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Murderers, Evil & the Absence of Empathy

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Like so many people this week I was stunned, shocked and sickened by the execution style murders of Roanoke Virginia reporters Allison Parker and Adam Ward by former reporter Vester Flanagan. Then later in the week the same type of murder of Houston Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth by a man named Shannon Miles. The first was particularly upsetting as a local news station had a story on it early in the day with a video, which I thought was their coverage, but instead it was the live video which had been broadcast at the moment of the shooting. Then I saw the pictures published by the New York Daily News taken by Flanagan as he shot Allison Parker. Those pictures which showed Flanagan’s view down his gun sight as he aimed, fired and aimed again were chilling. They are so troubling that I will not post them here.

I think it was so because I have been on the other side of the gun barrel. Back in 1979, when I was first starting to date Judy we were out with her parents and help up at gunpoint. I had a .38 caliber revolver to my head, the criminals took our wallets, the women’s purses and as they left the one on the other side of the car ripped Judy’s glasses off of her face and ground them into the pavement. I thought about trying to get the gun from the man on my side of the car but realized that if I failed fired that Judy or her parents might have been killed. If I had my own gun, which I did not I would have probably not been able to get a shot off without getting them killed. Likewise, on a number of occasions in Iraq, serving as an unarmed chaplain, I was under enemy small arms or rocket fire. Thus when I think about what happened to the victims there is a certain amount of kinship I feel.

They reminded me of a picture that I saw of a member of a Nazi Einsatzgruppe individually killing women who had survived a mass execution in Russia during the German invasion. In one picture a woman, appears to be trying to rise up to crawl away from the piles of bodies, and a tall SS man walking up a few feet away with a sub-machinegun aimed at her.

I wondered how people of any sort could be so cold as to look someone in the eye and commit such brutal crimes. It was horrifying. I was up that night thinking about so many others that have happened in this country in just past few years. Dylann Storm Roof going to a Bible Study at the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church and then murdering the people there because they were African-American and he was a White Supremacist. There was Frazier Glenn Cross, a former KKK leader and militant white supremacist that killed three people near a Jewish Community center in Overland Park Kansas on the Eve of Passover, 2014. He claimed, “I had no criminal intent, I had a patriotic intent to stop genocide against my people,” and “I hate Jews…. They are the ones who destroy us.”

Then there was Neo-Nazi Wade Page who walked into a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek Wisconsin and killed six people in cold blood. There was James Holmes who went into a crowded theater in Aurora Colorado and killed twelve and wounded fifty-eight more in a mass killing spree. Holmes was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Of course there was the Boston Marathon Bombing, and other killings committed by the Tsarnaev brothers, and twenty-year-old Adam Lanza who murdered twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut. Then there is George Zimmerman, a man in a league of his own, who killed an unarmed black teenager  and got away with it, much like so many murderers of so many others, not just in this country, but others as well.

Of course this is nothing new, we can look back that the 9-11 hijackers who killed almost 3000 people; Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols who killed 168 and wounded hundreds more when they bombed the Murrah Federal Building; as well as the terrorists of ISIL who routinely look into the eyes of their victims and then kill them.

The list can go on and on, and the murderers span the spectrum of American. Native born and immigrants, whites, blacks, Latin Americans, Asians, well educated men such as Holmes, children of privilege, Christians, Moslems, Jews, various other religions as well as atheists and agnostics. Some seemed to be motivated by some kind of intense hatred, religion, ideology, race; others apparently with some kind of mental imbalance or sense that they, or their race were the victims of the people that they killed.

Whether people murder others in cold blood, be it in large numbers or by looking them in the eye and pulling the trigger, no matter what their motivation for doing so, there is a common factor. It is not the weapons, though I do think the easy availability of so many lethal weapons is a factor, and that we need to tighten the requirements and even limit the types of weapons and amount of ammunition one can legally have, there were over 11,000 gun related homicides in the United States in 2014, I have left out suicides, which were close to 20,000 and justified defense using a gun which are so few that they don’t hit the chart. That number for one year dwarfs the number of all Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I digress…. I am not against people owning guns, I will probably get myself a carbine for marksmanship practice someday, preferably a bolt action World War II Mauser if I can find one in good shape, but again I digress…. The easy access to guns too, is just a part of the equation.

It is not religion, ideology, or political differences, while that certainly plays a part, they are just contributing factors; the same is true of mental illness.

