The investigations in Las Vegas have moved past the what and how questions surrounding Stephen Craig Paddock’s attack on the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. It’s been seven days, but no manifesto or suicide note has emerged. Social media postings are – apparently – non-existent. A secret circle of malcontents with a plan isn’t lurking next door on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. What drives a person with no known history of violence to the brink?
In The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, psychoanalyst and social philosopher Erich Fromm described extinction fantasies as an aspect of “necrophilism,” which can feed malignant aggression. People with a “necrophilous character” are guided by a set of values that glorifies death and demolition.
Malignant aggression, according to Fromm, is rooted in the desire to make a distinct mark on one’s world. Such people often have dreams about dismembered parts or rooms full of corpses. They have trouble relating to others and tend to feel bored. Preferring dark colors, they’re often obsessed with devices of destruction or role models who carried out large-scale slaughters. They feel a smirking superiority toward others, often being insensitive about tragedies that involved a loss of life (from Psychology Today).
The intense investigation into Paddock’s behavioral motivation will consume thousands of hours and, ultimately, come to an inescapable conclusion: human beings are capable of unspeakable evil. Where does that come from?
In a confrontation with the religious leaders at the Jerusalem temple, Jesus revealed a fact that is timeless. To them – men who had not killed 58 people and injured hundreds more – he said: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44).
Less than one year ago, the story of Desmond Doss came to the American cinema screen with the release of Hacksaw Ridge. He was a Christian – deeply committed to his Seventh Day Adventist beliefs – who was a conscientious objector, unwilling to carry a rifle but assigned to the 77th Infantry Division as a medic, though taunted and demeaned by the men in his unit.
During a massive Japanese counterattack at the Battle of Okinawa – in April of 1945 – PFC Doss heard the cries of wounded and dying men at the top of the escarpment where the front line battle was raging. As his unit retreated, Doss ran into the fire – unarmed – to save the fallen. Before it’s over, 75 soldiers were rescued – singlehandedly – by Desmond Doss. He was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman, for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty.”
Paddock’s motive – at the core – was sourced in his father, the devil, whose desire is death and destruction (see Jesus’ quote, above). Doss’ motive – at the core – was sourced in his relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul made the reason clear: “Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
World War II is history; the War between Good and Evil is the frontline we occupy, today. People around us are under attack by the Evil One, and crying out for rescue. Most of the troops in the Army of God are running for cover; some are running into the conflict to “rescue the perishing and care for the dying.” Why?
Christ’s love compelled Desmond Doss. His battle cry was clear: “Save One More!” For us, it’s the same. Save one more. What if someone had shared the Gospel with Paddock?