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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 Thoughts on Super Bowl XLVII

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Well the NFL Season is now over and the Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII by a score of 34-31. It was a very competitive game with many twists and surprises.

I have always been a 49ers fan, well before the days of Joe Montana. I have nothing against the Ravens and had they been playing almost anyone in the NFC I would have been cheering them on.

I like both of the Harbaugh brothers, John and Jim. I love their competitive spirit and the way that they have brought their teams to such a level of excellence. I like the way that both adjusted during the season, with John replacing his offensive coordinator and Jim replacing his starting quarterback. I think both were proved right.

On the purely football side of the equation I was disappointed in the result of the game. I felt, and still feel that the 49ers are the better team and will be a factor longer in the NFL than the current rendition of the Ravens.  That being said the Raven’s deserved to win, they made the plays that needed to be made, Joe Flacco was outstanding and the 49ers underperformed. Now I expect that within the next couple of years that the 49ers will win the Super Bowl and Jim Harbaugh, his team and their young quarterback Colin Kaepernick will be vindicated with a Super Bowl ring.

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But Sunday was a day for the Ravens. Joe Flacco was simply amazing and continued a remarkable playoff run without an interception while facing three of the best defenses in the NFL during the post season. He ran his offense well and they responded. He made the big plays when he needed to and The Raven’s defense also found ways to hold, sometimes with what I thought was help from the officials in their non-calls in critical situations. That aside, Flacco was amazing.

Likewise the 49ers had plenty of chances to win the game, despite the officiating and have only themselves to blame for the loss. They had several chances to score touchdowns, tow of which ended in field goals and one which died with under two minutes left in the game. The Ravens made better adjustments to the 49ers offense than the 49ers did to the Ravens.

Had any of another plays gone differently the 49ers might be a six time Super Bowl Champion today. But that did not happen and the Ravens are the Super Bowl Champions. Joe Flacco deserved the MVP award. The game was competitive and the final score was in the balance until the very end of the game. Since so many Super Bowls have ended up in blowouts this was a good thing. I may not have liked the final score but it was a good game.

However at the beginning of the third quarter it didn’t look like it. The Ravens took 21-6 lead into the half after the 49ers secondary blew coverage on a Flacco pass to Jacoby Jones and Jones made the 49ers secondary look bad. The Ravens then took 28-6 lead on a 108 yard kickoff runback by Jones to open the 3rd quarter. I looked at my friend John at Gordon Biersch and said, “the game is over.”

Then the lights went out and after a 34 minute delay it seemed that the 49ers were a different team. They dominated the second half and had a chance to win the game with 2 minutes left, but couldn’t pull it off despite having a first and goal and the Ravens won.

A few thoughts on the game, some personalities and the festivities.

NFL: Super Bowl XLVII-CBS Sports Press Conference

The CBS Broadcasting Team: Not good, wish that Fox Sports had the deal. Much better announcing and commentary. To me it felt like the CBS crew was the home team play by play group for the Ravens. They ignored blatant bad calls and gave the officials the benefit of the doubt even when it was obvious that calls were bad, even when Jim Harbaugh challenged a Ravens first down which was obviously short, and won. I was disappointed in the coverage and expected far better.

Super Bowl XLVII - Baltimore Ravens v San Francisco 49ers

Opening Ceremony: The Rendition of America the Beautiful by the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School and Jennifer Hudson followed by the National Anthem by Alicia Keyes brought tears to my eyes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZt749TIW-4

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Halftime Show: Better than the typical Super Bowl halftime show but something that I would not tune in to watch as a stand alone event. Beyonce Knowles has very athletic and attractive thighs which were worth the look and did not to be lip synced to.

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The Lights Go Out: When the lights went out I wondered what was going on. I wondered about a terrorist attack for a moment but figured that it was probably the spirits of people that died in the Super Dome during Katrina trying to get attention. That makes more sense than the power going out 10 minutes after the halftime show.

Commercials:

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The most memorable one was the one that made my stomach churn. That was the Godaddy.com commercial called The Perfect Match http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-1oixpSShs.

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The Budweiser Clydesdales commercial called Brotherhood http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2prAccclXs was excellent as were the M&Ms Love Ballad http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2prAccclXs 

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the Gildan Getaway http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMcMgPGpspY . 

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Doritos Goat 4 Sale http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4d8ZDSyFS2g

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and Wonderful Pistachios Crackin’ Style http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rE6iiiDdTNY 

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Ray Lewis: I have tired of the show of Lewis hiding behind the Bible and God while two men lie dead following a murder in which he was involved. I admire him as one of the greatest Linebackers to ever play the game and on-field leaders. Since the NFL  elects players to the Hall of Fame purely on their on-field performance I am sure in a few years there will be a tearful induction ceremony for Lewis.  But between the murders, for which Lewis took a plea deal in exchange for testimony against his companions, who were acquitted as well as allegations of PEDs which have sunk the careers and reputations of Major League Baseball players are answered I cannot join in the tears of joy shed for Lewis at winning the Super Bowl in his last game. I am just glad that he won’t play again. Yes God loves, God forgives and God redeems, but there is the little thing called murder and God’s justice. To hear my Christian friends fawn on Lewis and excuse him from any responsibility in the murders that he was connected to while condemning women who have had an abortion is abhorrent.

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John and Jim Harbaugh: Possibly the best pair of NFL coaches ever. They both could end up winning multiple Super Bowls and both be in the Hall of Fame. Having them compete against each other and seeing the fire with which both teams played the game was an experience in energy, emotion and exceptional coaching talent that should make the NFL better for at least the next decade.

The Future of the NFL: As any reader of this site knows I am a no-holds barred Baseball fan for whom that sport is a religious experience. Football to me is just a game, even when my favorite team is playing. That being said, the NFL has managed to package its product better than any sport. Even with the latest controversies regarding PEDs and concussive head injuries and the crippling effects of them and other injuries on former players I believe, unlike some that the NFL is in no danger of going away anytime soon. Americans enjoy the NFL and comparisons of the NFL to the demise of Professional Boxing as one of America’s favorite sports are ill founded at best.

A Final Thought about the Game: I didn’t like John Harbaugh running the safety to run down the clock at the end of the game. The reason is that that kind of play is simply another means of running out the clock and ensuring that the opponent doesn’t get a last chance to win. Call me old fashioned but I find this particular facet of football quite unmanly. The late Earl Weaver put it well: “You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”

Just saying.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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