Stop Calling the Shooter ‘Evil’

When so heinous an act is carried out that it falls outside the realm of normal human comprehension — like an elementary school massacre — people search desperately for “answers.” This impulse is certainly understandable. The shooter’s motives remain inscrutable, and it is very difficult to imagine what would possess anyone to systematically execute kindergartners.

“Evil visited this community today,” proclaimed Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy in the aftermath. It was a line tailor-made for the newsreels — the state’s chief executive condemning Adam Lanza in the most greivous possible terms.

Adam Lanza

But Malloy’s rhetoric was unhelpful. Such condemnations are easily made; they satiate a yearning for harsh moral judgment in times of crisis. But we have no good reason to suppose that “Evil” — whatever that means, exactly — “visited” Sandy Hook on Friday. Rather, it looks more like a severely disturbed individual perpetrated violent acts.

Lanza’s older brother told police that he suffered from mental illness of some kind, and though this has not yet been confirmed (to my knowledge), it seems like a far more plausible explanation for his behavior than vagaries involving “Evil” — a word which evokes the crudely dichotomistic moral paradigms (i.e. Good vs. Evil) common to monotheistic religion.

These paradigms can inhibit the complex task of honestly assessing mentally ill individuals’ moral agency. If a psychotic person lacks any conception of moral rightness and wrongness, then he cannot be fairly said to act with “Evil” intent. In the same way that we would not declare a toddler “Evil” or an Alzheimers’ patient “Evil,” reflexively imputing “Evil” to the mentally ill is also wrongheaded.

Again, we don’t yet know the full nature of Adam Lanza’s ailment. But recent history is instructive. Observers were similarly quick to denounce spree-killers James Holmes, Jared Loughner, and Seung-Hui Cho as “Evil,” but we later learned that they were all hobbled by extreme mental illness — paranoid delusions, hallucinations, etc. (Both Holmes and Lanza, for what it’s worth, appear to have been exceptionally intelligent.)

Yesterday, Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Convention theologized that “Original Sin” is to blame for Lanza’s acts, and Mike Huckabee has cited the removal of God from public schools as a contributing factor. It is to be expected that these hard-line Evangelical Christians would proffer such explanations — they genuinely believe that Satan actively works to bring about “Evil” in the material world.

But people like Malloy ought to know better, and resist explaining away distressing events with simplistic platitudes. Mental illness remains heavily stigmatized, and the Christian tendency to conflate illness with sin only perpetuates the stigma. Declarations of “Evil” might give temporary solace to traumatized families, but in the long-term, they distract from society’s collective ability to identify and treat diseased people who have violent designs.

About michaeltracey

Journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Follow me on Twitter at @mtracey.

  • José Reyes

    Something I’ve found really absurd is all these fundamentalists saying that the massacre happened because we’re “taking God out of schools,” but what about the highly secular schools in many European countries? I’ve yet to see daily massacres in those countries.
    Also, if these things happen because we’ve “strayed far from God,” then it means that He isn’t “all-loving” and completely merciful.

    • Coyotenose

      Something I’ve found really absurd is all these fundamentalists saying
      that the massacre happened because we’re “taking God out of schools,”
      but what about the highly secular schools in many European countries?

      This is one of many arguments they make whose logical conclusion is that they themselves believe Americans are less moral and ethical than Canadians or Europeans on average and need more policing. And they rage when that’s pointed out.

  • Bob Daniel

    Personally, I use the word “evil” to describe anything from a serial killer to a wicked barbecue sauce. It’s like the word “good”. It only has religious baggage if you let it. I don’t suggest that someone who is acts in an evil way is possessed by a demon any more than I suggest that someone who acts in a good way is possessed by an angel. It’s just words to describe behaviour. Or barbecue sauce.

    • 3lemenope

      Indeed. I think it is reasonable to be a little gun-shy about assigning “evil” to a person (as opposed to an act) until their motivations can be properly assessed, but that’s not a good reason to discard the descriptive term entirely. 

    • Tom_Nightingale

      “It’s like the word ‘good’”

      *substitutes “good” in for “evil”*

      “I use the word good to describe anything from a serial killer to a wicked barbecue sauce”

      What??

      • DeviousSoybeans

        I don’t believe Bob was suggesting “evil” is a synonym for “good.” Rather, it seems he was suggesting that the word “evil” need not have any more religious connotations than its antonym. 

        • Tom_Nightingale

          Of course he’s not, because he says he uses “evil” to describe serial killers.  And forget about religious, the discussion was about supernatural connotations.  Religious people aren’t the only supernaturalists.

          • Bob Daniel

            “Rather, it seems he was suggesting that the word “evil” need not have any more religious connotations than its antonym. ” — yes, exactly. Or supernatural connotations. Same thing, really.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Walsh/100000292911318 Joe Walsh

         Challenge Accepted!
        Adolf Hitler was a good serial killer, over 6 million kills in under 30 years. 

        *I become a horrendous prick when ever i see someone, as far as i can tell, deliberately misunderstanding simple concepts.

  • Librepensadora

    Chris Rodda has posted on her blog a long list of American school shootings from before the Supreme Court decisions striking down compulsory prayer and Bible reading.  The events cover just over a hundred years.  Sad chronicle, but it does put the lie to all those idiot fundies blaming the Constitutional separation of politics and religion for what happened.

  • AlaJackd

    And you wonder why everyone thinks you leftists are political correctness nazis…. 

    • 3lemenope

      “…you leftists…”

      ROFL.

      • AlaJackd

        I perfer the term “Bigots” myself… for the looney, anti-Christian left.

        • 3lemenope

          And so for those of us on the Right who think that Christianity is a baleful influence on policy, politics, and society in general, what epithets do you have lined up for us?

          Make it creative.

          • AlaJackd

            You sir, are not on the “Right” … Just a wild guess, but you have a preference for government to enable, are pro-abortion, pro gay marriage… etc…

            • 3lemenope

              I see. So Barry Goldwater was not “on the Right”. Right?

              Idiot.

              • AlaJackd

                 Goldwater was a social liberal.

                • 3lemenope

                  Aaaaand here we go with the classics. No True Scotsmen, weasel words, equivocation, moving the goalposts. 

                  I think there should a song. You know, like “How a Bill Becomes a Law” from Schoolhouse Rock, but for proper argumentation. I mean, ponens and tollens rhyme, thankfully, but what do you do with syllogism?

                • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

                  3lemenope, AlaJackd has established a pattern of behaviour and talking points throughout this site that mark him an ideologue. He’s a member of the Real America™. You know how THAT goes.

                • 3lemenope

                  I particularly liked the part where he just *knew* what I thought about a whole host of issues. He must just feel it in his balls; the feeling they give him would never steer him wrong! 

                • Coyotenose

                   Have you noticed that many “Conservatives” seem to think that they are psychic? They just know what someone is REALLY thinking, even when it conflicts with everything that person has ever said or done.

