April 19, 2007
April 21-22, 2007, weekend

April 20, 2007


Like NBC's Middle East correspondent, I acknowledge being mystified by the religious connections to the Virginia Tech mass murderer. I think this is one of those profoundly complex stories that we won't be able to sort out for a long time, if ever. To leap in with theories based on fragments of information might be what we expect of talk radio, but I think the rest of us should have higher standards.

* * *


NEW YORK -- One of the stops I made here while doing research on the Holocaust book a rabbi and I are writing is the Jewish Federation for the Righteous, which has its headquarters in Manhattan.

Jfr1It's a wonderful agency that does profoundly important work. And if you don't know about it, you should. Take a look at the organization's intriguing Web site through the link above.

Essentially, the agency raises money to help give financial support to "righteous gentiles" who saved Jews from death in the Holocaust. Currently it helps support 1,330 righteous gentiles in 27 countries.

Many of these "rescuers" (a problematic term that makes it sound as if the Jews did nothing to help themselves) are poor people from rural areas in Poland and other countries, and the money they get from the JFR ($100 a month is a typical grant) helps a great deal to provide necessary food and medicines for them in their old age.

It's likely that the number of "righteous" receiving help will dwindle to close to zero in the next 10 to 15 years as that generation dies off. As that happens, the Stanlee Joyce Stahl, the JFR's energetic leader, says the agency will move increasingly into putting its efforts toward educating people about this often under-reported aspect of the Holocaust. (We hope our book, focused on Poland, will help with that.)

The photo here today shows Stanlee with my book-writing partner, Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn of the New Reform Temple of Kansas City. (E-mail me if you want to know how to help with our book work.)

There are so many aspects of this horrific event called the Holocaust that it's hard to know where to begin educating one's self. But as the larger story is told, it's important also to describe the few non-Jews who had the moral courage to do the right thing.

To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here. (My column tomorrow will focus on religious aspects of the 2008 presidential race.)


Joe Barone

Without commenting on Virginia Tech specifically, I've always been amazed at religion's ability to do two things: (1) Attract crazies, legitimately mentally ill people, and (2) Bring genuine comfort in times of grief.

When I talk about crazies, I'm not talking about psychopaths like
Bin Laden who use it as an excuse to do something they enjoy doing and would find some excuse to do anyway. I'm talking about people with profoundly disturbing mental illness.


I'm a little surprised at the media's rush to declare the VT killer mentally ill. Perhaps this is the only way what he did makes sense to them. Typically, Americans are very reluctant to allow mass murderers and other criminals to excuse their actions by claiming insanity or mental illness. If Cho had lived, there likely would be a great outcry against the idea that he was mentally ill. It sounds as though, prior to the killiing spree, he was considered to be mentally ill because he wrote a "disturbing" play. Some people, such as Stephen King, write disturbing stories and are praised for their efforts.

I'm not convinced Cho was mentally ill. He may have been just evil. Or, is there a difference?

Joe Barone

Ron, I think there is a difference. It's too early to tell about Cho.


There is a difference between being evil and being mentally ill, Ron. The mentally ill lose contact with reality. They withdraw into their own world, which often includes "voices" in their heads.

The fact that there seemed to be many people who questioned Cho's mental state was reinforced by the assessment done on him at the mental health facility. Psychologists have been analyzing his writings but the professors explained that it was the writings in combination with his behavior that was alarming. It sounds as if he was a paranoid schizophrenic.
The link with the Islamic version of Ismail is clear, because of the spelling. I would guess, however, that the importance of the name and character himself is superceded by the Moby Dick character. Cho was, after all, an English major. He appropriated the name of he who has long been deemed the most important character in American literature. And the most famous line, "Call me Ishmael."

It's a bizarre and sad twist to now have added the meaning of the Islamic Koranic Ismail to the greatest American novel.


I think that there is fairly sufficient evidience to attest to the fact that he was mentally ill. I agree that mental illness can be used create an like us-not like us dichotomy which in turn helps us deal with these situations. Ron, to your point about mentall ill and evil possibly being the same thing, I dont think that applies in this case. He does seem almost schitzophrenic, but at the same time most schitzophrenic wouldnt be able to (or want to) convince doctors that they werent having delusions or that they were sane.

He may have had a cluster A personality disorder, or have been a very high functioning schitzophrenic.

Now, the type of mental illness that you may consider "evil" is antisocial personality disorder, and I dont think that he falls into this category. This is usually where the "trifecta" of betwetting, fire starting, and animal torture comes into play. These people are generally impulsive and you wouldnt find this type of person being impulsive and having more behavior problems that Cho did.

Ron, I dont think that you could realistically call a person having delusions (not just in this case, but in all) and acting on them evil. They are acting on the (improper) information they have at hand.