But there is something else, something that an American Army psychologist assigned to the major war criminals noted at the Nuremburg trials: “In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” 

If you look at the video evidence provided by the killers, their writings, their Internet postings, or the testimony that any of them who survived long enough to go to trial; there is one thing that comes through loud and clear. None of them, not a one have any empathy for their fellow human beings, and as such when they look the people that they are about to kill in the eye do not feel anything.

It does not matter if they are men who perpetrated genocide or killed, or enslaved hundreds of thousands or even millions of people in the name of their religion, ideology, or political-economic systems; or if they are mass murderers or terrorists not connected with a state; who kill in the name of God, race, or ideology; or simply those who hate others and kill to avenge a real or perceived wrong against them. or even those who can look their victim in the eye and then murder them, they all lack the ability to feel for their victims.

The lack empathy, the totality of narcissism, the inability to see others as valued human beings; that it the definition of evil; and there is so much of it in our world. When I saw those pictures that the New York Daily News posted I was reminded of that; and I have had a hard time sleeping since.

I realize all too well that Gustave Gilbert was right; evil is the absence of empathy. The fact is that almost anything else is solvable, but the absence of empathy is the one characteristic that cannot be solved by humanity, and it may be the instrument of our demise as a species.

I say that because there are men and women who would not hesitate to unleash the hell of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons of mass destruction on their enemies and the world. Despite their differences of their belief systems, religion or ideology, these people all display a certain absence of empathy; and that my friends makes them dangerous. Those who can look a single person, or a number of people in the eye and kill them are no different than those who have the ability, or desire the ability to kill millions; for none of them truly believe that their victims are worthy of life. Life unworthy of life, that is how the Nazis referred to their victims, and how those without empathy see their victims.

I’m hoping that his will not be the case and I’m hoping that I will be able to sleep,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Look Back at 2012: The Year that Was and Still Can Be if You Have Access to Time Travel

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“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”
~T.S. Eliot~

Well my friends it is my time to look back at 2012, the year that should have been the end of the world had the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. However the Mayans couldn’t see that possibility and life goes on. With that in mind I decided to look back at the more that 300 articles that I have written since the the babe wrapped in Champagne soaked clothes and lying in Times Square gutter belched out his first words… “Is this live?” 

If we lived in the Star Trek World things could be different. We could find an alternate universe, find a time portal at the City on the Edge of Forever or if need be whip the Enterprise around the Sun to throw us back in time.

However we don’t have that ability yet and the year of our discontent began in January. It was a year filled with political carnage, war, man made and natural disasters including the BCS Championship, the athletic drama of human competition, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

Much of the year was consumed by the American 2012 General Elections and Presidential primaries and campaigns. It was a year where we thought things might be different but sages like me looking back on the wisdom inscribed in my Bloom County Comic Strip Collection knew was not.

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Back to the Future in Iowa: A Bloom County Redux

It was not just politics as usual it was also media as usual something again that I predicted was the case by looking back at history.

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Doing the Sidestep: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and American Politics and Media

But as the campaign season snaked its eerie course through the hills, dales, bayous and valleys of our fair fruited plains the rest of the world experienced joy and pain, triumph and tragedy.

It began in this country as all things do when the University of Alabama, a fully accredited school of higher learning won the BCS College Football Championship game, something that the University of Phoenix will never do.

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Alabama wins the Boring Pseudo-National Championship Game…aka the BCS BS Championship Game

Not to be outdone the Italian Merchant Marine got into the act when Captain Francesco Schettino while joy riding in hie massive 115,000 ton Cruise Ship, the Costa Concordia  managed to hit a rock and sink the ship.

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Sinking the Costa Concordia: A Lesson in Hubris and Cowardice

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In February we saw the renewal of of love affair with television commercials as the Super Bowl XLVI: Commercials, Madonna and a Football Game as Madonna lip synced between the halves as the New York Football Giants defeated the New England non-Tea Party Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, pronounced “Exlivy” in the original Latin.

Politics continued in March with the indecisive “Super Tuesday” Primaries:

Super Tuesday Agony: Indecisive, Inconclusive and a Portent of Things to Come

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But thankfully for all baseball returned in April bringing some sense of normalcy back to a world gone mad. Opening day brought me back to an even keel and the fact that it coincided with Holy Week made it more special to me. Opening Day and Holy Week and being able to attend a home opener was nice. A Home Opener and thoughts on Rick, Ozzie and George

But even in the midst of this there was perfection, in fact perfection done several times in Major League Baseball one of those being when Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants pitched a perfect game on June 13th.