                  I suspect that in many cases it’s a sort of Dunning-Kruger thing: they lack practice at sympathizing with other positions, so they’re ignorant of how it works. Therefore, they tend to assume that they understand it well and mistakenly apply their own characterstics to others.

                  That and some of them are just the sort of people who stalk atheist blogs, lie to get reasons to be offended, and are stupid enough to believe that people will fall for it.

                • Coyotenose

                   I instantly thought of three rhymes for that, and they were all NSFW. Clearly I need fewer Onlines.

            • Coyotenose

               He’s very solidly on the Right, and worth reading whether or not I agree with him.

              Contrast that with you, who got schooled several dozen times this weekend for pissing and moaning over concepts you didn’t even understand in the first place, then bravely ran away from all the refutations of your posts.

    • Sven2547

      Oh please.
      The right-wing gave us “private military contractors”, “special rendition”, “enhanced interrogation techniques”, “homicide bombers”, “freedom fries”, and other P.C. gems.  This isn’t a liberal thing.

  • Ibis3

    Hmm.  Stop calling the shooter mentally ill?

    How about refraining from judgement either way until the facts are in.

    • http://twitter.com/mtracey Michael Tracey

      Did you miss this line in the post? “Lanza’s older brother told police that he suffered from mental illness
      of some kind, and **though this has not yet been confirmed** (to my
      knowledge)”

      • 3lemenope

        Ibis is right. It is irresponsible to report or based published opinions on facts that are not reasonably confirmed, preferably in this case by a diagnosis. A sibling’s report about a non-specific mental illness, for many reasons, really is not helpful for getting to the truth of whether and what Lanza may have suffered from, and whether it played a causative role in the horrors that he perpetrated.  It is unhelpful to fuel speculation by reporting rumors and then attaching a disclaimer.

        • http://twitter.com/mtracey Michael Tracey

          It is a reported fact that Ryan Lanza said this of his brother. If I am “fueling speculation” by relaying that fact, then so are countless media outlets. Further, it’s newsworthy information that the brother said this. It doesn’t confirm anything, as I indicated, but it is obviously worth taking into consideration. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/14/adam-lanza-school-shooter-suspect_n_2304708.html

          • 3lemenope

            If I am “fueling speculation” by relaying that fact, then so are countless media outlets. 

            Yeah, that’s actually exactly the point. The press, generally, have behaved abysmally in this whole sitch, up to and including trying to interview newly traumatized seven and eight-year-olds, running with absurdly unconfirmed speculations (recall that they originally reported the sibiling as the shooter), and running with crap like “the guy probably had a mental illness” after an informal interview with a family member who could have any number of motives for saying what he said, and is not a medical professional to boot.

            You really don’t want to say “well, the press is doing it, so it’s OK for me to”, do you? They’ve been acting like demented jackals; they’re not exactly a great role model to emulate.

            It is not newsworthy to report speculation, from any source, until confirmation from independent sources can be secured. This is Journalism 101 stuff. The fact that standards have fallen so low is no excuse to abandon them. Due to 24-hr “news” and the Internet there is an expectation that we are entitled to know everything instantly, before it is reasonably possible to check sources, check facts, and form some sort of coherent contextual narrative. There is no need to feed that destructive inclination.

            • http://twitter.com/mtracey Michael Tracey

              I would agree that some in the media have covered the event poorly, but that’s nothing new. Maybe you should call the local Hoboken, NJ newspaper and condemn them for reporting what the brother of the shooter said. Seems like pretty basic journalistic activity to me, though.

              • 3lemenope

                Seems like pretty basic journalistic activity to me, though.

                And that’s what makes me sad. It’s so common a practice to just run with unconfirmed speculative bullshit that we’ve come to expect it, even demand it. It’s normalized. That doesn’t make it good.

                • http://twitter.com/mtracey Michael Tracey

                  Reporting the comments of the perpetrator’s brother is not the same as “running with unconfirmed speculative bullshit.” The brother’s comments were obviously newsworthy, and the idea that the local newspaper ought not to have reported them is absurd.

                • 3lemenope

                  Why are the brother’s comments “obviously newsworthy”? This, I think, is the disconnect. 

                  Journalism is the practice of building a coherent and reliable narrative out of recent events. It’s different from history, and requires different (generally more relaxed) standards, but in the end its reliability hinges upon how what is printed is substantiated. 

                  The brother’s comments, in the long-term sense, would be newsworthy when placed alongside sources that either confirm or deny the assertions he made. But alone, they are not newsworthy because they do not aid, in any way, the building of a context which is reliable. As I already illustrated, the comments could be made for any number of reasons and is not reasonable to be printed as fact given those other reasons which cannot be excluded until the speculation is confirmed or denied by other sources.

                  A journalist with, you know, standards, would certainly record the brother’s statement, and because of the brother’s statement would then seek out whether there is any information that corroborates and elaborates upon the brother’s statement, and then with the statement contextualized have a coherent picture to present. The only thing that weighs against this is the desire to “scoop” competitors, which invariably these days means publishing the comment without having a damn clue whether there is any actual substance behind the claim. 

                • http://twitter.com/mtracey Michael Tracey

                  “the comments could be made for any number of reasons and is not reasonable to be printed as fact”And no one printed them as fact. They were printed as the comments of the brother.

                • 3lemenope

                  If they are printed as not fact, then they are not news

                  A singular source can say any number of things for any damn reason they please especially if they are an interested source. Unless there is a corroborative material fact or an uninterested corroborative source, what value is there in printing them as part of a news story

                  As other people have pointed out in this thread, and I will as well, the whole CYA practice of disclaiming that something being presented is “only speculation”  and essentially that one should take it with a grain of salt should ring giant effing warning bells that it doesn’t belong there to begin with! It’s a sleazy way of worming the implication into a story without crossing the bright line of directly asserting speculation as fact.

                • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

                  I side with 3lemenope on this one Michael. I don’t want journalists to speculate or opine, I want them to report. I’d much rather the opinion pieces remain with editorials and columnists, and speculation remain with hedge fund managers.

                  You’re a trained journalist, so you know that your readers in aggregate will take media speculation as fact. This is where so much of the damage is done.

        • Matthew West

          I’m confused…a mental health professional can diagnose you with an illness after a few [or less] 1 hour visits to their office, but someone that has grown up with you for more then 15 years and interacted with you on a day-to-day basis cannot competently speculate on whether or not you “…suffer from a mental illness of some kind…”?

          This is one of MANY “published opinions” on the internet over this tragedy. To be quite honest if we’re looking for some reason that he committed these heinous acts then we’re $&%# out of luck unless he left some kind of a letter…it will ALL be speculation. Even if we find out that he was schizophrenic we can’t know whether or not that played a role because schizophrenics have periods of stability and maybe this was him.

          On the topic of “Evil”, I think we need to stop kidding ourselves with these labels. Why don’t we just say it was a “human” act? While this was tragic there have been worse moments. “Evil” tends to have religious connotations to it as though to say he certainly wasn’t a man of God because no man of God would do this evil thing. I could go slippery slope with this, but it’s far to soon and I’m still struck by this tragedy when I read articles on it.

