Serial Killers Are Boring

Our world is in the pitifully awkward position of informing us that our gravest sins are not sinful at all, while damning the most modest and the most innocent of our vices. Thus we have it that abortion and euthanasia are in and with-it, masturbation is healthy, pornography is good for your marriage, sodomy is an old-fashioned, oppressive term…and it is illegal to smoke in a bar. (I mean, my dear man! We do have standards, you know.)  The daring and exciting – Kinky Sex OMG! – is toted as normal, while boring, old, human vice – smoking, drinking and punching other men – is outlawed, banned, damned for ever existing. There is no shame in killing babies, but you better be sure you follow the sign: ‘employees are legally required to wash their hands before returning to work.’

The problem with this atitude is that when the most unnatural, audacious of sins are entirely allowed and accepted they do not become a satisfying, natural part of our culture; they become excruciatingly boring. Think about it. If you entirely objectify women through pornography, well then, she is no more exciting than an object. If you make sex a biological act that need no moral scruples attached to it, then it is as exciting as a biological act, and should be performed with as much vigor as is appropriated to similar acts, like sweating and creating mucus. If you masturbate every night, then masturbation is as much a rebellious, pleasure-seeking act as going to sleep; a similar nightly routine. Our world, by it’s lack of virtue, makes sin boring. And when sin is boring there are only two possible actions: A man might convert, and leave the sin behind, and become a saint, or he might move on to a greater sin. For men do not desire boredom.

This I maintain, that the most bored man in the world is not an obese aristocrat with an inherited fortune and nothing to do. He is not the prisoner in a cell, nor the teenager with 7000 video games and no friends, nor the patient confined to the bed, nor you – sitting at your computer, trying to find a way to make the hours go away. No, the most bored man in the world is the serial killer.

A quote from our man Walker Percy would be helpful here.

“The word boredom did not enter the language until the eighteenth century. No one knows its etymology. One guess is that bore may derive from the French verb bourrer, to stuff [...] Boredom is the self being stuffed with itself.”

Likewise, the phenomenon of the serial killer – in actuality as in literature – is a modern phenomenon. To be sure, there were a few mass murderers and pre-cursors to the depraved nihilists we have this misfortune of knowing today – but they were few, and small potatoes compared to the evil of the 20th century. I do not believe that these two phenomenons – the development of the concept of boredom and the rise of the serial killer – are unrrelated. They both result from the fact that our modern world has made sin boring.

To be clear, I do not speak of ‘natural’ psychopaths, that is to say, of individuals with utterly no concept of morality from the moment of their birth. Whether they actually exist is beyond me, because we only test for psychopathy after a few, vital years of child-rearing and environmental conditioning, in which the world and the family have the breath-stopping opportunity to make whole or crush their child. No, I am speaking of Ted Bundy.

A man who as a child, looked at softcore pornography. When that could no longer thrill him, he moved to hardcore pornography. When that could no longer thrill him; onwards to violent pornography. And when that sin could no longer thrill, he moved to his crimes that need no mention here. The point is that his heinous crimes were not daring, they were not boldly, satanically evil; they were not even insane. They were the cowardly, cringing acts of a bored man. The illicit excitement one man could achieve by simply viewing a naked woman, he had to commit inhuman atrocities to obtain.  He is the man who grew bored and moved on to the next big thing. He – not a society of peace, tolerance and freedom – is the child of a world that says that truly inhuman sins are normal.

And that’s the point. People often get up in arms in this country, crying out that “you can’t legislate morality!” and “we have the right to freedom from religion!” and other rallying cries made up in the last couple of years. And there’s some truth to all this. No one’s going to burst into your bedroom and confiscate your pornography. But when we make serious sin legal, tolerated, widespread and accepted, we make it boring. We invite greater evils that make even the most tolerating, accepting New-Ager shudder. When we legalize pornography, we invite boredom with pornography, and thus we invite child-pornography.

So the world is faced with a choice. Boredom or Sainthood? These seem to me the only options, though one can choose to move slowly in either direction. So why not Sainthood? Because the implication is this; if sin is boring, than Sainthood is exciting. Because Sainthood is seeing everything as it is – whether it be the Holy Mass or pornography. Sainthood seeing everything for the first time, every time. The Saint is never bored.

But for you who are already-saints: There’s a common trend within the Church to fear evil men. We should fear evil, I agree, but never evil men. The proper response to the fact of a serial killer is never one of baffled fear, but one of disgust. These are The Bored. Let us see them and be warned against our sins.

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  • Thomas Banks

    Your first paragraphs reminded me of one of Chesterton’s essays in which he notes that “The same people who see no evil in the drinking of prussic acid see every evil in the drinking of beer.” Well played.

  • Calah Alexander

    Yay! Marc! Huzzah! What a wonderful post. I’m so happy to see you over here at Patheos! Cheers!

