Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Atrocity as a Rorschach Test

Blogger Rod Dreher provides us with a creative link between the school shooting atrocity at Virginia Tech and the Catholic Church scandal. It obviously takes him awhile, but read it; it's almost as fun as playing "Six degrees of Kevin Bacon". Excerpt:

Understand, I'm not trying to sentimentalize this mass murderer. I'm trying to understand how a human being gets to the place where he can commit mass murder. In the summer after 9/11, I was still so consumed by anger over the mass murders committed by the terrorists (as well as the Catholic church scandal) that I was grinding my teeth at night, and was distracted in various ways by the anxiety it caused. So I agreed to my wife's request to see a Catholic therapist and learn how to let go of the anger. The therapist began by suggesting that what Mohammed Atta et alia had done was something that was within my capacity as a moral agent to do. I angrily resisted this, for obvious reasons, but the therapist was working to get me to see that what those terrorists had done, their act of infamy, was something that I was capable of under certain circumstances. The idea, I think, was to move me toward understanding their act as all too human, and helping me to find some sort of forgiveness, of letting go. It was an infuriating thought, and I don't know how far we could have gotten with this line of thinking in therapy. Our sessions ended abruptly after about a month when the therapist yelled at me for about an hour and told me I was tempting hell by having written critically of John Paul's handling of the sex-abuse scandal.

Two months ago the same thing happened during Rod's movie review of Apocalypto, and a friend pointed it out to me. That's same friend notified me of this latest post earlier today, along with his comments:

This is a ridiculous post. If I were his editor I would not let this post see the light. I would delete it.

At what point is Rod going to write about identifying with the Bishops who were dealing with this over time on a case-by-case basis? If he really wants to be intellectually honest, is he going to put himself in the mind of the perverted priests and try to perform the root cause analysis, by some experience he had when he was a lad?

If he wants to do root cause at this point, he should be analyzing the mindset that doesn't allow C&C types on campus. How about just the criminal justice majors who are applying to be police?

I recently remarked on how the working boy had slowed down on bashing the Catholic Church, but disappointingly, it seems like being anti-Catholic is still "something that is within his capacity as a moral agent to do." It seems like evil, portrayed in the Apocalypto movie and embodied in the horrible multiple murder at VA Tech, reminds Rod of the Catholic Church at some kind of subconscious Rorschach level. My friend's point is on target: the clergy involved in the church scandal don't get the luxury of his amateur root cause analysis that mass murderers do.

Not a surprise. Get an editor, Rod.


  1. One of my favorite jokes is the one with the man telling the psychiatrist who just gave him a Rorshach test: "I'm obsessed with sex? You're the one with all the dirty pictures!"

    I used to think it was funny because it was absurd. Now I think it's funny because it's true.

  2. of course dreher's therapist turned out to be right, notwithstanding dreher's convenient characterization of the therapist as some sort of ultramontane fascist.

  3. "You're the one with all the dirty pictures!"

    That's a good one!

    More seriously, Tom, maybe you can comment on this. I heard once that one of the problems which enabled the pedophile scandal was the treatment of the problem as one of a mental disorder rather than a spiritual disorder. This was said to be enabled by an acceptance of a tri-partite model of the human person, i.e., body/mind/spirit rather than a bi-partite model, body/soul. That seems to be what is going on in Rod's post on these murderers AND many other places where a root cause is always placed firmly in the compartment of mental disorder.

    I myself see no reason to rule out the possibility that someone is BOTH crazy AND evil. And the tri-partite model mixed with a dichotomous approach to mental/spiritual causes seems to be at best a slippery slope into the territory of the so-called temporary insanity defense. I'm not sure an evil act can ever be completely defined in terms of purely a mental illness, even if the component is there. Obviously, a "darkened intellect" is a direct result of the fall into sin along with "disordered appetites". There's an aspect of losing control but also of putting yourself in deliberately in a near occasion of sin, what we call premeditation in the courts. There seems to me to be a lot of premeditation in the cases of pedophilia and Cho's second shooting spree.

    I'm mainly just making observations here. What I see is that in this post Rod is coming close to tripping over the tri-partite model the same way those who mishandled the scandal tripped. What do you think?

  4. why do you people have so much trouble seeing the logic here? it's simple:

    virginia tech --> 9/11 --> bishops -->dreher.

    and really, bishops=dreher, because he was the only man in the country who knew or cared so very deeply what was going on with them. so we only have 3 degrees of separation here, or 4 at the most.

  5. Hm. On the one hand, Kathleen's explanation is simple, general, and robust.

    On the other hand, if you're looking for a path from your own life to that of an insane mass murderer, there are reasons to prefer the purely psychological path to one with a spiritual component. You don't have to give up your self-image as a basically good person, for example.

    The same holds true for a path to the life of a child molester, and of a bishop who moves child molesters from parish to parish.

    If, though, you have no interest whatever in trying to find a path from your life to someone else's, then I suppose it's easier to just call them wicked and call it a day.

  6. tom, i wasn't really responding to arguments here, just pointing out dreher's general narcissism.
    to the extent that he can see his own psycho-spiritual travails in the struggles of the killer, it resonates with him and is therefore relevant. on the flip side, i could easily see dreher consigning the killer to the realm of the wicked and calling it a day, if that served his own interests (something he did to the contras, after all, and now jonah goldberg).

    dreher's narcissism is also why he doesn't see discussion of 9/11 or the catholic bishops or his freshman year at college as non sequiturs in a post about virginia tech. subjects are relevant only insofar as they have a similar effect on himself

  7. further on this point, clergy don't get the benefit of dreher's root cause analysis for one reason only: it doesn't serve dreher's professional or personal interests to give them such.

  8. I am disgusted by this latest gratuitous Catholic-bash, needless to say.

    I also am really starting to wonder about Rod. Has he made a real attempt, with God's grace, to get over his anger at the people who (he says) picked on him in high school and college? Sometimes Rod seems to seethe with raw anger at ordinary people--such as the poor shlemiels who left those "tacky" teddy bear memorials. Is this so very different from the seething rage Cho showed toward "rich kids"--except in degree?

    Countless kids are picked on at school. Most do not go on to become mass murderers. Some even learn from their suffering and grow in character as a result. But the key to this is forgiveness. Cho did not know how to forgive. Does Rod?

    I'm not taking this too far, believe me. I know Rod's not going to go on a murderous rampage. (He prefers character assassination to the Real Thing.) But still...there's a disturbing resemblance, IMHO, between Cho's raw contempt for ordinary people and Rod's. Cho's was exponentially more intense and deranged. But still...I dunno....

  9. diane, i see what you are saying in the sense that there are some people who nurture their grievances, take pride in them, cultivate them ... and that can lead to very dark places. i see the parallel. and it's all the more troubling to observe this in someone spends (or claims to spend) so much time and energy on the niceties of religious observance. you can't serve 2 masters.

  10. Diane:

    Rod's rationale for leaving the church and his views on Catholicism are like the weather in Texas. If you do not like them, wait a minute.