          • 3lemenope

            I’m confused…a mental health professional can diagnose you with an illness after a few [or less] 1 hour visits to their office, but someone that has grown up with you for more then 15 years and interacted with you on a day-to-day basis cannot competently speculate on whether or not you “…suffer from a mental illness of some kind…”?

            I find this whole paragraph nothing short of bizarre. 

            1. A mental health professional is a professional. They have training to identify and properly diagnose mental illness. You’re arguing the equivalent of: a mechanic can fix my car with just a short visit to the shop, but I’ve driven cars all my life, so my opinion about what is wrong with my car should be given as much weight as a mechanic. 

            2. I’m not saying that a person can’t speculate. I’m saying the speculation is not valuable in this context because it is not probative and not confirmable. It’s like interviewing the next door neighbors after someone does something flashy and illegal, and they say “well, he was always kinda odd”. Does that tell you anything relevant about what might have caused the person to act? “A mental illness” is about as unhelpful as calling someone “troubled”. It tells us nothing.

            3. Further, it’s the guy’s brother. He may have said it for any number of (perfectly psychologically comprehensible) reasons that have nothing to do with whether he actually has an illness or not. Maybe he was trying to search for an explanation that made sense to him personally and doesn’t want to remember his newly deceased brother as a monster, or maybe was trying to shield his brother’s memory from being called evil by buffering the torrent with a suggestion of moral incompetence. And he’s not a mental health professional, so at the least the opinion being offered, even if it had all the details that it in fact lacks, it would still need to be corroborated to actually help provide an explanation.

            This is one of MANY “published opinions” on the internet over this tragedy. To be quite honest if we’re looking for some reason that he committed these heinous acts then we’re $&%# out of luck unless he left some kind of a letter…it will ALL be speculation. Even if we find out that he was schizophrenic we can’t know whether or not that played a role because schizophrenics have periods of stability and maybe this was him.

            You are absolutely right that we can never know with certainty what motivates someone in any particular act. But it is silly to say, therefore, we should just throw up our hands and give up completely. If he was schizophrenic, it is a materially relevant fact that was likely, if true, to play into the cause of this horrific scene.  But the only way we can have a useful conversation about, say, mental health and violence, is if we start with facts, rather than completely unsubstantiated speculations. 

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I’ve yet to refer to him as evil but I have called him a sick fuck many times.

  • Sven2547

    I disagree.  You are jumping to the unfounded conclusion that this person was suffering from mental illness, and in doing so, you further stigmatize mental illness.
    If shooting kids isn’t “evil”, mentally ill or otherwise, then what is?

    • http://twitter.com/mtracey Michael Tracey

      I stated twice in the post that I was purposefully *NOT* jumping to that conclusion because all the facts are not yet in. 

      • Sven2547

        Yeah yeah ‘I’m not saying I’m just saying’.  You failed to make much of an argument that calling it “evil” is a bad thing, except Christians might run with it and he might be mentally ill.

  • Roy Gamsgrø

    “But we have no good reason to suppose that “Evil” — whatever that means, exactly — “visited” Sandy Hook on Friday.”

    … What the fuck have you been smoking?
    20 children were killed: There is no doubt that evil visited Sandy Hook.

    If Lanza was mentally ill or not remains to be known, but excusing his actions by a mental illness and saying that what he did was not evil is disgraceful; he may or may not have had evil intentions, but his actions were, nevertheless, evil.

     

    • http://twitter.com/mtracey Michael Tracey

      No one has excused his actions.

      • Roy Gamsgrø

         The trouble is, you see, that this post reads that way.

        “Stop calling him evil!” “No evil!” “Whatever evil means!” “He was (possibly) mentally ill, ergo not evil!”

        He could be certifiably insane and on an acid trip the world has never seen the like of, but his actions were still evil. I do not know whether he was an evil person, but because of his actions I’ll still call him evil.
        Do you see the difference?

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Walsh/100000292911318 Joe Walsh

          Were the rank and file of the WWII German Army Evil?
          No. Most of them were good Germans doing nothing different than I did when ordered into Iraq. George W. Bush was no more or less Evil in having me and mine invade Iraq than Hitler was for the shenanigans that he got his people into.

          Both thought that they did what they did with God’s blessings for the good of the Mother/Fatherland.  Both are Irredeemably Evil.

          Friday’s murderer was certainly Insane, certainly malicious… but I’m certain that professional help could have prevented this tragedy.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Dharmaworks David Benjamin Patton

      What is evil?

      • 3lemenope

        What is love?

        Sometimes a concept can be amorphous and plastic enough that it is difficult, if not impossible, to assign a definitive description that would exhaust all cases. It doesn’t mean that the concept is useless or doesn’t exist, or that it doesn’t have descriptive value in conveying the application of the concept in communication.

        This is partially a result of the fact that primitive or near-primitive concepts are defined partially reflexively, and so language is not terribly useful for probing their structure. We learn the meaning of these words heuristically, from their usage in the various proliferation of contexts in which they are applicable, instead of definitionally, with recourse to the dictionary. 

        I may not be able to give you a satisfactory and fulfilling definition of what love is, but I know I love my girlfriend. I mat not be able to give an exhaustive and universally applicable definition of evil to say that shooting six-year-olds in the face is fucking evil.

        • Coyotenose

           Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more

          • 3lemenope

            LOL!

  • Mrs. Robinson

    “…civilization crumbles whenever we need it most. In the right situation, we are all capable of the most terrible crimes. To imagine a world where this was not so, where every crisis did not result in new atrocities, where every newspaper is not full of war and violence. Well, this is to imagine a world where human beings cease to be human.”

    • AtomJack

       I guess the process at this website makes it necessary to reply to the last poster. Not sure how it really works. I’d rather my comment stood alone.

      In any event, my 2 cents. “Evil” is an invention of religion. A bad act occurred, end of story. Assigning “evil” to it is a religious construct that allows something other than real experience to intrude into reality…and lets the christ-punchers make political hay out of it. Mental illness really does exist.

      We need to take care of the people who are mentally ill. “Exorcism” is a holdover from centuries-, no millenia- old non-understanding of the human brain. So is “evil”.

      • Djlong77

        I am responding to the whole stream and not just you atom jack, I also could not figure out the stand alone comment thing so keep that in mind with what follows. what douchebaggery is this? really? The use of the word evil is what matters? I am an atheist. I believe calling something like what happened evil only fails in that it is too small a word, it does not even begin to encompass the enormity of bad that happened in CT. If you are not totally hollowed out inside by this type of thing than seriously kill yourself because you suck so bad at being a human that it would benefit us as a species to be rid of your weak, self obsessed, pedantic genes.

      • Coyotenose

         The box for new comments should be far up the page, just before the comments begin. Sometimes it does not appear, or the cursor won’t appear* when you click inside it. And even after you post, locating said post at a later time often requires the application of Alchemy and Phrenology.

        *However, a curser almost always appears when I begin typing, haha!

