The mainstream media explanation for the tragic actions of a young college student in Blacksburg, Va., has been that he was troubled, sick, mentally ill and a textbook case of a school shooter. Not everyone is going to be satisfied with those explanations, though, since there is really no way to know for sure what compelled Cho Seung-hui to release his heinous rampage. Explanations will come from university officials, family, friends and, yes, clergy. Many of you have emailed us about this Fox News report that asks "Did the Devil Make Him Do It?", and while the producers interviewed a lot of good people it is largely speculative and lacks a serious news hook.
The first article to shine light on the idea that spiritual forces were directly at work Monday morning was this hard news story by Tim Funk in The Charlotte Observer:
Evangelist Franklin Graham, who dispatched 20 "rapid-response" chaplains to Virginia Tech this week, says he believes gunman Cho Seung-Hui was "demon-possessed."
"The thirty-something lives he took and the families he ripped apart -- for what? I believe it's the devil," Graham said Wednesday.
Graham, who leads Charlotte's Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, dismissed the idea that the killer was mentally ill or seeking revenge.
"I don't think you can go out and murder innocent people just because somebody rejected you. We've all been rejected," he said. "I believe there are demons that dwell in the human heart."
Funk adds that "not all Christian leaders are willing to rule out mental illness in the Virginia shootings." But since when are these two explanations mutually exclusive? And the story is awfully short on details and theological content for such a weighty subject. What is the basis for Graham's belief that Cho was demon possessed?
The challenge in reporting on this subject is that no one really knows why this happened or why Cho decided to go on a murderous rampage Monday morning. For a journalist, when did the psychologist become the more trusted source on human nature than the pastor?
And while Protestant denominations are naturally inclined to be more divided on this issue, the Catholic Church is by no means divided. Here's The New York Times in January 1999:
Reaffirming that the Devil exists and is at work in the world, the Vatican today issued a revised rite of exorcism, the Roman Catholic ritual for driving out demons.
In an apparent effort to placate liberal Catholics embarrassed by a practice that seems to echo medieval superstition, the Vatican urged those performing exorcisms to take pains to distinguish between possessed people and others suffering from forms of mental or psychological illness.
Exorcism is an ancient practice of driving the Devil from people believed to be possessed. It remains a source of theological debate and in recent years, despite its renewed popularity in the United States and elsewhere, the church has sought to play down its significance without shaking the foundations of belief in a personal source of evil in the world.
For an excellent post on the religious aspects in this tragic news story, go over to this post by Ted Olsen and staff of Christianity Today. Olson asks questions about Cho's religious beliefs, considering his reference to Christianity in his eight-page manifesto. While it's inconclusive whether Cho had faith, there are plenty of faith aspects worth talking about:
If Cho's faith remains something of a mystery, Christianity is front and center in much of the memorial. Stories of the victims are trickling out. The Myspace page of Lauren McCain, 20, now continues her testimony. "The purpose and love of my life is Jesus Christ," she wrote. "I don't have to argue religion, philosophy, or historical evidence because I KNOW Him. He is just as real, if not more so, as my 'earthly' father."
I was very disappointed that the diatribe Cho mailed to NBC News received so much attention, particularly by NBC and MSNBC. I think stories like McCain's and others are far more compelling and newsworthy, and it's a pity that the final media stunt of a killer was able to dominate so much print and air time.