I was among the unhappy thousands of people yesterday who happened to watch the live on-air executions of the two journalists in Roanoke, Virginia. I came across the news report and the video of the incident believing it would not be as graphic as it turned out to be, though in retrospect it is beyond me why I thought it would be a good idea to watch in the first place: whatever the content, it was a video that purportedly involved, in some way, the televised murder of two innocent people. Though it is a shallow thing when you consider what happened to the victims themselves, it is nevertheless true that those of us who watched will have to live with those images and those sounds for the rest of our lives: once you have seen and heard two people getting killed, you cannot un-see and un-hear it.
Sitting there dumbly afterwards, nauseous and stunned, I did the only productive thing I could think of: I called my precious wife, my bride of just over two months, and left a long rambling message on her phone telling her how much I love her—and then for good measure I told her again how much I love her.
What this incident has done, for me and for hopefully everyone who has been touched by it in some way, is this: it has re-affirmed the inestimable preciousness of life, the literal pricelessness of a beating human heart. We are reminded of this with virtually every act that takes a life; all needless violence against people is entirely definitive, and all of it is definitive in the exact same way. It is something of a trifling misnomer to call these acts, as many public figures invariably do, “senseless:” they are not senseless insofar as they do not lack meaning, and significance, at least so long as we are willing to see these things. There is a reason your heart felt broken yesterday, and why the killer’s howling insanity made you feel a unique species of horror.
It is funny how often we do not see it—how often our horror goes un-felt and our hearts go unbroken. A routine Chicago weekend may produce a body count almost five times as high as that in Roanoke. A twenty-year-old boy was killed in Detroit a few weeks ago—not even old enough to drink. We inject chemicals into peoples’ bodies so that they will die, and we do it in cold blood, and we often provide an audience for it. At “women’s health centers” across the country, unborn children are routinely murdered and pulled apart for the shallowest and most superficial of reasons, at the service of a culture that ensconces infanticide within dewy-eyed feel-good rhetoric about “choice.” These killings are not each and every one of them morally identical, but it is nonetheless the case that each and every one of these lives is an invaluable thing in and of itself, something you can not rate by any temporal measure and which you cannot take away without committing a grave sin. Even the gang-bangers in Englewood and the murderers on death row are precious beyond reckoning, and anyone who says differently is lying to you: if Cain can murder his brother just because he’s embarrassed and still be worthy of divine protection, then the petty little thug from the crummy street corner surely qualifies.
Then, too, does the killer from Roanoke. I suppose it may be entirely imprudent, even offensive, to point this out, but not everything that is correct is prudent or conciliatory. By all accounts the shooter was a mish-mosh of deep and unrelenting unhappiness: he was evidently very stupid, angry, paranoid, crazy, socially inept to a painful degree, disliked by many people due to his bizarre behavior. This was a wretched, miserable person, and the egotistical, media-soaked executions he performed do not detract from the wretched misery he evidently felt every day of his life. It barely needs mentioning, but of course I am not making excuses for a cold-blooded double-murderer-cum-suicide: rather it is to point out that all the normal features and functions that generally mark a happy human life appear to have been absent from the shooter’s life, and he appears to have spent much of his time in a psychotic daze of suffering and imagined persecution. If you have prayed at all for the victims and their families, consider praying too for this man. Do not be like the people who gleefully proclaimed that there was a “space in Hell” for this broken soul. By all accounts he was already in Hell and had been for some time. Pray that his suffering is over instead of eternal.
I suppose in the days and weeks ahead we will have to deal with the inevitable tide of useless political grandstanding: the bodies were still warm yesterday when Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe called for more gun control in response to an incident he openly admitted he didn’t fully understand. In this case McAuliffe is playing the role of the shallow, opportunistic idiot, bravely exploiting a miserable tragedy in order to advance his own worthless political agenda. Aside from the cartoonish assumption that a slate of new gun control proposals would have stopped this massacre from happening, McAuliffe—a staunch pro-abortionist himself—misses the wider point: at the heart of every murder is not a firearm but a conscious and deliberate lack of respect for the sanctity of human life. We evidently could not fix this tendency in the Roanoke murderer in time—but we must not forget that we still have time to fix it in ourselves.