  • garthhh

    So if stuff like this is the result of the removal of God from public schools, God must totally be cool with priests molesting boys in the Catholic church, where god is everywhere.

  • C Peterson

    The act was evil. We don’t know if the shooter was, however. As noted, “evil” implies a moral agency that we have no evidence of, and at least some evidence (beyond common sense) that any moral agency may have been compromised.

    The best response is to admit that we don’t yet know what was behind this, and to limit our usage of descriptors that may well be wrong, and which carry a high degree of emotional charge.

    • Tom_Nightingale

      Why use “evil” if we have “malicious”?  Do psychotic people have agency?  I’m not sure they are even “there” so to speak.  The act was wrong, not evil.

      • C Peterson

        Even “malicious” seems to suggest moral agency. “Psychotic” is a very broad description. Generally, killers without rational motive tend to score very high on scales that define them as sociopathic, and such people often have an intellectual understanding of right and wrong, but lack any emotional response to those concepts. I don’t know how that affects agency, but I think it’s safe to say that in most cases, these people’s brains are working very differently from most people’s.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Call/785400452 Chris Call

        Hell yes they have agency…enough agency to cop-out in the case of this mental midget. Not to be overly critical of your post.

  • Biglnasty

    Wow. What a stupid thing to take from Friday’s events. Arguing over the counterproductivity of using the word evil to describe it? It certainly wasn’t good that visited that community.

    • http://www.everydayintheparkwithgeorge.com/ Matt Eggler

      You couldn’t be more wrong. It is perhaps the most important thing to take from Friday’s events and it is not a semantic discussion over what is the best word to use. It is a question of recognizing that the mentally ill are not evil, they are sick: the do not need to be demonized, they need care and treatment. It is only by understanding this that we have any hope of preventing future similar tragedies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Dharmaworks David Benjamin Patton

    I’ve never liked seriously using the word evil. To me it’s as overused and over reaching a catch all buzz word as ‘racist’ or ‘liberal’ – ‘homophobe’ or ‘socialist.’ It’s a crutch for those unable or unwilling to ponder the nuances and fine points of any issue.

    • 3lemenope

      It’s a crutch for those unable or unwilling to ponder the nuances and fine points of any issue.

      It can be, certainly. But I think, in turn, being overly shy about using crisp moral terms like ‘evil’ can lead to the opposite problem, of being unable to properly recognize and identify when a case is clear-cut. What good is it to dither about assigning the term “evil” to something like genocide? There may be many causative complexities to genocide, but morally it’s pretty damn simple. When something is unambiguously horrible, a nuanced exploration of causes and reasons does not preclude acknowledging the weight of that horror or the lack of its ambiguity.

      • Tom

         There’s nothing crisp about using “evil” to describe something terrible. You’re right, anyone capable of shooting children is evil. So, what if he’s incapable of understanding that? Is he still evil? This case is clear. It’s clear than anyone who would do such a thing is incapable of understanding how terrible such an act is. If he did understand how disgusting, terrible, horrific it is to shoot a group of children, then he wouldn’t have done it. He’d be you, he’d be me. We have the unclouded understanding of why such a terrible thing should never be done, and would never desire to do such a thing.

        • 3lemenope

          You’re assuming a heck of a lot. I think categorically denying malevolence as a possible motivation for an act is problematic because sometimes people do act in monstrous ways while fully cognizant of the horrible nature of the acts they perpetrate.  A sociopath, for example, can intellectually comprehend the boundaries of acceptable behavior, but they lack an emotional commitment to the obeyance of those social rules; they can understand just how disgusting something is and not give a damn and do it anyway, because they don’t respond to emotional cues the way most others do.  You’re essentially saying that the only people who cheat are the ones who have a defect in understanding the rules of the game; that doesn’t jive with human experience at all.

          Evil is an important word for the simple reason that lived experience is different, qualitatively and texturally, than mere description. It is different on a fundamental level to be assaulted than to be told of an assault. Morally-charged language is the way in which description pays respect to the experience-in-itself by conveying the weight of the experienced event.  In some contexts, like science and medicine, where the clinical is more functional than the immediate texture, we can reasonably prefer distancing language.  Euphemisms can be dangerous because they insulate the person receiving a description from what makes the event meaningful to its participants; it is a misapplication of the clinical to the immediate.  We gain no understanding of what-it-was-like from such circumlocutions, and as a result we come to denature the very structures that we sought, in description, to bring to life.

  • http://profiles.google.com/notkilroy Not Kilroy

    I’ve never heard this argument before. I thought I was the only one who thought this. Thanks.

  • Cortex_Returns

    If you think it’s hard defining “evil,” just try nailing down a good definition of “mentally ill.”

    Whatever it is though, mental illness isn’t chicken pox, and it isn’t some foreign intoxicant. It’s part of who the person is. A person who has a mental illness that directs them to shoot children is indistinguishable from any other person who shoots children, other than perhaps fitting a description in a diagnostic manual.

  • http://twitter.com/Presidentjamie Jamie Smith

    When a kid with serious autism, Antisocial personality disorder, referred to as “dark and deeply disturbed” with “a lot of mental health issues” and was socially isolated for so long finally snaps because he isn’t on the same wave length as the rest of us any more….. then the system has failed…… and sticking to the massively antiquated line of “omg he’s evil”, whilst acting surprised when it happens again, is a ridiculous cop out.Evil has supernatural connotations. Nothing is supernatural. Stigmatising mental health, by relating religious principles to natural, and treatable conditions, is a fucking disgrace. It is a disgrace, and it’s an easy sentiment by people who would rather stick to superstitious and dangerous ‘answers’ than actually bother to fix the problem.

    • Tom_Nightingale

      I hear ya.  “Evil” is such a stupid word, it means nothing real.  People, if you need an opposite for “good”, it’s “bad”.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Walsh/100000292911318 Joe Walsh

        I define evil as any actions, mindsets or groups thereof that seek a goal, whether real or imagined, without any regard for the harms that are to be inflicted. i.e. Jihad/Crusades
        the willingness to “rationally” act out of malice. i.e. Westboro Baptist Church or the KKK.

        before reading this article, i scoffed at the notion that the gunman was NOT Evil Incarnate in his final hours and i will most likely maintain that mindset but i do not think that he, like Hitler, set out to be evil. He was clearly Insane and our society failed to even try to catch him before he lost control. Many men and women can be helped to not fall to madness and evil… it’s a damn shame that most of us look upon psychiatric services as if needing them indicates a weakness of character instead of preventative maintenance like changing the oil in our cars. 

        I probably will not stop thinking of that kid as evil, but at the same time I will never stop thinking that America failed her people, yet again!

    • Gsingo

      exactly. calling someone “evil” takes away any responsibility others have on the impact of his behavior.  it’s a cop-out, and a convenient way to continue going on as business as usual, not changing gun laws, mental health treatment policies, etc. “evil” let’s us remain ignorant and self-pitying. fuck that.

