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June 25, 2007 / Joshua

Revisiting the Scene

In “The Witchhunt for a (liberal) Scapegoat”, I expressed disgust with the attempts made by many to turn the shootings at Virginia Tech into a political and religious issue; in other words, to blame the shootings on liberalism and secularism.

It instantly seemed then that such attempts were so exploitive, contrived, and overgeneralized there was no reason to even test the claims with investigation. But today, I unwittingly stumbled upon this story in The Washington Post, titled, “Va. Tech Shooter Seen as ‘Collector of Injustice'”. The article is about the discoveries from the federal investigation of the shootings. It reveals some interesting and somewhat ironic bits of information; most notably this paragraph toward the end of the piece:

Cho, 23, of Centreville, whose family was religious and had sought help for him from a Woodbridge church, repeatedly made religious references. He said that he had been “crucified” and that, as with Jesus, his actions would set people free. He called himself a “martyr” who would “sacrifice” his life. He wrote that he would go down in history as the “Jesus Christ of the Weak and Defenseless.” He thought his actions would inspire others to fight back and get even.

Apparently, according to the article, it is possible that Cho felt an affinity with the biblical figure Ishmael and felt he had been severely treated unjustly in life and needed to stand up to that injustice with violent force, writing:

“I say we take up the cross, Children of Ishmael, take up our guns and knives . . . and take no prisoners and spare no lives.”

Now know that I’m not about to try to cheaply turn the tables and suggest that religion or the Bible or any Christian influence is to blame for what Cho did. Because, for one, to do so would be to fall prey to the same game that I criticized the AFA, Newt Gingrich and all the rest for, and, two, clearly Cho’s view of Christ and his comparing himself to him seem grossly inaccurate and perverted. I don’t think that Cho would have gotten such thinking directly from any “Christian” element or teaching in our society, but at the same time, this got me thinking: a) In what ways does our society either justify or condemn using violence and aggression to stand up to injustice or get payback and b) how does Christianity in America play into such thinking, either by helping shape it or going along with it? Is there a conflict here or some hypocrisy at work, or neither, or both?

As it would seem, Cho, though he might have been crazy, believed that he was surrounded by injustice, and that he was right to stand up and fight it, so to speak; to get vengeance. Our society deems such actions to be criminal and even evil, however, because it is agressive murder – not in self defense – of “innocent people”. I think the majority of us are in agreement on that. And generally speaking, domestically, our society doesn’t believe – in theory – in using violence unless it is the last option and necessary for self defense. But what about this whole idea of dealing with injustice in terms of waging war, and even the popular notion of vengeance (which pops up nearly everywhere in our culture) somewhat on the same level? Could there possibly be any parallels between the way we generally think about foreign policy, war and making people pay for their crimes against us and the way Cho apparently thought about society?

What happens when someone threatens, attacks or even defies or somehow stands in the way of this nation? Are most not quick to lust for force, retaliation and payback with as much violence as necessary, thus deeming killing countless people in the process justifiable for our cause? Now some might say that that is different; that such action is about the necessary self defense, safety and functioning of the nation. In theory, maybe, but what we are now doing is not about that at all. The disproportionate response to 9/11, most clearly manifested in the unnecessary Iraq War, has nothing to do with an only option, necessary self defense or safety. We have made the current fighting a cause and a creed; a “righteous” mission in which we try to change a part of the world to our liking and tell a bunch of people what to do at gunpoint because we supposedly disapprove of their leader’s actions and ideologies. In many ways, we have tried to become “the collector of injustice” and the judge of the world just like Cho seems to have envisioned himself when he poured out senseless wrath on his campus.

But what do Christians have to say about all this? Perhaps we should consider at least one of the public figures who had clearly taken sides. For some time, I have wanted to incorporate in a post a quote I found from the late Jerry Falwell which actually seems quite fitting here. It is taken from a radio interview he did in March of 2002, and all I know is he was apparently discussing Jimmy Carter’s notions of foreign policy. Here is what he said:

“[Jimmy Carter’s] message of peace and reconciliation under almost all circumstances is simply incompatible with Christian teachings as I interpret them. This ‘turn the other cheek’ business is all well and good but it’s not what Jesus fought and died for. What we need to do is take the battle to the Muslim heathens and do unto them before they do unto us.”

I think this is such a telling quote and, certainly, reveals something quite important for my purposes here. What Falwell did here was reveal a common, perplexing problem for many people in America today; that is, a dual devotion to God and to nation, which, in Falwell’s case, was apparently so powerful that he could, as I see it, twist and pervert the very words and teachings of Christ into a mission of militarism and nation building. But we could also suggest he had gone even further here to try to justify agression, vengeance, preemption, and rising up to attack with violent force, perhaps even before you have actually been attacked or threatened. And he did this by sneaking in religion, sneaking in Christ, making suggestions of some holy war pitting the “righteous” against the “unrighteous.”

So, in conclusion, my question is: when we (as a nation) become like this in our foreign policy – waging war and death, even when it is not necessary and thinking very little about the lives in the balance when we do – just how big a difference is there in spirit between the violence we continually wage against what we see as evil, unjust and unacceptable and the killing spree Cho waged against those who (if the article is to be trusted) he believed to be unjust in a society he deemed unacceptable as it was and in need of punishment? I guess the real question is then, who among us is considered allowed to play God and who isn’t?



Leave a Comment
  1. Dan Morehead / Jun 26 2007 12:41 am

    Good thoughts and the last question is an insightful one. Glad to have you back posting.

  2. Rebecca Schiffman / Jun 26 2007 5:29 pm

    this gives me a lot to think about. thanks josh!

  3. Joshua / Jul 2 2007 1:34 am

    Many thanks to both of you for taking the time to read and comment. I really appreciate it.


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