  • Guest

    The solution for you then is simple. I can see your problem with abortion. But as for the rest of it, don’t masturbate, watch porn, or cheat on your spouse. No one is making you do those things.

    • enness

      What, does he not have a right to the attempt to persuade others? This is a blog, is it not?

    • JoAnna

      Did he say that someone was?

  • Egosumbarb

    Thanks for this great post. Been feeling really down about the state of the world lately and needed to hear something like this.

  • Karen Burch

    You make some pretty good points, but it’s going too far to either identify or attribute the severe mental illnesses that drive many serious serial killers to boredom. Do they have willpower? Yes. But severe mental illness makes for severe cravings and a relative lack of control, especially if there is no help offered. To simply label serial killers as ‘bored’ degrades the severity of what afflicted them.

    • Dicamiel

      Sociopathy and psychopathy aren’t really afflictions to those who have them, but rather afflictions to those that have to deal with the psychopaths and sociopaths.

    • billybagbom

      You beg the question, “Which came first — the mental illness or the boredom and incrementally-increasing moral corruption?” If I, in spite of common sense and repeated warnings from competent authorities, keep stuffing oily handkerchiefs into my closet day after day, month after month, year after year, and eventually, under compressed and heated conditions these handkerchiefs spontaneously ignite and destroy my home, can I be exonerated of all blame in the matter? I (to bastardize Billy Joel) “didn’t light the fire,” but my freely chosen actions, over an extended period of time, eventually resulted in the disintegration of my living space. Might it not be the same with a lot of “mental illness”? A world in which we could ensure against the Dahmers and Gaceys by simply tweaking the genetic material and environmental conditioning would be a lot more reassuring than one in which people could ultimately transcend their heredity and conditioning by random acts of free will. But neither world would be true simply because we desire it to be so.

  • Karen Burch

    Furthermore, I fundamentally disagree with “The proper response to the fact of a serial killer is never one of baffled fear, but one of disgust.” The proper response is one of compassion. How would Christ have approached these men?

    • Marc Barnes

      My word choice is important here, “the fact of a serial killer”, NOT “a serial killer” is what should disgust us. I absolutely agree with you, that Christ would meet these men with compassion, but the fact of these men – their existence, the culture that raises them – what I actually said – he would meet with the same sort of disgust and anger as when he me Death at Lazurus’ tomb.

    • billybagbom

      Well, given the choice between “baffled fear” and “disgust,” I’d say Christ would be disgusted in response to the depravity of the person He made in His own image. But, as you graciously remind us, those are not the only options. I agree, His primary response is compassion.

  • Emma Madelyn

    Great post! I have recently read a similar blog post about how Catholics can sin better than the sinners-for exactly the reasons you have stated above. People want excitment, so they sin, but it soon loses it’s novelty. Catholics have all the novelty, enjoyment and guilt from sinning that is lacking in a bored sinner.

  • Montague

    I wonder if there are any well read killers of this sort. Reading helps to prevent boredom, as some of the most interesting people are dead people. Who wrote books.

    Because just looking through shut eyes, reduces all the world to your own shuddering, tiny soul. That is pretty much hell, in some ways.

  • Anonymous

    I was somewhat amused by your inclusion of “punching other men” among the list of peccadillos condemned by our modern society. It is funny because it is true, but I personally have never thought of punching people in the face as inherently wrong. It all depends upon who you are punching and why. What I do think is wrong is for a man to go through life not knowing how to punch someone properly. It is even more wrong for a boy to grow up afraid to punch someone properly.

    I’d be interested to see you do a post expanding that phrase a bit. I’m thinking of doing my own as it is, but I’d like to see your point of view.

    • billybagbom

      Your point is well taken. There is a tradition about Saint Nicholas punching the heretic Arius in the face at the First Council of Nicea.

  • Tony

    Very nice post. The idea of not legislating morality always makes me laugh because ultimately laws always legislate morality. Aristotle said the law educates a society as to what is acceptable, unacceptable, honorable, dishonorable, etc. (granted their are other things that educate citizens too, but this is one of the most important). So even laws that don’t aim to “legislate morality” do indeed attempt to inculcate a presumption about the nature of reality whether they mean to or not.

  • billybagbom

    Marc, Did you mean to say “two phenomenoms”? The only reason I ask is that there is a rumor going around that you’re seventeen or eighteen years old, and I could totally understand that you might be a genius of some kind with a few gaps in your education. Or you might just be a philosophical savant but linguistically retarded. Or maybe just a cagey teenager who makes deliberate typos and grammatical errors to lower the bar of expectation upon the unsuspecting infidel who has just unwittingly stepped into your your web(page). You are obviously intellectually gifted (whatever age you are, and please don’t let this go to your head). But inquiring minds want to know.

  • billybagbom

    Okay, having said that: this piece is one of the best critiques of (post)modern secular hedonism I have ever read.

  • billybagbom

    As a Jack Nicholson movie persona once said in a completely different context: “You make me want to be a better man.”