      • Tom

         Precisely. Their “logic” is: He’s evil, and evil is either a sentient (supernatural) or non-sentient (not supernatural) force but otherwise ultimately unstoppable. By making it unavoidable, uncontrollable, and commonplace, they can cope better. It’s like burying your head in the sand. “Whelp, that’s evil for ya. Nothin’ we can do ’bout it.” I’m surprised so many atheists here are subscribing to that line of thinking.

        • 3lemenope

          In my experience, and I doubt it’s an outlier, people who are comfortable using the word ‘evil’ generally don’t react to what they call evil with “ah well, whatcha gonna do? [shoulder shrug]“. Usually, it’s pretty much the opposite; the word ‘evil’ cues people to oppose that which it is applied to, strenuously.  Generally it’s the people who are unwilling to call an act evil that are timid and unsure when confronted with human-made horror. 

          Now, this energized orientation towards an act generated by identifying it as evil can be productive or quite the opposite, depending upon the reasoning behind the identification of something or someone as evil and what ways people pick when confronted with evil to oppose it.  Some people try to confront evil by making it less frequent, or by making the world a better place, or by creating and maintaining structures whose purpose is to mitigate the effects of an evil act. Some people know no other way than vengeance and wrath. Some cures are worse than the diseases they seek to treat. On the other hand, this is no reason to discard medicine altogether.

        • Pseudonym

          This is just a suggestion, but I think you can call an act “evil” without calling the person who committed it “evil”.

          I feel a bit like Daniel Dennett here. The people who are saying that “evil” is a meaningless word are basically defining it out of existence, which is an unreasonable thing to do.

    • Aaron Scoggin

      Most evangelicals put the mental health issue aside and blamed a lack of God. They argue that human beings are 3-part beings (physical, emotional, and spiritual), and if you don’t fill your 3rd part with God (more specifically, their god), you will have Satan fill that part instead. 

      So basically, all non-believers are full of Satan and will go on killing sprees. Makes perfect sense…

  • YouBetcha

    The inability of atheists to see evil is probably related to their own condition.

    • Rosa_beigi

      go fuck yourself 

    • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

      Tedious troll is tedious.

    • Coyotenose

       Well, if you WANT to claim that living in Reality is a “condition”, who am I to argue with you?

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    It’s always easier to call people “evil” or “mentally disturbed,” rather than confront the discomforting truth that there are some people that are just shits and there is nothing intrinsically different about them.  

    • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

      I don’t know. I think there has to be something intrinsically different about someone who would walk into a first grade classroom and massacre small children. At the very least, it indicates a profound emotional or mental disturbance. A “normal” person wouldn’t do something like that for kicks.

      • Plasticpony256

        How about we say “a sane” person wouldn’t do that , because most insane people think they are acting normally and that we are not

        • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

          Well, it could go either way. The shooter might be insane. Or he might be aware of how society would perceive his actions and choose to kill anyway. Intellectually, a sociopath would know full well that he wasn’t acting normally, but that wouldn’t stop him from carrying out the act.

  • captainthecapn

    When people of color commit some heinous crimes; they’re called evil, their race is called evil, and if they happen to belong to a major world religion; they’re called evil. When a white man goes in to an elementary school and shoots up 20 6 and 7 year olds, or when a white man goes into a movie theatre and kills a whole mess of people of all ages, well- then they just have a “mental illness.”

    I’m tired of mental illnesses being the scapegoat for white people. It’s offensive to everyone who’s had their race/religion lambasted because of a few people’s heinous acts, and it’s offensive to the mentally ill to assume that they didn’t know that killing a bunch of little kids is wrong. 

    Stop making excuses for evil, white men.

    • Plasticpony256

      Personally I think that anyone who intends to commit murder has some degree of mental instability, no matter what their evolutionary skin adaptations consist of.

      • Coyotenose

         Some murders are committed for very rational reasons. Money is a prime example. And people who are otherwise normal, kind and generous get talked into committing horrible acts all the time.

      • captainthecapn

        You must be white.

        • Plasticpony256

          Nope I’m Caucasian, which consists of multiple descendant traits from a broad range of cultures and ethnicities.

          It’s truely sad to think, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, some individuals still hold onto the premise that humanity consists of multiple and distinctively different races.

          There are distinctive differences amongst cultures and ethnicities but there is only one race of humans. On a planet filled with billions of living species.

          Bigotry makes none of these distinctions but the bigot does.

          • captainthecapn

            lol. You’re white. Only white people say BS like this. Listen, your “caucasian” (which, really, as a white person, you’re not Caucasian since real Caucasians were actually black people) race hasn’t been used against you like people of color has had their race used against them. 

            And in tragedies, a person of color who does something terrible is called evil and their entire race suffers because of it (Like, you know, when middle eastern people were being targeted after the 9/11 attacks). So please stop with this wishy-washy BS. You’re not helping anybody with it.

            • Plasticpony256

              Actually cauc-asian is the formulation of the eastern european land area near and around the Caucasus Mountains, which is home to many Slavic ethnicities.

              Everyone at some point is a descendant of a demonized ethnic group to say people of darker skin tones are more demonized than others is false, ignorant and only a bigot would makes such a claim.

              Just admit it you are a ignorant bigoted troll trying to spread lies to cover up your lack of self worth.

              • captainthecapn

                Actually, caucasian refers to the people of Caucasus,  who were black people. White people studied their bones and thought that they had perfect bone structure and therefore, must have been white, and thus was where white people came from.

                You are sitting here essentially saying that what people of color experience doesn’t matter and that racism is apparently not a thing, and you call me an ignorant bigot? Okay, honey. 

                • Plasticpony256

                  “people of color” Who the frak uses a phrase like that, oh yea ignorant people do, because they can’t stand the thought that being intelligent means they are a unique individual that has to defend for his self. Grow up punk, attempting to identify with a culture of discrimination and persecution only perpetuates that culture. Racism is not cool.

                  It has happened to millions of people for thousands of years, if you think only “colored people” have been stigmatized as evil or been slaves or persecuted,

                  Then you are a moron.

                • Bubba Tarandfeathered

                   And the last word is…?

                • Guest

                  Nation of Islam

                  White people, it contended, were “grafted” from black people 6,000 years ago

                  New Black Panther Party
                  …”there are no good crackers, and if you find one, kill him before he changes…

                  …speakers calling for the extermination of whites in South Africa

                  …New Black Panther militia members shouting racial slurs outside a polling place in Philadelphia

                  United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors

                  The Nuwaubians believe in black people’s superiority to white people, that white people are “devils,” devoid of both heart and soul, that the color of white people is the result of leprosy and genetic inferiority, and that the ancestors of white people are the sexual partners of dogs and jackals.
                  White people are said in one myth to have been originally created as a race of killers to serve black people as a slave army.

                  Tribu Ka
                  …After an investigation of racist incitement…

                  Nation of Yahweh
                   Several Nation of Yahweh members were convicted of conspiracy in more than a dozen anti-white murders, among them Robert Rozier, a former pro football player and member of the secret Brotherhood, who admitted the killing of seven white people.

                  Bobo Shanti

                  The Bobo say…that a man of African descent could be morally “white”, or wicked.