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The Mark of Cain: Matt Cain Pitches 22nd Perfect Game in MLB Historyand Johann Santana did the same for the otherwise hapless New York Mets 8020 Games and Finally….a Miracle for the Mets: Johan Santana Pitches First No-No in Mets Historyand “King Felix” pitched his first perfect game for the Mariners The Perfect King: Felix Hernandez Pitches Third Perfect Game of 2012while Phil Humber of the Tigers threw a perfect game against the Mariners Perfect! Phillip Humber Joins Legends as He Pitches Perfect Game against Mariners

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Baseball produced other surprises this year but probably none bigger than that of the Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles, underdog and underfunded teams that surprised everyone with their playoff runs and playoff appearances. September Surprises: O’s and A’s Shake up the American League

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The Major League Baseball playoffs were filled with amazing comeback stories but none more than that of the San Francisco Giants who played on the brink of elimination in both the NLDS ( Giants Sweep Red’s in the River City: On to NLCS ) and NLCS ( Raining on a Parade: Giants Make Giant Comeback to Win National League Pennant ) before sweeping the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. SWEEP! GIANTS WIN SERIES!

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But around the world and away from the rich green baseball diamonds there were other events. In April Kim Jong Un #1 the new dictator for life in North Korea shot a rocket in the air, and where it landed he knew not where Missile Impotence: Kim Jong Un’s Rocket Launch goes Splat even as an American preacher turned fake historian became the star of the Religious Right Faux Fact Factory: The Twisted World of Fake “Historian” and “Hero of the Faith” David Barton  Not to be outdone a Roman Catholic Bishop made his own bad history comparisons Bishop Jenky’s Obama and Hitler, Stalin, Bismarck and Clemenceau Comparison: Bad History, Bad Theology and Bad Politics

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Meanwhile in the background Europe and the European Union faced their own problems. Economic and political crisis engulfed the continent. Europe on the Edge: France and Greece Point to Dangerous Times Ahead

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The Middle East was not to be left behind in the the political tumult. Syria continued its post-Arab Spring plunge into the abyss of full out civil war. Fear and Loathing in Damascus eventually bringing the deployment of NATO Patriot Missiles in Turkey. NATO Patriots to Turkey as Syria Teeters on the AbyssIn the broader Middle East War threatened on almost every front The Gathering Storm: Shades of 1914 as War Threatens in the Middle East and the Arab Spring heated up again Arab Spring Fever: The Revolution Begins Anew in Egypt as Syria Begins to Melt Down

In June the United States saw something akin to what our European cousins were going through when my home town, Stockton California declared Bankruptcy. When City Dreams Become Nightmares: Stockton California to Declare Bankruptcy

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But Britain was able to celebrate as Queen Elizabeth marked her 75th year on the throne in June  The Diamond Jubilee: All Glory is Fleeting and hosting the XXX Olympic Summer Games in London in July and August

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British Humor: Bond, Bean, Poppins and The Queen Kick Off XXX Games , Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” Goodbye London: XXX Olympics End on Musical Note

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After a bitterly contested primary campaign Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney lost the General Election to President Obama. Obama Wins….Now the Real Work of Healing the Wounds Must Begin However that healing didn’t begin and as of today the nation stands at the brink of political and economic crisis that could harm everyone in this country and sink the world economy. Fiscal Cliff Notes: There are Always Results

Then there was the senseless violence of massed murders, some obviously motivated by some kind of insanity while others simply due to hatred of people different.

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The Hatred of “the Other”: White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis, Politics and the Oak Creek Massacre

Man of Murderous Mystery: James Egan Holmes and the Aurora Dark Knight Massacre

The worst of these was just a couple of weeks ago in Newtown Connecticut A Cry in Newtown: Anguish after a Massacre

The War in Afghanistan dragged on while no politicians really addressed the subject even though the toll in American lives passed the 2000 mark and casualties at the hands of our Afghan allies rose to unthinkable levels. Likewise the crisis in the rise of suicides among active duty and reserve troops as well as Veterans continued unabated.

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The Afghanistan Quagmire and the Escalation of “Green on Blue” Attacks

Why Aren’t Any Politicians Talking About the War and Why don’t Voters Care?

