The God Who Created James Eagen Holmes:
Using Dostoevsky’s “Rebellion” to view the Aurora, Colorado shooting
On July 20, 2012, a twenty four year old man walked into a movie theater in normal clothing, carrying nothing suspicious. This man, James Eagen Holmes, studied neuroscience at the University of Colorado as a Ph.D. student. Intelligent but antisocial, he had no criminal record and purchased all of his weapons legally. Holmes sat down for the beginning of the movie but then left, propping an emergency door exit open, and went to his car to dress in heavily protective combat gear. Upon his return to the theater, he fired a 12-gauge shotgun, a semiautomatic rifle, and a handgun into the audience. Over seventy people were injured overall, and twelve victims died, including a six year old girl and a three month old infant.
For those who believe a benevolent God created the universe, including Mr. Holmes, the ever-present problem of reconciling the existence of evil with God’s goodness cannot go unaddressed. How could a God who has humanity’s best interests at heart bless a man like Mr. Holmes with the intelligence and ability to carry out such a wicked crime? Why would He, in His omniscience, refuse to interfere and stop Mr. Holmes from achieving his violent objective? And why would he allow the death and injury of innocent children as young as six years and three months old?
Dostoevsky’s “Rebellion” asks the question especially pertinent to the case of the Colorado shooting: even if the suffering of the adults was a consequence of their sin, how could a loving, omniscient, good God allow those children to suffer? For it wasn’t just the two killed in the shooting, but the children of the parents who died, the siblings of the young adults who were murdered, who are made to suffer for the rest of their lives as consequences of James Holmes’.
Because I don’t believe in God, it is easy for me to say that the suffering of children is a result of decisions made by faulted individuals. But a close address of those who adhere to western religious philosophy, who believe that God is omniscient, omnipresent, and perfect, must be made because this is a great and terrible question to ask: Why do children suffer? In attempting to answer that question, I prefer Dostoevsky’s ultimate conclusion: that the suffering of even one child, for the sake of the rest of humanity’s happiness and success, is unacceptable—even if God is the one who causes it.
“Rebellion” is a chapter from “The Brothers Karamozov,” a story about two brothers, Ivan and Alyosha. Ivan is an atheist, while Alyosha is a Christian who tries to bring Ivan back to the truth. “Rebellion” mostly consists of dialogue between the two brothers, although Ivan does much of the talking as he surveys the suffering of humankind and attempts to explain it. He observes that, despite humankind possessing more intelligence than other animals, they are decidedly wickeder. “The tiger only tears and gnaws, that’s all he can do,” Ivan says sadly. “He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do it.” He then goes on to give numerous details of abominable acts committed by humans against one another, more evil because of the creativeness with which they are carried out—tossing infants and catching them on bayonets before their mothers, making a baby laugh before shooting it in the face, and nailing people by their ears to fences all night before hanging them. This is directly comparable to the actions of James Holmes; brilliant enough to study neuroscience at a graduate level, he designed and carried out a massacre that even the most violent of animals could never even conceive. He even set up his apartment with explosives to kill the police when they arrived (although he did eventually warn them of this danger).
The adults, Ivan says, know the difference between good and evil; they have partaken of the apple, and “They go on eating it still.” Adults inflicting suffering on other adults is much less evil than adults inflicting suffering on innocent children, so Ivan focuses his discussion on violence against children and the purposelessness it entails. He describes several instances of children who, for no other reason than the wickedness of the adults, are abused, beaten, and even torn to pieces by hunting dogs (or, in the case of the Colorado shooting, murdered with a gun).
After he speaks for several paragraphs about evil inflicted upon children, he begins to arrive at his conclusions, which I completely agree and relate with. I, too, want to be there when an explanation is offered about the purpose of all the suffering, when incidents like the Colorado shooting are finally justified. I wish I could understand it. But, if the answer is simply “God is just,” and then everything lives in harmony, I have to agree with Ivan—I think that God would be wrong. I can’t accept the harmony that will suddenly accompany the “understanding” of suffering.
I do not believe for one second that a good, kind, all-knowing God would allow a three-month old infant to be shot for any purpose, including the good of humanity. Neither do I believe that creating a hell for the oppressors, and thereby allowing more suffering, is a solution. I, too, would rather be without harmony and remain with my own “unavenged suffering and unsatisfied indignation,” even if I am wrong—because the price asked for harmony would be too high.
I love the questions that Ivan asks Alyosha at the end of the excerpt. Would you, if you were creating a world where the end goal of mankind is happiness, allow the torturing of even one child in order to ensure that happiness? Is the eternal satisfaction of everyone else worth the death of one innocent child victim? Alyosha, Ivan, and I agree—it is not.
It is interesting that, in the course of the brothers’ conversation, the issue of God being able to forgive everything doesn’t come up until the very end. When, as Ivan believes, God is the construct of the human mind, His “ability” to forgive the suffering (note that it isn’t even an ability to relieve the suffering, only to forgive it) becomes irrelevant when events like the Colorado shooting occur. What do we care about eventual justice right now if, in this very moment, children are suffering? How could a good God possibly allow an intelligent adult to carry out such an attack, even if he plans to make it right later? Why would He?
I also think the same way Ivan does—I haven’t entirely shut out the possibility of there being one Creator, because I certainly don’t know how the universe came to be. If such a being exists, and we are eventually made aware of its existence, there isn’t a possibility of not accepting it. But, like Ivan, if this Creator or God is the kind of being that allows children to suffer the way they did as a result of James Holmes’ actions in Colorado, I don’t want to believe in or worship that God. And if He does exist, I, too, will follow Ivan’s example and “respectfully return Him the ticket” to heaven.