                  Melanin theory
                  Melanin theorists assert that the possession of greater quantities of melanin causes an inherent superiority of black people. Conversely, its lack demonstrates the alleged inhumanity and inferiority of white people.

                • captainthecapn

                  lol

                • captainthecapn

                  You are so racist, I bet you don’t even know that you just used a phrase considered offensive and highly racist. White people have gone through discrimination, but never because they were white; only because of their nationality (i.e. the Irish and Italian). However, they got back in with the other whites by attacking people of color. Funny how white people discriminate against other white people. It was never people of color discriminating against white people for their skin.

                  Please pull the stick out of you ass and learn some stuff, white boy.

                • Bubba Tarandfeathered

                  Well how right you are!

                  Homo. Erectus was black!

                  I thought you might be referring to recent world history of Homo Sapien who’s (all important) skin color seems to be very mixed.

                  My Bad!

                  I stand corrected.

                • Bubba Tarandfeathered

                   so I’m guessing

                  A: Your white (covered in white guilt)
                  B: A woman
                  C: Married to an African American
                  D: Practice some watered down form of christianity, “the 7 eras of evolution believers”
                  E: Your husband needed to culturally correct you, so he sent you to seminars to indoctrinate you into black supremacy.
                  F: You now believe that blacks are the supreme race, never thinking that if the “cradle of life” had been in Norway or China we would all still look exactly as we do now. Because our closest relative to the chimpanzee had light skin covered in dark hair. And that you deny the idea that “black” skin is an adaptation from exposure to excessive amounts of UV radiation.
                  G: You failed to notice, that in your defense of The Original Human Skin Color, your original premise “that only colored people are called evil when doing bad things” would imply that all people have been called evil, since as you have inferred “all people were once black.”

                  Humans (all colors of skin are equal) have suffered being stigmatized by other humans for hundreds of thousands of years and I’ll wager there is no cultural difference or imbalance of who has suffered through this more or less. No single “adapted” ethnicity is better or worse than another we are all equally to blame for bad behavior.

                  So please “honey” (a  typical female colloquialism) Get an education, stop being a racist and please open your mind.

                  Oh and one last thing,

                  I’m a poorly educated, unmarried, childless, overweight, Caucasian, Atheist male in his mid forties that lives in a predominately African-American community and I do suffer through discrimination, prejudice, bigotry and gender discrimination. 

                • captainthecapn

                  Maybe you “suffer” through those things because you’re a huge misogynistic, racist, raging douchebag. Just a thought given this diatribe from you.

                • Guest

                  “honey” is more often a gay term. 

            • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Walsh/100000292911318 Joe Walsh

               Awww, will you look at that! someone doesn’t know what the word “white” means as a color! a perfect reflection of ALL colors, where as the color black is the utter absence of reflected light. 
              Get over yourself, Captaintheracist

              • captainthecapn

                This is literally one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever had the misfortune of reading. You have my pity.

                • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Walsh/100000292911318 Joe Walsh

                   nothing like having the pity of the worthless.

          • Plasticpony256

            Even classifying myself as human caucasian, makes me uncomfortable because it separates me from the remaining species on this planet.

            I therefore will from now on refer to myself as Solarian, a descendant of the star system Sol.

            Because who knows how many species of life exist in our solar system.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Walsh/100000292911318 Joe Walsh

       Personally, I’m usually one of a handful of people raging against the Demonization of races and/or nationalities based upon the actions of the clearly, violently psychotic but i have come to see ALL believer in the supernatural as being Insane.
      White, Black, Muslim, Jew, Christian… I don’t care what you look like or how you dress, but if you willingly associate with those preach hatred, I label you INSANE!

      • captainthecapn

        You preach hatred.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Walsh/100000292911318 Joe Walsh

          … and i see that your ability comprehend is indeed lacking!

          there are certain actions that I consistently “preach hatred” of among them mass-murder, rape and intimidation. Now, a little shit like yourself cannot possibly understand my ability to hate a person for an act and not hate that persons’ phenotype (people who look like them.)

          • captainthecapn

            Calling people “insane” is insulting. Connecting all people of all religions to extremists is insulting. You hate people for what they choose to believe in, and that is being discriminatory. You preach hatred when you use ableist slurs against people; particularly when you use them against minority people (like Muslims and Indians and Jews, and all other religious people in the western world who aren’t Christians).

    • Russian Alex

      You want to talk offensive? Bringing your racist bullshit into this discussion is offensive. This is not about race; get over yourself. This is about why someone would grab a rifle and kill a room full of defenseless kids. Or movie watchers. Or students. You want to call him evil because he’s white? Fine, go right ahead. But don’t complain when people return the favor by calling you a flaming racist asshole, because that’s what you make yourself out to be.

      • captainthecapn

        lol. Can’t be racist when I’m talking about white people. White people don’t experience racism. White people, specifically white men, get pretty much all the privilege in the world. When white men commit evil acts, they have a mental illness. When people of color commit evil acts, it’s because of their religion or their race. A black boy was shot by a racist cracker and everyone was bending over backwards to prove that an unarmed 17 year old child was no more than a thug. A white man shoots up a bunch of 1st graders and teachers, and everyone’s bending over backwards to say that he was misunderstood and sick. It’s always about race, honey.

        • Russian Alex

          You must new here or have not been paying attention. When a racist cracker shot a teenager in Florida, the only people defending him were racist douchebags like him, who were promptly flamed.

          You can be racist talking about anyone, too, as you clearly exemplify. As for “always about race” — you are a tool. Good day.

          • captainthecapn

            All you dumb crackers saying that I’m racist are complete morons. White people do not experience racism because racism is power plus privilege. White people have privilege and power over people of color. It is always about race because evil white people are ALWAYS said to be mentally unstable. I bet you were one of the racist douchebag atheists frothing at the mouth when Nidal Hasan shot up Ft Hood because he was a Muslim. Dumbass racist cracker.

            • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

              I’m white, and I agree with you on this point. It IS always about race — perhaps not initially, but it will ALWAYS come down to race or religion.

  • Robert_unix

    2012, and thats the best picture one can obtain?

    • Antares

      I’d prefer we didn’t use a picture at all. Nor his name. “The shooter” is perfectly adequate and doesn’t turn him into a celebrity.

  • Tom

    Based on the comments (from assumed atheists), I see I’m even further in the minority. I agree with the OP. All the facts are not yet known, but if it finalizes the way it’s been shaping up, then the following is my opinion.

    Did the shooter have malice? In theory, if he was incapable of having malice due to mental illness, is he evil?

    I don’t really believe in evil. I only believe in “bad wiring.” All behavior is determined by the brain. There’s no other force, supernatural or otherwise, dictating our behavior. In the most simple terms, most of us have “normal” brains, and some have “abnormal” brains — abnormal wiring (neural connections.) Normal is difficult to define, but in this case it’s a combination of what a given society deems normal, an inherent and/or learned sense of what is right and wrong, and statistics (statistically, we spend more time not killing people than killing people, therefore not killing people is more normal.) Abnormal is anything outside those conditions. Murder, rape, theft — you know, the things that our religious counterparts think we can’t know are bad without learning it from god, the Bible, etc.? Yet we do know they are bad.

