Atheism, Virginia Tech, and Meaning
The perpetrator of the Virginia Tech shootings was bullied, or at least he claimed to be. And because I also was bullied, severely bullied, all through school in that small town that I hated so much, I paid attention to what this kid had to say for himself with the thought that perhaps I, if anyone, could understand why he did what he did. And you know what?
I don’t get this kid at all. I can’t understand why he reacted as he did. I have no idea what made him tick. Because it never occurred to me to blow away my classmates!
Never. Not once. Not one time did I even think of it! And you know, in a way I’m surprised by that, because looking back at what absolute shits some of my classmates were, and the horrible things they did (enabled by some of the teachers, who were abusive and should not have been teaching) you’d think I would have at least thought of it, fantasized about it! I don’t mean to be flip about this, but when I realized this about myself I had a “duh” moment, but only for a moment, because, of course, I’m glad, too. In fact, I’m proud that it never occurred to me. No matter what happened I never even once entertained the idea!
Oh, I thought of other forms of revenge: finally growing up to be pretty (I think I managed that well enough); going to college (like most social misfits in high school I had a blast in college); becoming a famous writer (well, nix that for now); becoming an actress (I had a few triumphs); becoming a belly dancer (done!); and making a fashion statement at my twenty year high school reunion. Well, I did it—I took a deep breath and went—and the bullies didn’t show. Go figure. And by then, I was having too much fun to care, anyway. A lot of my other classmates were really quite nice—I just didn’t know them that well in high school, where social class and the income level of one’s parents created a sort of apartheid amongst the kids, an apartheid that doesn’t exist for us now that we are adults making our own way. So, let the past go. Actually, once I went to my reunion, I found that I could forgive the bullies because I realized that they were probably just as disliked by my other classmates as by me.
So I don’t get this Cho Seung-Hui character. He strikes me as a bully himself, not a victim of bullying. He strikes me as an insular, aggressive, self-pitying, self-absorbed, and inordinately selfish human being. Mentally ill, definitely, but a victim? Frankly, I just don’t know about that. I can’t identify with him; his motives are opaque to me. I identify with the victims that he attacked, not with him at all.
There must have been something deep inside of him that allowed him to do what he did; and there must be something deep inside of me that would never allow it in a million years. I don’t know why that’s so, but I do know that it is so. When I was in school and going through that peer pressure and that intimidation, I tended to take my anger out on myself rather than on others, and I don't know why. And I don't know why Cho Seung-Hui took his anger out on others, rather than himself.
Which is why, once again, I don’t understand the anger, the naked menacing hatred, that I see from the folks at Uncommon Descent. Here is UD commentator Denyse O'Leary at her blog:
Since I am here anyway, here is some advice for Christians troubled in faith: Stay away from all Darwinists of whatever type, whether they claim to be Christians, "from a Christian background," or "from a fundamentalist background." Do not concern yourself at present about the age of the Earth. You are immortal; the Earth is not.
"Stay away from her. She's not one of us." Boy, does that sound familiar! What is this, junior high school?
Perhaps I have not lived up to the adage, “Nothing human is alien to me,” certainly not in Cho Seung-Hui’s case, but never have I told anyone to shun other people because of their religion, beliefs, creed, or conscience. We need to talk to each other, if we are going to get along with each other. True, Denyse O’Leary is my least favorite person at UD, but I really don’t hate her and I’ve tried very hard to see her point of view. She'll never give me credit for it, but I have tried.
The problem is, what she says pushes my emotional buttons because it sounds so much like everything that my nasty classmates, or that the few horrid teachers that I had, said to me, and for no reason that I could see. "Stay away from her." "Why can't you be like the other children?"
Yes, I admit I wasn't very good at "being like the other children." The real tragedy is, the other children were. The other children tried very hard to "be like the other children." That's how the girl voted most likely to succeed ended up at my high school reunion telling me that she "could never" go to Europe by herself, as I had. What crap. Anyone can do anything that they want. If a social disaster like me can handle Europe, she could. But she had learned to be "like the other children."
