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A particularly troubling aspect of the news coverage of the gruesome massacre at Virginia Tech is the fact that no one seems to hate the killer, Cheo Seung-Hui. Indeed, he is not even referred to as a killer or a murderer.
Cheo is invariably described as a gunman or a shooter. A gunman implies someone who goes to a local gun range a few times a month, and a shooter connotes someone who pops off a couple of rounds in the woods with friends. It conveys nothing of the monstrous nature of Cheo's crimes, the cold-blooded and deliberate slaughter of 32 innocent human beings.
Likewise, Cheo is never held responsible for what he did. Instead, we hear about Cheo's mental instability, how his English professor alerted authorities as to his troubled writings and how he stalked two young women.
The implication is that this is a man who could not help but pull out two hand-guns and blow his fellow students away. He was troubled, he was diseased, he was sick. He had no control over his actions.
What we never hear was that Cheo was evil. That he committed a repulsive crime that forever wiped the image of God from his countenance and consigned him to the oblivion of malevolence and wickedness.
THERE ARE many troubled people in the world, and there are many who are emotionally disturbed. But not all choose to rake university classrooms with bullets intended to maim and kill. Not all decide to vent their rage at innocent people unconnected with their anger.
No, however troubled Cheo was, he chose to punish people who had never harmed him. He deserves our hatred, revulsion and abhorrence.
Modern life is geared toward neutralizing both a belief in, as well as a hatred of, evil. Indeed, as Don Imus demonstrated, you are more likely to hear filthy racial slurs on network newscasts than ever hear someone described as "evil." It's an astonishing insight into our modern secular culture that innocent African-American female basket-ball players can be described on the morning news as prostitutes, but the killer of 32 students and faculty is treated as deranged but morally neutral.
If Cheo was so sick, how did he have the presence of mind to steal out in between the two shootings and post to NBC news his multi-media screed, designed to grant him posthumous immortality?
Did not the trauma of having killed two human beings, and the knowledge that hundreds of police were now searching for him, push his fragile mind over the edge and make him keep on killing? No. He took a break and calmly went to the post office, interacted sanely with a clerk to send his package, and then chose to return to his killing spree.
Of course Cheo was disturbed. But he could have killed himself in the privacy of his dorm room. Instead, he chose to take 32 innocent people with him. He was no more disturbed than a suicide bomber who does the same. If they are not evil, then neither is Cheo.
AS A SOCIETY we recoil from the belief that people are responsible for their actions and seize upon any emotional disturbance to explain loathsome behavior. It is convenient for us to deny the power of personal choice. If murderers are not responsible for their heinous crimes, then we, who are not as guilty, are not responsible for cheating on our wives or neglecting our children either.
On the contrary, we are governed by powerful, external forces that are beyond our control. It is the wife who denies her husband sex that makes him find a lover. It is the pressure to pay the mortgage that keeps us in the office and makes it impossible for us to find time for our children. It's never our fault.
A few years ago on my radio show I was discussing Mark Hacking, a Salt Lake City man who killed his pregnant wife, Laurie, by blowing her head off with a shotgun while she slept. He was sentenced, under Utah state law, to six years in prison.
I was appalled that a man who had shot his wife in the head could receive such a ludicrously minimal sentence. I declared my hatred for Mark Hacking, and for the act of a society that dared show leniency to a monster who could murder his own wife and child.
THE PHONES lit up. Not because I had thundered against an absurdly minimal sentence, but because I dared to hate a murderer. Here's my exchange with Susie, who called into the show:
Susie: Rabbi, I am a Christian, and I was raised to love everyone, even murderers. Why are you being so cruel?
Me: Compassion for a killer? Are you out of your mind? Are you seriously telling me that you were taught to love a man who murders his wife in cold blood? You should be reserving all your love for the victims of such violence, for the dead woman's relatives. Where did you ever get the idea that you should love murderers?
Susie: From the Bible. From Jesus. From my Christianity.
Me: Does the Bible command us to love evil? On the contrary, Ecclesiastes says that "There is a time to love, and a time to hate." If ever there was such a time, Susie, it is now.
Susie: Jesus said to love your enemies. To turn the other cheek. That's what Christian love is all about.
Me: You've completely misunderstood Jesus, who said that you ought to love your enemies. Not God's enemies. Your enemy is the guy who steals your parking space. Your enemy is the woman who is angling for your job at the office. But a man who kills his wife is not your enemy, but God's enemy.
Susie: Well, I'm really worried about the kind of god you worship because it seems that He does a whole lot of hating.
Me: And I'm concerned about the kind of god that you worship, who seems morally callous and ethically blind. A god who can love murderers is unjust, corrupt, and unworthy of worship.
THERE ARE those who believe that the problem with our world is that there isn't love. But precisely the opposite is true. Evil continues to stalk our world because there isn't any hate. We excuse Palestinian suicide bombers, and blame Israel. We seek to understand the minds of mass murderers even as we fail to hate their monstrous, evil core.
Yes, we have all been taught to hate the sin and not the sinner. But in a case where the sinner's actions involve brutal inhumanity or mass murderer, we must learn to hate the sinner, too.
The writer's newest book is Shalom in the Home, and he hosts a weekly TV series by the same title on The Learning Channel.