A particularly troubling aspect of the news coverage of the gruesome massacre at Virginia Tech is the fact that no one seems to hate the killer, Seung-Hui Cho. Indeed, he is not even referred to as a killer or a murderer. He is invariably described as a gunman or a shooter. A gunman implies someone who goes to a local gun range a few times a month and a shooter connotes someone who pops off a couple of rounds in the woods with friends. It conveys nothing of the monstrous nature of Cho’s crimes, the cold-blooded and deliberate slaughter of 3′ innocent human beings. Likewise, Cho is never held responsible for his wholesale extermination of human life. Instead, we hear about Cho’s mental instability, how his English professor alerted authorities as to his troubled writings, and how he stalked two young women. The implication is that this is a man who could not help but pull out two hand-guns and blow his fellow students away. He was troubled, he was diseased, he was sick. He had no control over his actions.
What we never hear was that Cho was evil. That he committed a crime of such repulsive, egregious hatred that it forever wiped the image of God from his countenance and consigned him to the oblivion of malevolence and wickedness.
There are many troubled people in the world, and there are many who are emotionally disturbed. But not all choose to rake university classrooms with bullets intended to maim and kill. Not all decide to vent their rage at innocent people unconnected with their anger. No, however troubled Cho was, he chose to punish people who had never harmed him. He deserves our hatred, revulsion, and abhorrence.
Modern life is geared toward neutralizing both a belief in, as well as a hatred for, evil. Indeed, as Don Imus demonstrated, you are more likely to hear filthy racial slurs on network newscasts than to ever hear someone described as evil. It’s an astonishing insight into our modern secular culture that innocent African-American female basketball players can be described on the morning news as prostitutes, but the killer of 3′ students and faculty is treated as deranged but morally neutral.
If Cho was so sick, how did he have the presence of mind to steal out in between the two shootings and post to NBC news his multi-media screed designed to grant him posthumous immortality? Did not the trauma of having killed two human beings, and the knowledge that hundreds of police were now searching for him, push his fragile mind over the edge and make him keep on killing? No. He took a break and calmly went to the post office, interacted sanely with a clerk to send his package, and then chose to return to his killing spree.
Of course Cho was disturbed. But he could have blown his brains out in the privacy of his dorm room. Instead, he chose to take 3′ innocent people with him. He was no more disturbed that a suicide bomber who does the same. And if they are not evil, then neither is Cho.
As a society we recoil from the belief that people are responsible for their actions and seize upon any emotional disturbance to explain loathsome behavior. It is convenient for us to deny the power of personal choice. If murderers are not responsible for their heinous crimes, then we, who are not as guilty, are not responsible for cheating on our wives or neglecting our children either. On the contrary, we are governed by powerful, external forces that are beyond our control. It is the wife who denies her husband sex that makes him find a lover and it is the pressure to pay the mortgage that keeps us in the office and makes it impossible for us to find time for our children. It’s never our fault.
A few years ago on my radio show I was discussing Mark Hacking, a Salt Lake City man who had killed his pregnant wife Laurie by blowing her head off with a shotgun while she slept. He was sentenced, under Utah state law, to six years in prison. I was appalled that a man who shot his wife in the head could receive such a ludicrously minimal sentence. I declared my hatred for Mark Hacking and that society dare not show leniency to an monster who could murder his own wife and child.
The phones lit up. Not because I thundered against an absurdly minimal sentence, but because I dared to hate a murderer.
Susie called in. "Rabbi, I am a Christian and I was raised to love everyone, even murderers. Why are you being so cruel?"
Me: "Compassion for a killer? Are you out of your mind? Are you seriously telling me that you were taught to love a man who blows his wife’s head off? You should be reserving all your love for the victims of such violence, for the dead woman’s relatives. Where did you ever get the idea that you should love murderers?"
Susie: "From the Bible. From Jesus. From my Christianity."
Me: "Does the Bible command us to love evil? On the contrary, Ecclesiastes says, ‘There is a time to love and a time to hate.’ If ever there was such a time, Susie, it is now."
Susie: "Jesus said to love your enemies. To turn the other cheek. That’s what Christian love is all about."
Me: "You’ve completely misunderstood Jesus, who said that you ought to love your enemies. Not God’s enemies. Your enemy is the guy who steals your parking space. Your enemy is the woman who is angling for your job at the office. But a man who kills his wife is not your enemy, but God’s enemy."
Susie: "Well, I’m really worried about the kind of God you worship, because it seems that He does a whole lot of hating."
Me: "And I’m concerned about the kind of God that you worship, who seems morally callous and ethically blind. A God who can love murderers is unjust, corrupt, and unworthy of worship."
There are those who believe that the problem with our world is that there isn’t love. But precisely the opposite is true. Evil continues to stalk our world because there isn’t any hate. We excuse Palestinian suicide bombers and blame Israel. We seek to understand the minds of mass murderers even as we fail to hate their monstrous, evil core.
Yes, we have all been taught to hate the sin and not the sinner. But in a case where the sinner’s actions involve brutal inhumanity, mass murder, and the utter destruction of innocent lives, we must learn to hate the sinner, too.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s newest book is "Shalom in the Home." His weekly TV series of the same name airs nationally every Wednesday night on TLC.