Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Horrible Darkness of Perceived Injustice and Entitlement

I've had to rot in loneliness. It's not fair.
It's an injustice, a crime.
I will punish all of you for it.
I'll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you.
If I can't have you, girls, I will destroy you. 
And all of you men, for living a better life than me, I hate you. I hate all of you. I can't wait to give you exactly what you deserve. Utter annihilation. 

These are excerpts from the chilling video left by Elliot Rodger, the young man who proceeded to stab to death three of his roommates before going on a shooting spree in which he killed three more people. Besides the shock and sadness in the wake of the tragedy, the event has predictably re-ignited the debate around gun control, mental health and our culture of violence. I've also read thoughtful essays around the issues of misogyny and the role of race.

For me, one of the things that I've thought about was the force and clarity of Elliot Rodger's conviction that what he was doing was a proper and legitimate act of justice. I saw the video on YouTube, and what was frightening was how articulate and determined his "farewell speech" was. This wasn't a goofy and nervous individual who was muttering gibberish and talking to himself while smearing himself in peanut butter, but a person who came to the clear conclusion that God / the world / humankind had shafted him and he was going to re-balance the scales of justice.

And then a sobering thought came to mind: Are we more similar to Elliot Rodger than we'd like to admit?

I find that all of us are prone to a skewed view of justice in this world, specifically one which overwhelmingly lends bias to ourselves or our own points of view. It's common to chafe at the irritating characteristics of other people while turning a blind eye towards our own short-comings. We hold our character flaws in euphemistic terms while shaking our head at the indisputable evil in others. For example, we are "passionate" while others are "aggressive"; we are "confident" while others are "arrogant"; we are "meticulous" while others are "controlling"; we are "discerning" while others are "judgmental"; we are "friendly" while others are "phony"... and of course, we have righteous indignation while others are are simply irrationally and unjustly angry.

We are prone to being inaccurate in adjudicating justice when it comes to ourselves. Elliott Rodger is certainly an extreme example, but I'm convinced that he died completely thinking that he was clearly an innocent victim in his life of sexual frustration and thus entitled to retribution. Of course he was absolutely wrong, but in his own mind clouded by a combination of mental illness and evil, I doubt he recognized it. And that same combination of mental illness and evil precipitated his interpretation of the fair "sentence" after his verdict, namely the killing of random men and women.

I'm confident that for the overwhelming majority of us, our sense of injustice won't manifest itself in such abominable ways. But I'd submit that there are cases of perceived injustice and the entitlement to retribution which are also extremely destructive, both to ourselves and to those who surround us. Maybe we need to take a step back during those times when we're most outraged to better discern our own heart motives and the benign intentions of others. Maybe it'd be helpful to talk to a trusted friend or pray earnestly about why feel such a strong sense of injustice. Is it injustice or is it wounded pride? Is it an issue of fairness or an issue of not wanting to lose?

Of course, there are times which people are legitimately wronged and we need to call out and confront evil and sin. I'm not advocating ignoring those situations. What I'm suggesting is that approaching those situations with a great dose of humility and recognition of our own brokenness would go a long way in terms of the ultimate goals of reconciliation, peace, understanding and relational redemption.