I’ve been checking the news more often than usual for the past week to find out if there’s a breakthrough in the Las Vegas massacre. I imagine I’m not alone.
When horror strikes, we look for explanations. We want to classify. Most often, we’re looking for some kind of immanent, materialist explanation for evil: He’s a political fanatic, mentally ill, a convert to Islam, mistreated as a child. Conspiracy theories thrive on our desperation find reasons.
Natural as it is, this desire to explain is at bottom a theological error. We want to find reasons to explain the ultimate irrationality. We want to categorize the absurd. We want to find reasons for sin, the ultimate un-reason.
We engage in the subterfuge that, according to Coleridge, drove Iago: We’re engaged in motive-hunting to explain motiveless malignity.Suppose we found a smoking gun: He was on drugs, he was depressed, he had amassed unpayable debts. Would that explain the murder of 58 people? No. There’s no algorithm to connect cause and effect.
This is the true horror, especially in a materialist, secular age such as ours: That evil can break out of a 64-year-old retiree who spends his days playing video poker.
If it can break out there, it can break out anywhere. There’s no preventing or controlling it. We’re helpless to stop it, no matter how many metal detectors we install or how heavily we arm our police.
And if evil can break out there, it can break out from me. That’s a horror we want to avoid at all costs.