Evil as Utter Irrationality


St. Augustine of Hippo as pictured during the ...

St. Augustine of Hippo as pictured during the Renaissance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The shootings at Aurora, Colorado reveal the irrationality of evil acts. I do not know whether the shooter is mentally ill–that will be determined in a psychiatric evaluation–but in the U.S. legal system he is held responsible if he knew the difference between right and wrong when he committed his crimes. What strikes me about this tragedy is its utter senselessness. This reminds me of Augustine’s notion of evil–that turning away from God, one’s highest good, is a supremely irrational act. It is as irrational as Esau’s giving up his birthright for a bowl of soup. Killing one’s fellow human beings (apart from situations of self-defense) is ultimately irrational, even if a killer goes through a reasoning process in planning a murder or murders. Sometimes it is difficult to find the causal chain of reasoning that a person used to justify and plan a murder. I cannot understand what the motive of the Aurora shooter could be. Whitman at the Texas tower–I can understand his actions because a tumor was pressing on the emotional centers of his brain, causing the rage that led him to shoot multiple people from the tower at the University of Texas. In the Colorado case, there seems to be no reason at all for the man to shoot and kill twelve human beings and wound 59 others. Perhaps he was angry with dropping out of graduate school, but how many people in that theater had anything to do with his graduate school career? A few years ago a graduate student killed his adviser, and that, while an evil act, makes some sense. The current situation makes no sense, and reveals evil at its most irrational and dehumanizing. If the shooter did this for attention, he is like a child wanting attention who pushes his baby sister in the water–what the shooter did was childish in the most negative sense. The sheer spitefulness, selfishness, and pride of evil are clear–“I’m going to get the attention I crave by murdering people”). Other people are only “living tools” (Aristotle’s definition of a slave) to the spree killer. They are used to satisfy his own selfish goals. Conscience by this stage has been seared “as with a hot iron,” to use St. Paul’s terminology.

These factors mean that trying to make sense of the incident, at least in terms of the murderer’s motivation, is only helpful in a trial setting. Saying that he was a “loner” is irrelevant, since many people are loners who never commit crimes. My head spins when I think about this case and how stupid human evil ultimately is. What needs to be done is to pray for the victims killed and their families, pray that the wounded will fully recover, and pray that even in a fallen world, an event like this will not be repeated.

The Evil God of Calvinism


Engraved from the original oil painting in the...

Image via Wikipedia

Would a good God predestine some people to Heaven and the rest to Hell no matter what choices people made? The answer seems obvious–except for Calvinists.

The intellectual father of John Calvin was Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. Augustine developed a doctrine which amounted to “single predestination,” the notion that God predestines some individuals to Heaven. Everyone else goes to Hell by default, since all humans have sinned and deserve Hell. In the Confessions, Augustine even believes that unbaptized infants are going to Hell, giving a new meaning to the term “Burn, baby, burn.” Although the Council of Orange in the seventh century softened Augustine’s doctrine for the medieval Roman Catholic Church, John Calvin revived it and made it more radical than before. Calvin, influenced by late medieval Nominalism, believed that everything is subject to God’s sovereign will. He thought that the only way to preserve God’s total sovereignty was to posit predestination. To be fair, Calvin does not consider God’s choice of the saved and the damned to be arbitrary; he leaves it a mystery. But he does seem to accept double predestination–even if he were interpreted to accept single predestination, the result is the same–people are saved or damned without any choice of their own being involved. The seventeenth century Synod of Dort solidified hard line Calvinism into five points: Total Hereditary Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement (Christ only died for the saved), Irresistible Grace (the saved cannot accept or refuse God’s grace–it is granted to them unconditionally and they cannot resist it) and Perseverance of the Saints (“once saved, always saved”). This system is sometimes known as TULIP Calvinism. Contemporary Southern Baptists inconsistently accept perseverance of the saints without accepting a strong view of predestination.

The God of TULIP Calvinism is an evil God, period. Any God who would pick out some people to be in endless bliss with that God forever and choose to damn the rest to eternal misery in Hell is a bully, a monster, utterly unworthy of worship. A doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God is preserved at the cost of God’s goodness. The God of the Bible is a God of love, and love requires mutuality. A good God loves everyone, and everyone has a choice whether to love God and grow in that love. God’s grace is unmerited favor, that is true. None of us “miserable sinners” can stand in God’s presence as justified without His grace. But if we choose to receive that grace, God will help us to fulfill His will and grow in love to Him. God’s love is not arbitrary, it is not cruel, but we must accept that love or else God will let us live forever left to ourselves–and that is Hell. “God is not willing that any should perish, but demands that all men everywhere repent.” Sure, there are passages of Holy Scripture that Calvinists take out of context, but it surely says something about how the early Christians understood Scripture that NO ONE in the early Christian church, NONE of the Church Fathers came up with a Calvin-like doctrine of predestination before Augustine.

If the God of Calvinism existed, I would rather go to Hell, because living with such a deity would be worse than living with Satan himself.