Skepticism

Wingnuts or geniuses?

In case you haven’t heard, a disenfranchised Christian went on a shooting spree at two churches in Colorado this weekend, before being shot himself by the armed security guard at the second church (pity God isn’t powerful enough to protect them).

Matthew Murray, who was kicked out of a missionary training center where the first shooting occurred, is believed to have posted the message on a Web site for people who have left evangelical religious groups. His most recent post was Sunday morning in the hours between his attacks in Arvada and Colorado Springs, according to KUSA-TV in Denver, which first reported on the writings.

“You Christians brought this on yourselves,” Murray wrote, according to the station, which did not identify the site. “All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you … as I can especially Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world.”

The language in the post is almost identical to the text of a manifesto written by Eric Harris, one of the teens who carried out the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, The Denver Post reported.

The online posts spanned several weeks, the station said, and in an earlier one, Murray appeared to reject offers of psychological help.

“I’ve already been working with counselors. I have a point to make with all this talk about psychologists and counselors `helping people with their pain,'” he wrote, according to KUSA.

(empasis mine)

My husband says someone needs to write a book about the truths that these nut jobs, like Ted Kaczynski, have to say because although they take actions that in my mind are unconscionable, they are often not insane or wrong in their evaluation of the problems in society. They resort to violence because no other form of protest seems to yield any results. I think he has a point.

This is all so sad, but everyone seems to be ignoring the root causes, just blaming each individual for being troubled or unbalanced.

writerdd

Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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25 Comments

  1. "they are often not insane or wrong in their evaluation of the problems in society. They resort to violence because no other form of protest seems to yield any results."

    The source of their fixations may be legitimate, but that doesn't legitimize the fixations themselves. The mentally ill do not resort to violence because other forms of protest are eliminated, but because the illness itself compels them. As a psychologist friend told me once, "There is no logic to an insane mind." Murray was sick, he may have had real gripes about the church, but he could have fixated on any other institution in his life, family or school for example, with similar tragic results.

  2. I think this guy, Matthew Murray, was probably mentally ill. There are reports that he heard voices. But I do think we are sometimes quick to label people that commit outrageous acts as insane as a way of helping to rationalize it. But under the right circumstances many of us could do "evil" things.

  3. I’m saying that I don’t know if all of these people actually are mentally ill.

    The problem here may be that you're still trying to think of "mentally ill" as something intrinsic, eternal, and especially separate from normallity.

    First of all, not all mental illness is "built in" — even "normal" people can also be broken by their experiences, especially by abusive treatment. Of course, some people have borderline conditions that can be aggravated by stress or abuse! Desperate people are also famously irrational, and there's a lot of that going around…. There really isn't such a bright line between "normality" and "insanity" — the situation of a society, and the behavior of its authorities, can make a huge difference in who gets written off as "not fit for society".

    In modern times, most mental illnesses are quite treatable — but without investment by society at large, that's just not going to happen. All those schizophrenics on the street are there precisely because society couldn't be bothered to keep their institutions running, nor to build the "halfway houses" that were supposed to let them rejoin society. An alarming number of the various "amok killers" were known to be violent and of dubious judgment, but they couldn't get proper treatment, or were dumped out of treatment when their insurance/funding ran out.

  4. I'm just saying that the people doing these things are not really the problem. They are symptoms of larger societal problems and no one is paying attention to that because they just write off the perps as being crazy.

  5. Well, I think it is rather justified to blame society in general as the root cause for most of these so-called crazies. It's also very easy. My guess is that the world has always been screwed up, there has never been an ideal society, and there always has been a certain percent of the population who decides (whether as a protest, a compulsion, or something else) to strike back violently.

    Could we take steps to ensure such things happen less frequently? Oh, I'm sure we could. I don't know what those steps would be, but better mental health care (as David Harmon alluded to) would be a start. But no matter what, you're looking at a percent of people who are going to think that guns, or bombs, or planes, are the right way to strike back at an uncaring, depressing world. And if those things aren't available (and what's NOT available to someone willing to try hard enough?) there's always knives, cars, garrotes, molotovs, rocks, etc.

    I guess what I'm saying is that, while "crazy" might not be the right word for it, and while society and especially certain high-pressure societal groups (like religious sects) share some of the blame, these actions are still considered an abnormal response to such strain by the majority of the population. Now, should that always be the basis for laws? I'm not sure, as some things I consider 'normal' (such as homosexuality, perhaps) are rather unpopular and even, to an extent, have been considered "mental illnesses" in the past.

    Plus, we've gotta be careful with correlation and causation as well. While often times these events have a religious undertone, we've got to wonder whether it's the religion that "broke" these people, or whether they were drawn to certain aspects of religion BECAUSE they had already been broken by society (or, indeed, had legit psychological issues). Schizophrenics, for instance, are often drawn towards religion or believe themselves to be receiving messages/orders from some sort of god. So it's a sticky, and not altogether clear, issue all around.

