tweeted “Hail Satan” and “HAIL SATAN ETERNAL.” He even ended some tweets with the hashtag #HAILSATAN and stated in his Twitter bio that he was “going to hell” and “not coming back.”
I don’t want to overdo things here. The degree to which this young man might have been devoted to the devil, possibly bordering the demonic, is something I certainly don’t know. I suppose we would need testimony of exorcists as well as psychologists. I do mention it, however, because it’s a fresh reminder that no matter how many excuses we try to come up with after these horrible tragedies that are so revoltingly common, we should never shrug off the reality that these episodes prove first and foremost that evil exists.
It has been said that the existence of evil is the most verifiable reality of the universe. It has also been said that the devil’s greatest trick has been to convince modern man that he doesn’t exist. It looks the Dayton shooter would have begged to differ.
Paul Kengor is a professor of political science and chief academic fellow of the Institute for Faith & Freedom at Grove City College.