    I would call someone evil if they knowingly pushed this knowledge, pushed aside their morals (inherent or learned morals, not religious) and did something bad anyway. That could be considered evil. The catch is, in order for a “normal” person to do that, they would actually have to be “abnormal.” For normal people, it is inconceivable to genuinely say to ourselves “I strongly believe killing is bad, I *desire* NOT to kill… but I’m going to do it anyway.” That would be true malice, but a normal person could never get to that point because if they did, obviously they would actually be abnormal. It’s a catch-22. It’s two parallel lines that will never meet because they can’t both be simultaneously true.

    And when people lay the truth out, just as with atheism, they’re demonized for telling it like it is. It’s not meant to excuse his behavior (what an offensive, ignorant accusation), it’s meant to UNDERSTAND it. Understand it as it is, in reality, without any false notions. The better we understand it for what it truly is, the better chance we have of fixing it. Of course it’s far easier to call him evil because it allows some people to cope with the tragedy. “He’s evil, and there’s nothing we can really do about evil because it’s evil (sentient evil).” As a coping strategy, people want to believe something they can understand. In this case, it’s easier to understand that he’s “evil” than it is to understand how a fellow human being could shoot kids. “How can someone shoot kids?! KIDS!” they’ll say. It’s beyond comprehension that someone who looks like them, talks like them, could do something so terrible. But if he’s evil (in this case most people really are using evil in the supernatural meaning), and they know evil exists, then it’s more easily understood.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QIOCTUX55ZX6IP6OYWJGP4IAYI Ruth

    We aren’t in the killer’s head so all is speculation.  But people want answers so we tend to speculate.

    I think people tend use the word evil when they are referring to a person’s nature.  That somehow this person is different.  Is wrong.  Is worse than worthless.  Is something other than human.  

    Kind of like I think about psychopaths.  

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    i use the word evil. i don’t mean it in a religious way. some things are “evil,” according to my very reality based ethical system, and it’s a powerful term that sometimes is the best choice to describe something.

     there is a reason there are many concepts the language describes with more than one word. i don’t feel (and emotion is going to play a role in almost any analysis of this act) that the words “bad” or “malice” carry enough force to describe what happened.

     i share many religious terms, as a non-religious person, with the believers. sometimes i mean them in the same way as they do, like when i talk about the ecumenical contributions of a writer or the historical significance of a change in a particular religious creed. sometimes i mean them differently, like “small c catholic” to describe a political movement or “that’s his rabbi” when speaking of a mentor who is not actually jewish or a rabbi. 

    the term ‘evil’ retains its powers no matter how you understand it to relate to belief in the supernatural and for that reason i continue to use it. 

    • Guest

       Unfortunately, it doesn’t really matter how one uses a term, it only matter how the other person interprets it. Not fair, but that’s the way it is sometimes. I assume you use evil in a nonsupernatural way. The problem is the other side use it in completely the opposite way. If we don’t take care to distinguish ourselves from other lines of thinking and define terms outright, then it creates problems when trying to have a conversation. I hate to reference Dawkins, but he has a section on how twisting words only serves to muddy the conversation, and usually the side who redefines the term (in this case atheists redefining the term evil to suit their understanding of it) loses because the majority side still hold the rights, so to speak, of what the term means. So, instead of redefining the term because you “mean it a different way,” it would be better not to use a term that means something wholly different to the opposite side.

  • http://fractalheretic.blogspot.com/ Fractal Heretic

    I don’t see the harm in using the word evil to label violent or offensive behavior or the people who chronically do these things. Like I told the mormons at my door the other day, I don’t believe in sin but I do believe in evil, which is completely different. “Evil” doesn’t necessarily refer to some dark smoky magic energy that wilts flowers and makes people’s eyes glow red. I see it as a subset of stupidity, specifically affecting the moral intelligence of a person. I think evil, stupidity, and insanity are all just layman terms we use to describe the different ways the brain malfunctions.

    • Daysofthepast

      That’s isn’t the point. It doesn’t matter what your definition of the word is, it matters what the majority definition of the word means. The term “evil” is not your definition of evil. You don’t get to redefine terms just because you want to. I can call my dog a cat all I want, but people aren’t going to take me very seriously. And when having a discussion with someone about cats while I’m meaning dogs, doesn’t do any good.

      The majority holds “the rights” to the definition of that word. Their evil is supernatural. At the very least, it’s unscientific. For people who use the term with a supernatural meaning, or even just an unscientific meaning, it’s some undefined force to describe someone casually as different than what they believe and how they act.

      Imagine if this guys turns out to be atheistic. Will you be so comfortable sharing the term evil with others who think atheists are immoral?

      • http://fractalheretic.blogspot.com/ Fractal Heretic

        I get what you’re saying, but I don’t think defining a word is always a democratic process. For example, if the majority thinks “atheist” means devil-worshipper, then the majority is wrong. I’m not sure if I’m willing to start giving up useful words and let religion monopolize them. Religion also uses the word “truth” to mean something else, but they don’t get to decide what it means for everyone.

      • Coyotenose

         The word “evil” has more than one popular definition, and his is one of them.

      • Plasticpony256

        So what you are saying is if the majority says X is true and a minority disagrees, then the majority is right by default and the minority must accept that truth without question.

        Your not an Atheist are you ?

  • Levon Mkrtchyan

    Michael, I agree with the message of your post.  I think it needed to be said, and I thank you for articulating it far better than I could.  I’m sorry to see that you’ve received angry comments from people who seem to not have bothered to read beyond the title.

    • 3lemenope

      If they disagree, it must be because they didn’t read, or didn’t understand, right? It couldn’t be that they read and understood just fine, but actually just disagree with what’s being said.

  • Rikudu_senin

    The kid was evil, call a spade a spade

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Walsh/100000292911318 Joe Walsh

       the kid was Insane. let’s face facts.

  • http://twitter.com/Outcast_Kyle Edgar

    Ok. This kid is a good person and an example for his peers. Happy now?

    • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

      You do know that a person’s moral state (to use a phrase that makes me a bit uncomfortable) is not binary and that there are options other than “good” and “evil,” right?

  • Coyotenose

    I can’t remember who said, roughly, “The word ‘Evil’ is a description, not an explanation.”

  • kevin

    I don’t think you need “religion” to say that it is evil when so many children and their families were affected by violence.

    Also, we don’t (traditional) religion to personify evil. We have the dark side and super villains for that.

  • http://twitter.com/jinx_mchue Jay McHue

    But wait — we’re not supposed to blame mental illness either, according to your pal PZ (and the other atheist he cut-and-pasted from).  So, I guess weren’t not suppose to blame anything.  I guess this was just one of those random results of evolution.  Oops!  That blames evolution.  Sorry.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-Walsh/100000292911318 Joe Walsh

       Let’s just blame your god for being a powerless, fictional turd instead of a broken mental-healthcare system.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    Because immediately jumping to, “oh, he has a mental illness” totally isn’t, like, stigmatizing and shit…

    Sorry, but he was EVIL.

