Sand in the Gears

« Home »

Could have been anyone

April 14th, 2009 Posted in Faith and Life, The Art of Parenting

The Columbine killers, a new book says, weren’t twisted little psychopaths who intended to kill dozens. They were one twisted little psychopath and his pathetic sidekick, and they hoped to kill hundreds. But otherwise they were regular kids. USA Today reports this as if it’s news, though the article is strikingly similar to Slate‘s breakdown in 2004.

The point of “addressing the myths of Columbine,” I guess, is to conclude that it can happen, as Dylan Klebold’s father intimated, to anyone. Your kid could be a closet psychopath. Mine could be his erratic, depressed follower. I suppose that can happen to anyone, just as any of us could be killed in a car accident.

There’s little left to say about evil, in a secularized culture with a Christianesque patina, once the tired whipping boys of culture and video games and bullying are laid aside. They weren’t gamers? Weren’t bullied? Weren’t molested or obsessed or wrongly medicated? Well then. Could have happened to anyone.

Pagans centuries ago used to attribute catastrophes and miracles to the gods. We have no gods, and only a shadow of God, and hence no demons. Recently Barna reported that a wide swath of self-reported Christians believe neither in the presence of the Holy Spirit nor of Satan. These beings have been demoted, even in American Christendom, to symbols. Just like the Eucharist, come to think of it. We would do well to remember Flannery O’Connor’s remark about that.

I think perhaps the pagans were wiser. Having no knowledge of I AM, they still had a sense of things moving in the world that lies behind the world of sight. Peering out from their smoky fires into the gathered night, they imagined they could see spirits flitting through the trees. We squint beneath our fluorescent lights at the dissected corpse of a tragedy, and can see only DNA and synapses. Nature’s binary code arrays in most children to NORMAL, but tragically in some it twists to ABNORMAL. Why would two young men dream of slaughtering hundreds? A pin fell out. Could have happened to anyone.

God knows it could. This is why we pray over our children, because even after our lectures and the quiet talks and the good books and the protection from toxic culture, we know pins fall out. We believe as well that there’s a kingdom of darkness whose minions would love nothing more than to pull those pins, to see more confused children become, in their rage and hopelessness, monsters. We pray — how we pray — because it can happen to anyone. But not, God willing, to these little ones. Not on my watch. Not on yours.

Yet we have no language, any more, for saying such things in the national conversation. We conclude the Klebolds and Harrises were good parents because they spent time with their children and sought help for their disturbed psyches, or we assume they are culpable to the point of legal liability because their children were depraved. We none of us can ask whether these parents labored as best they could to bring their children to a knowledge of the Living God, because polite, educated people don’t talk that way.

And more, none of us are empowered — thank God — to judge the answer. But perhaps more of us could recognize that raising a child well is inseparable from showing him as best we can what it means to fall on one’s knees and cry out to the God who loves children. Precisely because it can happen to anyone.