Published January 17, 2011
When President Obama quoted a verse from the book of Job during his speech at the memorial service for the victims of the Tucson shooting, he may have been trying to mend a cultural divide over the interpretations of evil, says one religious expert, Rabbi Irwin Kula.
Kula, author of "Yearnings, Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life," says "What secular liberal people tend to do is blame cultural or social or economic issues like the lack of mental health treatment or gun laws.... never mentioning personal responsibility."
But "conservatives," on the other hand "focus on personal responsibility and culpability, as a form of our fundamental sinful nature."
These are two different takes on what it means to be human, Kula says. But in reality, "they belong together."
President Obama said... "Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, 'When I looked for light, then came darkness." Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath."
The entire Job verse reads: "But when I looked for good, evil came to me; And when I waited for light, then came, darkness. (Job 30:26 NKJV)"
That Jared Loughner's actions were evil, is not up for debate. He gunned down 19 people, killing six and wounding 13 including the intended target, Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who remains in critical condition.
The heart wrenching funeral of the youngest victim, 9-year-old Christine Taylor Green, makes a community burning with anger over the evil perpetrated, says Kula. But there is a problem.
"You don't prosecute evil," says former federal prosecutor Bob Barr. Barr, who also served eight years representing Georgia in the U.S. House says, "You prosecute people who violate the laws, and many of those people may be evil, but you prosecute them because they have committed acts a society has determined are (1) not permissible, and (2) consistent with its structure (i.e. the Constitution). "
But Thane Rosenbaum, Professor at Fordham Law School, disagrees, saying there is precedent for prosecuting evil. The Nuremberg trials, he says, "created a name for a crime specifically to punish the evil perpetrated by the Third Reich. They called it "Crimes against humanity."
"We give it different names to better represent the size of the crime. Even if the courts don't address it, the judgment itself still has vast, moral and spiritual, significance."
But the next problem with evil is that it's not a legal term. It's hard to quantify and qualify. If the killing of 6 million is "Crimes Against Humanity," what is the wonton killing of six?
Evil inhabits the realm of theology, spirituality, mysticism and the unknown, says Father Gary Thomas, of Sacred Heart Church in Saratoga, California.
Thomas, who's also a trained exorcist and whose story is the subject of the new Hollywood movie "The Rite," says "Evil is the absence of God. The acts, thoughts and words perpetrated against someone else that is the absolute opposite of what God would want."
Evil doesn't necessarily mean demonic possession says Thomas. And it can define the most innocuous things like gossip, or the most heinous, 'crimes against humanity." It can be something that is simply immoral. And many things that are immoral are not illegal. But behind every law, says Thomas "hopefully there is moral value. Otherwise it's a bad law."
But there is still this problem with evil says author World Net Daily Editor David Kupelian. Heinous crimes leave us with the feeling that 'there is no earthly court that can properly punish a certain level of evil."
Kupelian, who's also the author of "How Evil Works," says "fifty or sixty years ago when most people operated under the Judeo Christian worldview there was an understanding that there is a God, and that that God put us in a halfway house between heaven and hell, where we have this dual nature of being able to do good as well as evil. " Essentially he says, human beings are fertile ground for whatever seeds are sown in them, evil or good.
Despite the religious language, Kupelian agrees with Kula in that we can't separate the practical (Mental health, social, etc) and the metaphysical. And that means facing a different emotional and legal process, than the shootings at Virginia Tech and Columbine. Unlike them, the Tucson shooter is alive. Barring any psychological examination that deems him unfit to stand trial, he will face a judge and jury.
But even after the legal system has done its work, says Rosenbaum, who also heads the Forum on Law, Culture and Society, the court of public opinion will be in session.
A fine example is the case of O.J. Simpson. In 1995 he was found innocent of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. In 1997 he was found liable for the deaths in the civil case, but the outrage in the community was such that in a moral sense he was still stigmatized. Rosenbaum says "Simpson couldn't get a table in a restaurant. Customers would object and threatened to walk."
"It's an example of how evil is judged in a broader sense...through moral condemnation, shame and banishment."
And in the case of World War II Germany, the public opinion court judges not only the perpetrator, but the community.
"The entire German people weren't tried in Nuremberg, but they were judged," says Rosenbaum. "And even today can't get past the stigma."
Rosenbaum says that before being judged by our maker, evil will find penalties in the temporal world. And that is something we can live with.
Lauren Green is religion correspondent for Fox News.