Some Reflections on the Tragedy at Virginia Tech
The tragic shooting of thirty-two students and faculty at Virginia Polytechnic University last month should prompt some serious questions. One, of course, is how it is that an obviously deranged or mentally disturbed student was allowed to continue as a resident in a college dorm, even after authorities had taken it into their hands to have him temporarily committed to a mental institution on the basis of his possibly being a danger to himself and to others. How a clinic could come to any certain conclusion regarding his mental or emotional stability on the basis of his being there over one day and night is hard to fathom. One can only suppose that the reluctance of politicians to implement an adequate public health care system in this country has something to do with it and it is probably no wonder that the system released him as quickly as it possibly could.
Then, as if this wasn’t enough, this same person was able to walk into a pawn shop and after lying about his brief hospitalization in a required but apparently unverified background check, walk out with one of the deadliest handguns in the world, a 9mm. Glock semi-automatic pistol, lightweight and easily concealed, and capable of firing nearly a dozen shots without reloading, and several times that many when supplemented by special high capacity ammunition clips. All this in addition to an even more easily concealed .22 caliber semi-automatic pistol, which although packing less of a punch than the 9mm., is easily capable of killing a person, especially at close range. Armed with both of these weapons, the killer, after taking time out to mail his picture and written diatribes against society to NBC after killing his first two victims, fired nearly two-hundred rounds in the space of nine minutes to kill thirty more persons and finally, himself. That such weapons, which only by a far stretch of the imagination be considered “sporting” firearms, can be legally owned by anyone other than law-enforcement officers certainly gives cause in much of the world to doubt American sanity. If people, not guns (by themselves) kill people, this tragedy proves that people with some kinds of guns can kill more people than anyone else.
But these rather obvious conclusions don’t answer another question that I’m afraid we also have to ask. Many people, after hearing that the shooter was a Korean immigrant, seemed to assume that he wasn’t a Christian. In other words, not somebody like us. Wrong: Korea has the second highest percentage of Christians (after the Philippines) in the far east. Whether he was attending church at all while in college, I don’t know, but according to reports he had been a member of a Christian youth group while in high school. And while the rantings he sent to NBC expressed outrage and hate towards other he considered to be richer and more privileged than himself, all this was capped by an expressed wish “to die like Jesus” — apparently trying to see himself as a Christ-like victim of a cruel and hateful world.
Of course this deranged young man was, at least at this point, clearly out of his mind. But these statements got me wondering if the violence in our society also has something to do with our Christianity, or a distorted version of it. When I commented to some friends about the murder rate in Japan (where handguns are illegal for all except law officers and security guards) is only about one-sixth of what it is in the USA, it was pointed out that the Japanese have a very different culture — which is certainly true, with Christians making up less than 1%. Is there something about Christianity and its ideas of divine punishment and its image of a Redeemer whose suffering somehow makes things right? But even if that latter is the case, how can we square our use of violence, even if for the sake of justice or even self-defense, if the Redeemer himself had to renounce all that in order to set us free? Free from what — if not sin and more violence? If so, then something has gone horribly wrong, not just in the mind of demented college student, but perhaps in our understanding of Christianity as well.