Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Reason, Evil & Possession

Scott Carson of An Examined Life had a post up while we were travelling in which he commented on Christians (specifically a post by Fr. Thomas Euteneuer) suggesting that the gunman in the Virginia Tech killings did what he did because he was possessed by a demon. Dr. Carson doesn't exactly mince words in describing his reaction to this idea:
In my view, this is utter nonsense. Indeed, it is not merely utter nonsense, it is literally nonsense, and it is not something that I think any intelligent person can reasonably endorse.

I find myself generally in agreement with him, and I'll admit that I'm surprised that a some fairly well informed Catholics seem to consider the idea of such crimes being the result of possession to be worth considering.

While I certainly have rationalistic tendencies, my skepticism here has nothing to do with a denial that demons in general and Satan in particular do exist and can perform actions which directly affect people. (Perhaps I'm overly influenced by folk literature, but I also don't necessarily have a problem with the idea of there being more ambiguous angelic-in-origin creatures banished to the world for refusing to pick sides.)

However, I do have serious moral issues with the idea of someone committing some crime because he is "possessed". Unless the term is used to suggest some sort of persuasive power or influence (which almost seems to rob the term of any meaning -- making it equivalent to "tempted"), it seems to me that the term "possessed" refers to a situation in which some other being than the person who owns a given body is directly responsible through the exercise of his will for some action or set of actions that that body takes. Thus, to say that the gunman was possessed when he committed his crimes would suggest that it was not the gunman's will which chose to pull the trigger again and again but rather the demon's.

Now only does this seem disturbingly problematic from a moral point of view, it also does not seem in keeping with the instances of people being "possessed by a demon" in the scriptures. In those instances, the possessing demon does strange or disturbing things (such as crying out, exhibiting unnatural strength, engaging in wild behavior, etc.) which seem designed to cause fear and despair in the person possessed and those around him, but does not go around simply committing crimes using the possession victim's body.

To the extent that one chooses to see demonic action at work among humans, I think it must be seen (if one is to remain reasonable) in terms of tempting, warping perception, and instilling fear. All of these have the capacity to corrupt the will and turn it from God's will, while simply taking control of a body to commit crimes achives no such thing.

Also, I see something of a moral danger in the tendency of people to think "No person could ever willingly do such a thing" in regards to some notable crime. Assuming that no one would do such a terrible thing makes it all to easy to assure oneself of the inverse, "Anything someone willingly does cannot really be so very bad."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is also a lack of understanding of the difference between possession and obsession. Most people aren't even aware the two are separate terms, and what they entail.

I have to agree with you on this; sin is in the will and the rebel spirits cannot simply take over someone, "joyride" their body and snatch their soul off to Hell. God protects our freedom of will and disallows this.

To a great extent it must be acknowledged that people such as the shooter at VT have given themselves to the reign of darkness in their lives by enslavement to sin. In effect, these people are not "stolen," but have willingly given themselves over to the devil's party. They have summoned death and made a covenant with him [Wisdom 1:16], and consummated that covenant in the most ghastly way possible.

While at some point there may be demonic influence in their lives to move them along to that decision, and once made such forces may act through them with full malice, at some point the choice is theirs to make. Some fateful moment - maybe an instant - is given for them to see what it is they are doing and decide.

You thoughts?