Recently I posted “Darwin at Columbine,” in which I pointed out that Eric Harris, a great fan of Charles Darwin, believed he had evolved to a higher plane of existence and that his killing of his “inferior” classmates was the work of natural selection. I hoped to spark a debate about whether Harris’ understanding of Darwinism is an aberration with no relation to the theory, or a logical (if perhaps misguided) extension of the theory. The debate that ensued discussed this topic at a high level and I wish to congratulate the commenters on both sides for their insights into the issue and the general civility of the discussion.
I wish to respond, however, to one commenter who suggested that by pointing out the connection between Darwin and the (up until then) worst school shooting in history I was making cheap rhetorical points. He even said in so many words that my post was “sinful.”
I took the accusation seriously and examined both my actions and my motives. Had I violated one of the injunctions or proscriptions of the moral code? If so, which one?
Certainly I did not stray from the truth. I have first hand knowledge of the matter about which I spoke, and I know for a certainty that what I said was true.
The truth is good and it is good to speak it (Veritatis Splendor). Yet, my accuser said I sinned when I spoke the truth. Can the truth also be sinful (Veritatis Peccator)?
No, the truth cannot be sinful. It is always good. Nevertheless, one can offend in the WAY in which one speaks the truth. The truth, which is good in itself, must nevertheless be spoken in love in order to avoid giving unnecessary offense.
Did I give unnecessary offense in my message? I do not think so. I merely pointed out the facts; I do not think any reasonable person could suggest that my post was inflamatory or rude.
Was the truth offensive to some? Undoubtedly. But that is not the point. Scripture tells us that the truth (and the Truth) will be an offense to many. We are nevertheless enjoined to speak the truth even though it offends. At the same time we must strive to ensure that it is the truth (i.e., the message) and not us (i.e., the messenger) that is the cause of the offense.
When I deposed the killers’ parents I struggled with this issue. The depositions dragged on for day after day after day with my clients sitting in the same small conference room with the parents of the men who slaughtered their children. My clients were willing to endure this ordeal because they wanted to get at the bottom of what happened. They were seeking truth. At the same time I was not insensitive to the Harrises’ and Klebolds’ anguish as they answered my questions. I would be less than candid if I did not admit there were times I thought about not following up on a particularly disturbing line of questions. It was painful for them; it was painful for me; it was painful for my clients. But I knew that if I gave in to this temptation I would be shirking my duty, not only to my clients but also to the cause of justice and truth.
Yes, sometimes the truth does hurt, as the cliche goes. But we must have the courage to face it and follow it wherever it leads. In the case of my post, the moral implications of Darwin’s theory are there for all to see. Eric Harris was a brilliant young man (Dylan Klebold was a follower, more or less along for the ride). Harris paid attention in class and he learned both Darwin and Nietzsche (and wrote about both in his journal). He put two and two together and got “kill everyone whom I deem to be inferior.” In our public school system Harris was steeped in the moral darkness and nihilism of Darwin and Nietzsche. Tragically, he was not exposed to any countervailing influences, He took what he learned and, however misguided his actions were, he acted upon his lessons.
This is the lesson of Columbine at least insofar as our schools are concerned: It is very dangerous to spout untempered nihilism in class, because someone just might take you seriously and act on your lesson.
Is it wrong or even sinful for me to point this out? I don’t think so.