The problem is, Denyse, this kind of language makes me feel exactly as I felt when I was small, and being pressured by peers to “not be so smart” in class or raise my hand with the answer, to quit my piano lessons or to sneak cigarettes, to dress differently, act differently, and be somebody else than who I was. I know you don't intend, Denyse, to sound like the kind of person who would lead others into temptation, but paradoxically that is exactly what you're doing with your exhortation of Christian purity. You make "darwinists" sound like horrible people, just as my peers and some of my teachers made me sound like some kind of freak, and I wasn’t that much trouble—I never did drugs, I didn't smoke, I was on the honor roll all the time, I never got pregnant like so many of the girls around me did. I had dreams and goals and was determined to fulfill them, and yet even some of my teachers encouraged the kids in their ridicule of me—and as I look back on it now, these were the teachers whose classrooms were constantly in disarray, just like your thinking, Denyse.
And now here’s you, Denyse O’Leary, at your blog, telling your audience that it’s okay to believe whatever you want about the age of the earth, as long as you don’t associate with the people who use the methodology that gave us the actual age of the earth, along with the germ theory of disease, the laws of heredity, countless numbers of cures, and the discovery of DNA. I don’t get it. Here’s WinglesS at Uncommon Descent, saying that atheists have no sense of purpose in life and are not charitable. Well, perhaps I don’t have a million dollars to donate, but I do try to give 100% of myself to everything that I do, and while I have worked some pretty hard and low-paying jobs I have managed to avoid doing any morally unsavory ones. I live without a car; I put my money where my mouth is, even though that entails a lot of sacrifice, being car-free in a city like Minneapolis. I volunteer my time to many charitable efforts, and I just do it—it makes me feel good, without having an explicit reason that I can rattle off to you in so many words. I don’t need to form “atheist charities” when I’m willing to contribute to charities both religious and secular, as long as they help all people—why duplicate efforts? Why form another administration and pool of employees to be paid from charitable contributions that could go to existing organizations?
And as for purpose, for life’s meaning—hey Denyse, WinglesS, Levi, and the rest of you at UD, you remind me of the people who were down on me for wanting good grades, for having goals, for being a basically well-behaved kid, people who were angry at me for no reason that I could see, and you would ask me to “prove” that I have a sense of meaning in life? I'm beginning to wonder if you have a sense of purpose yourselves. All I want to do in life is write, dance, learn, and explore, and make some kind of contribution to humanity, and yet you have identified me and people like me as some kind of dangerous enemy, and you are talking about “meaninglessness”?
Jonathan Wells, the Moonie and HIV denialist is okay by you, but anyone who is not a religious believer, or who is yet accepts evolution the way he or she accepts mathematics and physics, is evil, no matter what contributions they make to science or social justice, and is to be shunned, and you ask me about life not making sense? It is your thinking that does not make sense.
I’ve thought about your question a lot, Levi. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I don’t have an answer that will ever satisfy you, because I have decided that I have no concept of meaninglessness. Not at all. None. It’s a word that you guys use; I never use it. I don’t know what it means. I don’t know what meaninglessness feels like. I don’t understand it, any more than I understand blowing someone away with a gun.
No matter what happened to me, no matter how bad it got for me, I have never felt that my life was without purpose. I don’t know why, but it’s true. Perhaps if I understood what you mean by “meaninglessness,” of life “having no purpose,” then I could understand you better.
And then I would also understand Cho Seung-Hui better.
And suddenly, that idea frightens me—because I think that could have been his problem. He could have had this same sense of "meaninglessness" that you apparently do, whereas I do not.
Maybe you need to consider the idea that the charges you level against “darwinists” are actually faults that you have found within yourself?
And Denyse, here's a Bible verse that I think you've forgotten, a verse I think you need to reacquaint yourself with, from Ecclesiastes 1:4 - "A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. "