"There is no profile," says Columbine expert Dave Cullen, speaking of school shooters in his new book, Columbine. What's more, most of the myths we believed about Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold have been disproven. They were not racist Goths, hell-bent on retribution for being tortured by bullies or teased by jocks. But they were one thing: angry. Filling their journals with hatred and rage, both boys showed an inordinate amount of frustration toward what they perceived as a system that was set on turning them into non-thinking zombies. They turned this wrath toward themselves in fantasizing about suicide, and toward others in delighting at the prospect of large-scale annihilation, and toward God in scathing diatribes against Him.
The occasion of the 10-year anniversary of the Columbine massacre, which was last week, is perhaps a good time to reevaluate the Harris/Klebold murders and ask, once again, the question without answer, "Why?" Why would two boys from affluent, stable, two-parent homes build bombs in the basement and storm into a school with sawed-off shotguns?
Both sets of parents agreed to meet with the victim's families to answer to the best of their ability these sorts of questions. I can only imagine what went on behind those doors, the difficult position those mothers and fathers were in, trying to explain what went so very wrong with their sons when they themselves were wracked with guilt and, most likely, wondering the same thing. Perhaps when the records of these conversations are unsealed in 2027, we will all have more clarity.
One thing is for sure, though: These boys felt an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. While claiming no religion, tough guy Eric, leader out of the two boys, wrote a journal called "The Book of God," in which he spilled his venom by the page. Humans were pathetic automatons, too stupid to think, bound by self-imposed laws that kept us silently agreeable all the way to our deathbeds. He resented medicine that kept the weak or sick alive and fantasized of a world filled with nuclear holocaust, biological warfare, and death.
Dylan, the more sensitive of the two, did claim faith in God. Even though his family was not active in church, he considered himself deeply religious and occasionally went on holiness sprees where he denied himself alcohol, removed video games like Doom from his computer, and stopped mocking other kids. He did this to cleanse himself but felt angry that God never seemed to fulfill His end of the deal. In his mind, God turned into a brutal master, set on torturing Dylan, much like He did Job. Filled with anger and self-hatred, Dylan began to crave death, just like Eric did.
Since 1999's attack, police and psychologists have been busy trying to write how-to guides to help authorities identify threats. One hundred percent of school shooters have been male, most came from solid two-parent homes, and most did not "snap" but planned their attacks well in advance. Only half were involved with video games and less than that were interested in violent movies. What then drives a child to such level of darkness?
Judith Warner, a New York Times blogger, in her recent ironically titled "This I Believe," claims to be content with ". . . a very abstract sense of faith---or religion, or God, or whatever you want to call it. . . ." A little Judaism here, a little Episcopalian there, a sprinkling of Unitarianism to top it off seems to work for her. She mentions that, according to Newsweek, having such a cobbled together faith is becoming more and more common.
Apparently, any parent unevolved enough to actually teach their child to follow their faith is doing more harm than good. To prove her point, Warner quotes Darwin: "It is worthy of remark that a belief constantly inculcated during the early years of life, while the brain is impressionable, appears almost the nature of an instinct; and the very essence of an instinct is that it is followed independently of reason."
In other words, the best thing we can do is let our children pick for themselves what is good, lovely, and true and hope for the best. Kind of like packing the house with Sour Patch Kids and doughnuts and hoping the kids eat salad. Reality hits here: Left to themselves, with no exposure to God, what child would choose faith? They are immature, self-seeking, and often oblivious to that which is outside their experience. And many postmodern parents, like Warner, believe that teaching, showing, or God forbid living a life of faith, might produce that worst of scenarios: the child following it. What a disaster. No independent thought. No individual reasoning. Just an animalistic, instinctual, zombie-like mimicking of Mom and Dad.
This last week I witnessed just such unacceptable behavior. Sitting hour upon hour (abuse!) with their parents, children filled the sanctuary of our Easter service, listening and watching with wonder as each element of the service unfolded. I overheard parents whispering quietly, pointing to this or that, explaining why we cross ourselves, what the Bishop is doing now, and . . . with a parent's voice singing softly in their ear, children were indeed learning tunes and words and Scripture and, even unaware, learning firsthand what a life of faith, belief, and worship looks like.
Just a few years and miles away from Columbine, I sat in a required ninth grade unit study on death and dying. We were reading books like Shirley MacLaine's Out on a Limb and Kubler Ross' On Death and Dying, dressing Barbie dolls in black funeral garb and conducting grave rubbings at our local cemeteries. Teen angst and changing bodies notwithstanding, the lesson was crystal clear: Moving toward the light was OK. Finding God was not.
It is in this state that Harris and Klebold found themselves in the months preceding the murders and their own deaths. Dylan wanted meaning, something bigger than himself to live for, a purpose, a point. In the absence of religious instruction or guidance, he honed in on Eric, who offered him just this, but with an evil twist. Cleansing himself turned to cleansing the population of scum. Seeking God turned into seeking attention. Sick as it was, he now had a purpose, something to live for, hope.
Whatever the case, we are amiss, even as believers, to think that we can let go, create a non-religious environment, and wish for the best. Kids need to hear hope. They need to know that they were created for a purpose. They need reminding that God numbers the hairs on their head, knows their frame, has their names written in the Book of Life, and that He counts their tears and puts them in a bottle.
Maybe when the thumbscrews of life start turning, when our kids are asking the tough questions, and questioning their existence and God and parents and their purpose and what is the point and why should I and why shouldn't I and all matter of other things, they might be able to reach back into the corners of their minds and sweep into the light a knowledge of the God who has been there all along.