  6. I think I know what you're trying to say; I had a similar reaction after Columbine. It's not that the response was at all reasonable or admirable, but that the grievances were possibly genuine. There was a lot of finger-pointing in the media, and the concept that these kids had legitimate feelings was completely pooh-poohed. I don't know enough details about this incident to know if it is parallel in any way, but I have a feeling that's what you're getting at…

  7. Well, knowing myself as I do, I can understand and empathize clearly with the "snapped" like Mr. Cho of VT, or the like. I was throughout my academic career bullied and tormented by the popular people.

    It's tough for me to condemn, because I have to ask myself "How much more would it have taken for me to break?" I could have been just like that. I have the same helpless rage and anger and hatred in me.

    But it seems to me that religion can be a wonderful catalyst for bringing out all the darkest bits of one's psyche to the light of day. And that is quite often beyond horror.

    Sorry I'm not coherent; I'm tired.

  8. Expatria: You make excellent points in general, but this one especially warrants further discussion: these actions are still considered an abnormal response to such strain by the majority of the population.

    … or are they really? What worries me is that for some time, this sort of thing has been getting, not merely more common, but more, well, typical, and every time it happens, it darkens a line in our collective map of "how people behave in general".

    Way back when the British were originally occupying Malaysia, they encountered an interesting native "custom" called amok. Every so often, some some previously well-behaved native, pressed beyond endurance by the vicissitudes of life, would pick up a dagger, run out in the street, and start attacking all comers until the neighborhood banded together to overwhelm and kill him. As I heard the story, the custom died out rapidly under British occupation… apparently, because the British soldiers would typically not shoot down the offender, but instead capture them and try them as criminals and/or commit them as madmen.

    Now, of course, we've got a steady increase in the numbers of the desperate and disempowered, and a media even more willing to publicize every such incident to the entire nation. Not to mention way too many police officers who are all too eager to cooperate with a "suicide by cop", plus the issues with mental-health care I mentioned above.

    While I'm at it: … think that guns, or bombs, or planes, are the right way to strike back at an uncaring, depressing world. And if those things aren’t available (and what’s NOT available to someone willing to try hard enough?) there’s always knives, cars, garrotes, molotovs, rocks, etc.

    This suggests one of the classic arguments for gun control, which I'd like to pre-empt with some prejudice: Yes, in practice there's always some limit to what most people can get hold of. Yes, if we could keep such people from getting guns, they'd certainly have a lot fewer victims. Unfortunately, the status quo of American gun availability makes the latter suggestion homologous to "if your aunt had balls, she'd be your uncle". ;-)

  9. I'm sorry, but a church that people voluntarily go to is not to blame for all the problems in the world. I don't think this person sounds like they have clear insights into much of anything: it sounds like if, at best he wasn't mentally ill, then he was irrationally inflating some personal disagreements and frustrations into "all the problems in the world." That's childish, not insightful.

    I've been covering the phenomenon of highly religious vs. non-religious interpretations of major events: like being brave, or grieving a bit tonight, but maybe I need to cover the phenomenon of being a psycho-asshole with a death wish, and what's wrong with that. :)

  10. Bad, you don't need to apologise. Always approach with extreme skepticism anyone who thinks they know who or what is to blame for all or most of the problems in the world.

    Of course, as you suggest, in some circumstances it may be possible for me to point to a single cause of most of my problems.

  11. David Harmon: I certainly wasn't making an argument for gun control…I don't know if you interpreted my statement as saying so, but it was more of a "even if they are controlled, someone who wants one here will find one" type of thing, which is more along the lines of what you were saying.

    I will add that I personally don't know if these things are getting more common, not knowing the statistics, or just more widely reported…sort of in the same way that today's panicky "autism epidemic" is, at least in PART, due to better diagnostic techniques picking up on people who earlier might have been misdiagnosed as something else. It wasn't SO long ago, after all, that there was no 24 hour national news, and where stories of any such incidents would have had to spread by far slower means. Not to say that they HAVE NOT been getting more common…just that I don't know for sure.

    Either way, I will agree to a point on the premise that not being able to arrest/treat these sort of people makes this sort of situation more…accepted? But then again, I think that most people who are desperate or ill enough to consider doing something like this today are not going to be terribly phased by the knowledge that, if they don't kill themselves or aren't gunned down…they'll be locked up and/or treated. The example of Malaysia, I think, is only apt to an extent because of the very, very different circumstances in which the situation finds itself here.