Dolores Lear

Until we understand that the Adam and Eve Colony were reproduced by Pure-bred High Tech Reproduction, we will wonder about the Evil and mental illness, of people born by Body Birth.
We have the High Tech to know, if a person like Adam was reproduced supernaturally, it is by High Tech Birth.
High Tech reproduction is 'super'natural. And when Eve was reproduced from the rib of Adam, it is High Tech Cloning. Today we can reproduce by Body Birth or by the High Tech joining of the seed in a dish, correct some genetic diseases, and put the fetus in the female womb.

Adam and Eve were Helpmeet Brother/Sister Clones with the same Genetics, not mates. In Body Birth when Brother/Sister twins are born they have different genetics.
Clones nor Body birth twins, nor any Inbred-Mis-bred person made by Body Birth, should reproduce by Body Birth. So when Adam and Eve reproduced Cain by Inbred Body Birth it reproduced Cain a killer of his Brother Abel.
Was this Evil or mental illness. All people since Cain were Inbred/Mis-bred by Body Birth, and a mixture of Good and Evil genetics is in all of us. We get no choice like Humans do, in High Tech reproduction, to get all Good Genetics.
Body Birth is the Original Sin that all inherit; we are all born in sin.

With Boby Birth no one gets to pick their parents or their environment as to where they live, and how they are brought up, in which country, which religion, and which friends they are exposed to. So Evil and mental illness is the wages of Sin, that causes inhumanity, inequality, greed, orphans, homeless and starving people, killing, war and death.

What has happened to Equality for all in America, with all our slums, gettos, and dens of inequity?

Just Thinking

The mechanism are there in organized religion for serious misbehavior. It starts by deciding that someone else is evil and, therefore, whatever you do to them is justified. So it was with the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Holocaust, and even the Iraq War.

It's okay to look at behavior from an external point of view and condemn or attempt to correct it, but there are serious ramifications when people start to think that they can know if someone is evil. Many a mass murderer has thought that they were doing God's work. When I hear groups of people trying to decide if someone is evil or not, then I worry--it is a reprehensible behavior, just as wrong as giving people the benefit of the doubt for horrible behavior because they are "good." That's how you get clergy covering up for their pervert predator clergy buddies.

Notice the repeating theme in the gunman's words: some unknown people were evil and he had to stop them for all the weak people could not stand up. That theme was there in his writings all along. Judgment is a serious sin, and deciding that someone is evil can lead to grave consequences, just as grave as deciding that someone is good. But so many people don't recognize this because they think that judgment is condemning observably harmful behavior instead of deciding that someone is evil or destined for hell.


Great points, JT.

I am reminded of Andrea Yates in all of this. Having had a family member afflicted by the same form of psychotic postpartum disease(although, blessedly, no children were harmed), it is easy to see that the rational and kind person can be lost to the "voices in the head" caused by brain chemicals. It does not make them evil.

Dolores Lear

Look where judging Evil got us in Iraq, when Bush went after Evil Saddam.
How many other innocient people were Killed on both sides, that were not soldiers?

Just Thinking

Absolutely, Dolores. The Evil Saddam. Once he was judged to be evil, then anything we did was justified. We even went to war based on the idea that we knew he was planning evil things, plotting against us.

You saw firsthand, Patricia, how judgment can get in the way of treatment and of justice. One way to help someone, though, is to make sure that they understand the difference between what they perceive to be the truth about another person and the actual actions of the other person.

Too bad President Bush didn't learn to distinguish between what he *thought* Saddam was planning, and what he actually was doing or even capable of doing. Bush should have looked only at observably wrong actions.

Now the rest of the world has been taught by us to look at whether or not someone is evil, to assess their motives of what they might be planning. And they are taught that it is okay to launch wars first when you *think* the other guy is evil and plotting against you. Unfortunately, it is the US whose behavior is observably wrong, and we give cause to the rest of the world to wonder what WE might do and to whom. It's sick and it's sinful.



I don't really understand what a rogue, pistol-wielding maniac has to do with organized religion.

Just Thinking

Maybe someone else is interested in trying to figure out what confuses you and why, but I am not.

Dolores Lear

Evil is Evil whether done by an individual, by religion, or by government.
All people that Kill are insane, or mentally ill, as far as God is concerned.
Thou Shalt Not Kill.
Turn The Other Cheek.
What does this mean?

Gaod's Daily Promises, e-mail 4/20/07. "How Important is the Bible?"
Psalm 119:54-55. NLT. "Your principles have been the music of my life throughout the years of my pilgrimage. I reflect at night on who your are, O Lord, and I obey your law because of this."

Dolores Lear

Was President Bush mentally ill, when he declared pre-emptive war on a small country like Iraq.
Was this like the Giant against David?
What will our outcome be? Another David the winner?
Or will our Giant use nuclear?


I think she was saying that organized religion is bad because it labels people whatever that means. Apparently only JT has the privilege of doing that when it comes to Catholics. So, that begs the question, is JT's religion organized? I'll leave that one up to you.


