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July 26, 2012 9:41 am

The Amend Corner: Searching for happiness

Written by Don Amend

Since I started writing this column for the Basin Republican Rustler nearly 13 years ago, I more than once have found myself writing about an act of senseless violence.

Ironically, the latest episode, in Aurora, Colo., took place less than 20 miles from the Columbine High School atrocity, the event that prompted my first column on the subject. That event hit close to home, because, at the time, I was a high school teacher. It was easy to relate to the stories and images of terrified kids and teachers trying to cope with an unimaginable horror and trying to imagine how I would have reacted had such a thing happened in my school.

Last week’s murderous rampage also hit home, because my grandmother and two uncles lived in Aurora. Nearly all of them are gone from the area now, but still the thought that such a thing could happen in a place I had visited and enjoyed the company of family gave me pause when I heard about it.

Whenever one of these terrible events happens, it always sparks discussion of how it could have been prevented. These discussions often place blame on modern American life, the seemingly unresolvable divisions in our society, the isolation of some individuals, and the social and economic pressures of life in the 21st Century. News reports this weekend have quoted preachers blaming the attack on the teaching of evolution while athiests, noting that James Holmes, the attacker, grew up in a Presbyterian family, have been saying that Christianity itself led to his action. The perennial debate about gun ownership is bound to come up again as is the notion that soft-headed liberals have been too easy on criminals.

But, while we tend to think that attacks such as this are something new in America, a product of our disjointed times, that’s not true. In 1927, for example, Andrew Kehoe, the clerk of the Bath Township school board in Michigan, detonated dynamite and other explosives in one wing of the town’s school, killing 38 elementary school children and four adults and injuring more than 50 others. He then drove his car up to the rescuers gathering at the school and detonated a bomb in his car, killing himself and others. When rescuers searched the school, they learned that Kehoe had planned an even bigger slaughter, as they found more than 500 pounds of unexploded dynamite and other explosives.

Kehoe had done maintenance in the school, so he had been trusted with free access to the building for about a year and apparently had been planning the bombing for some time.

Unlike the attack in Aurora, though, Kehoe had a discernable motive, anger over a new property tax intended to fund a new school building, which he blamed for causing his farm to go into foreclosure. Even then, one wonders why he felt killing children was justified.

Holmes, on the other hand, had no obvious reason for his actions. People who knew him say only that he was quiet and intelligent, and he apparently had no close friends or associates. So far, he has apparently made no effort to explain his actions, and it’s possible that he either doesn’t know why he did it or, if he does, he doesn’t have the words to articulate his motives.

The result is that we may never be able to make sense of what happened last week in a crowded movie theater. We may just have to accept that, down in the soul of people like Holmes and Kehoe, there is a streak of evil that is unexplainable. Worse, we may have to recognize that that same evil exists in each of us, and while it will probably never manifest itself in a  murder spree, it also appears sometimes when we demean others through gossip, bullying or disrespectful treatment.

More than 200 years ago, Mary Wallstonecraft, an early feminist writer, offered this explanation of evil action: “No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, which is the good he seeks.”

As James Holmes prepared for his infamous attack, he no doubt had been taught that what he was planning was evil, if it is true that he had grown up in a church-going family. He had been taught that there is another way to happiness as well. Still, he chose to turn to evil, and, if Wallstonecraft is right, he expected it to bring him happiness.

That battle was lost, not only by we Christians, but by all people of good will. But there are more like James Holmes and Andrew Kehoe out there that may be turned around.

Evil is a formidable opponent, though, and we have to keep trying to beat that streak of evil that dwells in the human heart.

Especially the one that dwells in our own hearts.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link August 29, 2012 11:03 am posted by Carol

    Before his execution, Ted Bundy confessed that all the serial killers he'd met in prison had one thing in common, they all had viewed pornography.
    The very thing that is a punch line in sitcoms and movies, that counselors even encourage couples to experience together in order in improve or enhance their sex lives, objectifies the human and deems them of little worth. Unless we can take free will from man, which we would be to enslave him, we will not remove evil in this world. Our best hope is to love one another and pray for God's will to be done. A pure heart can never be forced upon God's children. It must be their own desire.

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