  12. I'm sure that most of the people who were killed were decent people. But had this guy gone and shot Pat Robertson or shot up the Discovery Center I would be popping a bottle of champagne open now. I know its wrong of me to say so, but these Christians have had this coming for a long time now. My condolences go out to the families of his victims, but let this serve as a warning to evangelical fundamentalists, persecution and killing won't go unpunished. I want to make it clear that I do not intend this post to sound like a threat. I do not intend to follow in this mans footsteps nor do I suggest anyone else should, what he did was simply terrible.

  13. This was a tragedy.

    There should be no glee that it happened to any particular religion or to any particular church or institution. A week ago a similar tragedy happened at a mall in Nebraska and I did not see a posting on this about the mental illness or the message of that individual. To be honest this is really not much different, a disenfranchised individual takes out his frustration with a gun. Killing innocent individuals.

    We should be looking for causes of this not finger pointing.

    The friendly atheist I think said it best. Out of respect for all people-we should leave blaming or criticism of beliefs that differ from your own out of this thread.
    http://friendlyatheist.com/2007/12/11/this-is-eve

    Instead we be focusing on how science may help us to assist these people before it happens again.

  14. lysistrata, I don't see any glee here.

    But I don't really think Hemant said it best. I read his post, but I don't totally agree with him. Yes it's terribly sad, and I feel very badly for the families of the victims, but there's a lot more to it than just mourning. You even say that in your last line. We need to figure out what the real problem is (not just assigning insanity to the perp), and then try to figure out how to fix it.

  15. Expatria: Agreed, I was actually thinking ahead to "the next GC partisan to come along", and hoping to cut them off at the kneejerks.

    I'd also add that a high-technology environment in general, pretty much implies access to concentrated energy in one form or another.

    most people who are desperate or ill enough … are not going to be terribly phased by the knowledge that, if they don’t kill themselves or aren’t gunned down…they’ll be locked up and/or treated.

    Remember, the idea is that amok is "suicide by proxy". What would faze them would specifically be the idea that they might not "end it all", but instead have to live with the consequences of their actions.

    (And fooey on you for making me look up a four-letter word! ;-))

  16. Actually I think it was pretty well established that the kid in a Nebraska was severely depressed. But I agree that we shouldn't just assume that people who kill other people are crazy. A really good program that deals with this kind of thing is Most Evil on Discovery Times and sometimes Discovery proper.

  17. Expatria:

    I think that most people who are desperate or ill enough to consider doing something like this today are not going to be terribly phased by the knowledge that, if they don’t kill themselves or aren’t gunned down…they’ll be locked up and/or treated.

    Exactly. People who are ill enough to do this don't weigh the consequences. "You know, I could get locked up for this… I guess I won't shoot a bunch of people today after all." It just doesn't happen.

    TomDG:

    But had this guy gone and shot Pat Robertson or shot up the Discovery Center I would be popping a bottle of champagne open now. I know its wrong of me to say so, but these Christians have had this coming for a long time now. My condolences go out to the families of his victims, but let this serve as a warning to evangelical fundamentalists, persecution and killing won’t go unpunished.

    And let it serve as a warning to people who believe in "freedom" and "democracy" everywhere that your vehicles will be blown up in Iraq and Afghanistan and Sudan.

    Yes, it was wrong of you to say so. It was also wrong of you to think it. Nonetheles, thanks for saying it. It's always better to expose wrong arguments to public discourse than keep them bottled up.

    There are excellent arguments against evangelical fundamentalists. This was not one of them.

  18. Pseudonym wrote:

    And let it serve as a warning to people who believe in “freedom” and “democracy” everywhere that your vehicles will be blown up in Iraq and Afghanistan and Sudan.

    Yes, it was wrong of you to say so. It was also wrong of you to think it. Nonetheles, thanks for saying it. It’s always better to expose wrong arguments to public discourse than keep them bottled up.

    There are excellent arguments against evangelical fundamentalists. This was not one of them.

    It may not be a good argument, but if your goal is to look for reasons why peole go on killing sprees, I'm afraid it doesn't serve anyone to only look at the politically correct reasons. People are, after all, often not politically correct. I mean, look at 9/11 of all things. The main reasons those guys were ticked off at the US was probably all the same things which it's politically incorrect to suggest as causes. That doesn't mean those things aren't to blame. But then again, it also doesn't suggest those things are bad, or that eliminating those reasons will automagically fix everything that's wrong with the world.

    As for gun control, well, killing sprees have now reached the gun-controlled nations of Europe as well. Of course, our crazies have to content themselves with pistols and/or hunting rifles, as fully automatic heavy military equipment is still proving to be just a tad more difficult to get a hold of (and more likely to get you arrested well before you can execute your plan).

    Who knows, perhaps there may be something to that GC argument after all …

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