Who said I was confused? Why don't you stand up for yourself? Your "interests" obviously only included making outrageous accusations that have no grounding in reason. And then running away without explaining yourself.

So what, you are just going to "bow out" again?


On one hand you are trying to make the argument that preemptive war is wrong, but on the other hand we can't call Cho evil. So now that we are seeing all this evidence about Cho's insanity, are people sitting there saying, "Oh thank goodness we didn't act premptively!" OR are they sitting there thinking, "Why wasn't this prevented long, long ago."

You don't make any sense.

Stephen Lewis

I am not blaming religion for VT. However, to answer Jenkins question, there is a trend in many religions to think in Black and White terms. If they are not with us they have to be against us. If they are not good, they have to be evil. As is much in organized religions, this is an over-simplification. Good people do bad things, all situations do not have a clear answer. Is it ok to lie to a dieing man that his daughter who was in the same car crash is fine, when she is Dead? Can we be a follower of Jesus and kill someone who is trying to harm our children?
When is making enough money to feed the family turn into greed?
Is it ok to cheat the IRS just a little.
The major problem I have with religion is they try to make it easy and nice. Jesus said "take up your cross and follow me." Faith may be easy, but living a Christian life certainly is not!

Just Thinking

Jenkins wrote, "I don't really understand ..."

Jenkins wrote, "Who said I was confused?"

From Merriam-Webster: "1 a : being perplexed or disconcerted"

Jenkins, you arrogantly assume that I owe you something. Nobody here owes you ANYTHING, and your tantrums when you don't get what you want are just unbecoming bullying tactics:

"Why don't you stand up for yourself? Your "interests" obviously only included making outrageous accusations that have no grounding in reason. And then running away without explaining yourself.

So what, you are just going to "bow out" again?"


"So now that we are seeing all this evidence about Cho's insanity, are people sitting there saying, "Oh thank goodness we didn't act premptively!" OR are they sitting there thinking, "Why wasn't this prevented long, long ago."

You don't make any sense."

There's a major difference between preemptive action that would put Cho in a mental asylum and in simply storming Cho's dorm room, after reading his plays and being suspicious about his behavior, and killing him dead. Both are preemptive actions. One is rational and productive, the other is not.

In the case of Iraq, there was preemptive U.N. action to stop Saddam's possession of the WMDs(which we now know was effective) and then there was preemptive action in the form of dropping myriad bombs on civilians, going in and devastating a country, and ending up with a lost war that we cannot win nor honorably withdraw from.

Some of us support the rational approaches to preemptive action.


Relax, JT. You're so quick to play the victim. You can make all the inane comments you want. Go right ahead. Shame on me for expecting you to use your head before you click "Post".


You see, JT. Patricia made that look quite easy. I agree, Patricia, there are good and bad ways of taking action. However, JT's comments above seem to indicate that any preemptive action is improper because it involves speculation. In hindsight, Cho looks completely crazy. But before the shooting, was it so foreseeable that this guy was going to perform such a horrible act? What doesn't make sense to me is how you can find a balance between prevention (which requires speculation and judgment) and the principle JT is positing. In hindsight, Cho should probably have been locked up for life. But at the time, the most that could have been done was counseling and maybe having him committed (although unless there was evidence that he was suicidal I don't know that this would have been likely). It just doesn't seem possible. Let's just say, hypothetically speaking, that Bush had been right and found WMDs and Saddam was planning to attack at some point. We wouldn't be questioning the war. He would be a hero. For whatever reason, be it bad intelligence or bad motives, he was gravely mistaken and now is an easy target. But I have a hard time faulting the guy if he sincerely believed based on intelligence that there was such a risk. (I'm not saying that's the case, just hypothetical to illustrate my point).

Just Thinking

Jenkins wrote: "Your "interests" obviously only included making outrageous accusations that have no grounding in reason."

Jenkins, let's look at what I can tell about your heart from that statement, without having to judge a thing. The evidence is this: either (a) you have decided that I have only evil interests of making wild and unfounded accusations or (b) you lied and made a false accusation about me. Explain how assuming that my interests are only to make evil accusations affects your thinking about any statement that I make to you, Jenkins. Then you'll know why that kind of judgment is wrong. But I don't assume your intent is evil just because you do such wrong things against me. I'm far more concerned with the behavior than I am trying to judge whether or not your wrong actions toward me are evil or not.

And the first thing that you need to do is recognize the problem. You need to see that the kinds of assessments that you make stand in the way of truth, because they presuppose a truth. A great deal can be known from external evidence only, even about how you, Jenkins, judge people to be evil and how it affects your relationships with people who don't agree with you.

So, now, answer your own question:
"What doesn't make sense to me is how you can find a balance between prevention (which requires speculation and judgment) and the principle JT is positing."


You present a false dichotomy again JT. Again, no either/or in what Jenkins said.

Just Thinking

What either/or are you talking about, Corbin?

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