    • Gus Snarp

      That’s one way of looking at it. On the other hand, isn’t it perhaps more stigmatizing that when people commit crimes like this due to their mental illness, as seems to have been the case in the past, they get automatically labeled as evil? Is what we need a better description for the violent mentally ill to differentiate them from the widely varied conditions that make up the full spectrum of mental illness? Because it seems that “evil” often fills that role, and that’s stigmatizing. If you haven’t see it yet, you mind find this an interesting read: http://thebluereview.org/i-am-adam-lanzas-mother/

  • Marty from North Dakota

    Just see all the murders committed with one common element:  they were all on psych pharmaceutical drugs: http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-colorado-batman-shooter-de-mystifying-mass-murder-in-america/32135

  • Plasticpony256

    Not evil then how about amoral. As an Atheist I’m uncomfortable using words associated with religion. Atheism imo should be coupled with scientific/secular vernacular. Religion has a language to describe itself and we must use it for the same purpose.
    How are we to become independent and free from religion if we are stuck using traditional religious vernacular?

  • Antares

    OT, but: Michael, would you mind removing the picture, and maybe even the shooter’s name? And those of the other murderers?

    As it is, you’re helping to turn them into celebrities. Me no likey.

    • http://twitter.com/mtracey Michael Tracey

      Me removing the picture will do virtually nothing to detract from Lanza’s notoriety. Like it or not, he is a public figure now, but I don’t think it’s right to call him a “celebrity.”

  • TE

    We can use the word “evil” to indicate someone who acts maliciously.  However, I agree that the word is problematic, as 1) it does conjure up religious notions and 2) there are various different motivations for “evil” behavior, and these motivations can be quite different.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sandy-Kokch/100000074576649 Sandy Kokch

    Your problems with gun crime certainly have nothing at all to do with “evil”

    They also have nothing at all to do with

    Your supposedly violent media
    God/no god in schools or teaching evolution
    LGBT rights advocacy
    The Rise Of The Nones
    Mental healthcare or the drugs administered to patients
    or any of the other reasons being yammered about

    ALL those factors are common to every other developed nation.

    What makes the USA unique is GUNS and CRAZY STUPID GUN LAWS. That and your societal inability to examine problems analytically and make changes that are significant and fit the problem.

    Will this latest tragedy, hot on the heels of that long chain of similar tragedies be the US equivalents of the UK’s Hungerford and Dunblane moments?

    As good old Buddy sang…. That’ll Be The Day

    Just in case you are curious as to how to fix your gun problems….stick either of those place names into Wiki and add “massacre” to the name.

  • Guest

    In other words kiddies, stop assuming there is any explanation except that which atheists can provide.  Do atheists not see the stunning irony in such things?  So people who oppose gay marriage may not be bigots?  Perhaps there are psychological or environmental or social factors?  So people who did things in the name of religion may not be able to blame religion at all, since it could be a host of psychological factors?  I won’t hold my breath.  Cue atheists to rush in and explain why it’s only mass killers (especially those sans religious motives) who shouldn’t be labeled as evil or a force of evil.  Let someone oppose a liberal dogma here or do something heinous in the name of religion, and it makes my head spin to think how quickly such rhetoric will be applied.  Atheism.  It’s what you expect.

    • Coyotenose

      So you have an actual argument here, or are you just making up things about what you believe other people are REALLY thinking (see my above post) because you’re desperate for something to be pissy righteous over?

  • SJH

    Your commentary makes an important point for all of us to heed. That is that we should refrain from judging others. We need to be careful not to assume that this person is evil because ultimately he is a person and every person has innate dignity.

    I think there is something missing here though. You are correct that too many people use the word “evil” far to often to describe events but what is evil? Assuming God exists for a second (please humor me), is evil simply an opposing god figure which disagrees with the good god? Or, is evil a state which we evolve into by opposing what we are created to be? Example, Satan was created to be an angel but opposed that state of existence and chose to oppose God as a result. If we as individuals and societies, oppose our nature, do we begin to evolve into a society where evil actions flourish. If God does not exist, isn’t the same true? The definition of evil obviously changes slightly if we conclude that God does not exist but evil is nonetheless still a development that springs forth from a state of being that opposes our nature. In this case, Mr. Lanza’s actions can still be called evil. But, to bring us back to the point, Adam Lanza himself is not evil and deserves love and respect as much as anyone else. After all, perhaps, if he had a society that values life and properly cared for its mentally ill then perhaps (perhaps, but we will never know) he would have not committed such heinous actions. Lets hope (and pray if you so feel moved) that we can move towards such a society.

  • Jordan

    The concept of evil is not essentially religious, but rather philosophical.  Thomas Aquinas, building upon Aristotle, defines evil as a privation–a lack of something proper to a subject or an act.  Use of the word “evil” in such a context as this is entirely appropriate.  It owes nothing per se to religion.

  • kace

    Whatever our attempts to explain the reasoning for this crime, what we can agree on, I believe, is that both society at large and the killer recognize what was done was an act of evil. Why would I suggest that Lanza knew this was evil or at least extremely wrong? Because of the extraordinary lengths the individual went to hide his plan and plot this out. The same is true for all of these murderers we mentioned, Holmes, Cho, Loughter, they were sane enough to plot and hide their intentions. We go out of our way to show that these individuals are different from the rest of us, that they were physically deficient and therefore not capable of making ‘sane’ decisions. Unfortunately, they are very much like all of us: there is something in mankind which has a tremendous capacity for evil, the question is how to we refrain from engaging in it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Call/785400452 Chris Call

    You all need to stop the reflexive bashing of the mentally ill;the majority of which have not and will not commit mass murder.

    Moreover, the level of planning in each of the 3 recent (counting
    Loughner if you go back some) terrorist* shootings in public places
    indicates a posture of premeditating violence that could’ve been ceded
    many times before the acts were carried out. If there’s any mental
    component whatever–sociopathy is the first place to look. The
    unwillingness to understand this as attention seeking is the most
    glaring absence in all the coverage I’ve seen (although blaming
    single-mother homes is an end-run that allows for some bashing of
    “overly permissive” mothers absent outright condemnation.

    I have a brain tumor and have yet to train my sights on the local kindergarten. Am I to get a pass to some mental institute if I do? This is such crap. Once the act is committed, it doesn’t matter what was going on upstairs–you are just a filthy murdering terrorist bastard who was selfish enough to take 27 others before growing (or losing, more accurately) the balls to off yourself. Why do we have to pity them when all the people I know with mental illness are completely freaking ignored because they haven’t killed anyone!

    Pardon the rant but people seem obsessed with giving these jerks any excuse to not be responsible for their actions and disaster they’ve wrought.

    (yes;
    someone who seeks attention by firing into a crowd deliberately is just
    that before any other label, or supposed cause, can be offered)


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