“Fact is, I had no reason to do it, and I just thought… (expletive deleted), life is boring so why not?”
That’s what the Thousand Oaks shooter posted on Instagram, when he paused in the midst of his stunning crime. The twenty-eight year old had already killed eleven people; he would go on to gun down a policeman and then take his own life.
We used to spend a good deal of time and energy wondering why someone would do something so terrible. We don’t do that much anymore, and that may be a sign that we’re actually getting used to this kind of random violence.
But if we’re paying attention, this latest mass killer has given us some profound insight. To be sure, he’s a loser; he’s just ended the lives of 11 people, and yet he thinks he can somehow magnify the significance of what he’s done by swearing. But he’s also provided us with a glimpse into the heart of this kind of evil.
Because he’s bored. But this isn’t the sort of restlessness and distraction that all of us experience from time to time. This is an ontological vacuum; this is a void that nothing can fill. And Nothing is what empowered this man to do what he did.
The great Anglican writer, C.S. Lewis wrote about this phenomenon in his wonderful novel, The Screwtape Letters. Here is what one of the characters has to say about this kind of boredom: "Nothing is very strong; strong enough to steal away a man’s best years, not in sweet sins, but in a dreary flickering of the mind."
Lewis wrote those words at the turn of the last century; what he did not know is that Nothing can also be weaponized. And that is precisely what we are seeing in all these mass shootings.
Because when a man is no longer moved by anything in life — a clear blue sky, a kiss, even a good meal — then he will try to fill that emptiness with entertainment or porn or drugs. But when the video games no longer distract, when the porn no longer stimulates, when the drugs no longer produce the required stupor, then there is just no reason not to take a pistol into a dance hall and shoot twelve people.
And here’s the really scary part: there are a lot of these guys out there. Recent studies have highlighted the fact that there are an increasing number of men between the ages of 25-34 who aren’t employed and aren’t in school and aren’t interested in getting married. The social scientists say that they have a “participation problem.”
But, of course, the problem goes way beyond that. And the only way that we are going to be able to address this problem is by recognizing that it is, fundamentally, a spiritual issue. In other words, we can produce legislation and fund programs and ramp up the mental health interventions, but the bottom line is that you can’t manage Nothing.
The only way to oppose this kind of evil, the only way to prevent this kind of violence is through righteousness. And the only way to become righteous is through a personal transformation. That’s probably not even language that you’re used to hearing. But in Holy Orthodoxy, that’s exactly what we are set up to do.
If you’re sickened by what you see on the news, and if you’d like to learn more about what Orthodox Christianity has to offer in this regard, send me a note or give me a call. We’re all going to have to start working on this together.