Padre Steve Remembers 9-11 and the Forgotten War

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Natural disasters were not absent from the news this year, the biggest as far as the news went was Hurricane Sandy which struck the week before the US Presidential Election and devastated large parts of New Jersey, New York, the Mid-Atlantic and New England. A Massive and Deadly “Freak” Storm: Sandy Hits the USA while in the forgotten country of Bangladesh a fire at a clothing factory claimed over 100 lives A Juxtaposition of Contradictions: Thanksgiving, Black Friday and the Bangladesh Clothing Factory Fire

There were deaths of noted people this year:

Disgraced former Penn State College Football Coach and legend Joe Paterno died in January barely 2 months after his final game.

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The Death of a Tarnished Legend: Joe Paterno dead at 85

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Singing great Whitney Houston died of what appeared to be an accidental overdose One Moment in Time: Rest in Peace Whitney Houston 1963-2012 

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Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon passed away in August One Giant Loss for Mankind: Neil Armstrong Dead at 82

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1972 Democratic Presidential nominee, war hero and Senator George McGovern died in October A Loss for the Country and the World: A War Hero and Prophet of Peace George McGovern Dead at 90

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Iconic General H Norman Schwarzkopf, victor of the First Gulf War died just this week The Loss of an Icon: General Norman Schwarzkopf dies at 79 

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Of course much more happened over the course of 2012 including the end of the world that didn’t happen The Failed Mayan End of the World Prediction and the Chicago Cubs 

There are other things that I might have or should have written about but looking back over the past year if I was a full time writer. However I don’t think that I did too bad for being just one person who has a day job and who is maintaining two residences in different states. Besides as much as I want I still don’t have access to Warp Drive, transporter beams or time travel.

So I write today hoping for a good end to 2012, a better 2013 and peace on earth.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Man of Murderous Mystery: James Egan Holmes and the Aurora Dark Knight Massacre

Why?

It is a question that millions of people are asking and quite a few people are trying to answer even though everything they say is speculation at best based off of the smallest amount of facts.

I was listening to the news yesterday in the hours after the massacre committed by James “Jimmy” Holmes at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora Colorado. He killed 12 people and wounded 58 more in the attack. It was well planned and coldly executed. He had 4 weapons, an AR-15, two Glock .40 caliber semi-automatic pistols and a pump action shotgun. He had some kind of smoke or gas grenades. He had bought over 6,000 rounds of ammunition. He had purchased large amounts of materials that were delivered in bulk to his apartment. His apartment was rigged with explosives, possible chemical agents and bobby trapped with trip wires to set the materials off.  He was wearing full tactical gear. A Kevlar Helmet, Body Armor that included a tactical vest, neck and groin protection, bullet resistant leggings and tactical gloves.

We know a bit about him. He came from a well off family. He did not come from a broken home and his family was described as normal and “churchgoing.” Holmes is described as a loner, quiet and brilliant student. A “normal” guy. Others who knew him in high school and college described him as “very smart” and “always at the top of the class.”

We know that he graduated from High School in 2006 and graduated from University Of California Riverside in 2010. We know that until June that he was a Ph.D. Candidate in Neurosciences at the University of Colorado until June 2012.

People in the media, bloggers and even some politicians have rushed to give the reasons why this happened or provide connections to groups that they think might be linked to this terrible pre-meditated and coldly executed mass murder.

One reporter on ABC initially labeled him as being part of the Tea Party, but got the wrong guy and the report was rapidly withdrawn and the correction made. However less reported have been the remarks of those on the political right who have blamed this on the lack of prayer in public schools and political liberalism as well as a host of other reasons mostly connected with their political-religious ideology. Some left-wing bloggers have speculated that he might have been a follower of right wing talk radio.

The problem with all of this is that we do not yet know anything about James Egan Holmes. What we know are the vaguest details and speculation. To make wild suppositions based on what we know know is the worst form of ignorance. The highly religiously and politically charged prejudicial statements by idiots of all extremes trying to place blame do not help matters. Eventually they will look like fools, especially if the truth reveals that which is the exact opposite of what they proclaim and I am sure that will happen.

The probability is that there are a host of complicated factors that make up the truth about James Egan Holmes and his reasons for committing this heinous act of mass murder. Regardless of what the reasons are they all still add up to an act of evil and violence. I am sure that as the case unfolds we will find out the truth. I also believe that this may take us to some very dark places that we don’t really want to face. However I also believe that when it is told it should give all of us some reason for pause and reflection.

My prayers are with all of those victimized by this brutal crime.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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