When unexplained violence takes center stage, we tend to turn to modern psychology to explain it.
But there is an alternative explanation, one that has been played out in film, stage and writings since the beginning of history.
Was Cho Seung-Hui schizophrenic … psychotic … manic-depressive? Or were the shooting deaths of 32 people, including Cho himself, at Virginia Tech University part of the ongoing struggle between God and Satan … good against evil … lightness and darkness?
Could Cho have been possessed by the Devil? Could that explain the massacre at Virginia Tech?
Dr. Richard Roberts, president of Oral Roberts University, shouts an unequivocal “Yes!”
“Based on what I’ve seen in the news," Roberts said in an interview, "there’s no doubt that this act was Satanic in origin."
Roberts added that he doesn’t know if it was Satanic “possession” or “oppression.” Possession, he said, occurs when Satan takes over a person’s life, and the person’s actions are dictated by demonic possession within. Roberts says he’s seen this type and has seen the Devil cast out of a person.
Satanic “oppression," on the other hand, is "that which comes against." "It’s not in a person, but is coming against them, trying to put evil thoughts in their minds,” Roberts said.
He said that the evil thoughts in Satanic oppression can be fairly innocuous, or they can be harmful. And the oppression can be in the form of fear, depression or discouragement, he said, because “Satan comes to kill, steal and destroy.”
Roberts says we’ll never know whether Cho was "possessed" or "oppressed," because the killer has died. But he did leave a note blasting everyone around him, calling them “rich kids,” and “deceitful charlatans,” and then blaming them, saying “you made me do this.”
Roberts describes Cho's writings as “just words,” and says words are one of Satan’s tools to bring about Man’s destruction.
In Judaism, however, there is no belief in a supernatural evil and no belief that demon possession is at the heart of what happened in Blacksburg on Monday.
Rabbi Peter Rubenstein from New York’s Central Synagogue, says, “… Every human has two inclinations, one to do evil and one to do good…. Our hope is the individual tries to access the inclination to do good. There is a balance." But, he said, evil is done "when we enter that other side.”
Rubenstein is convinced that Cho, who reportedly was taking anti-depressants, may have been sick.
"Every human being has the ability to control that kind of rage," Rubenstein said. "This is a person that lost contact with anything decent in their lives, including their own inclination to do good.”
It’s not only theologians who talk of evil. A new book by psychologist Philip Zimbardo, “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil,” offers a perspective that may shed light on Cho’s inner demons.
"The Lucifer Effect" is based on the Stanford Prison Experiment of 33 years ago. It exposed how the prison environment creates evil and violent behavior, like at Abu Ghraib. It also explained the group or systemic evil that occurred under Hitler, communist regimes and during the genocide in Rwanda.
Zimbardo says there are prisons that are not confined to a place or building — emotional prisons of “normal” individuals that can create aberrant and evil behavior. Whether that prison is shyness, loneliness, anger or hate, it can grow and manipulate an individual into believing his only course of action is to break out, using any means possible, including violence.
In the case of Cho, he said, the “rich kids,” the “deceitful charlatans" and the women who rejected him may have been people he saw as his “jailers,” the wardens responsible for his emotional incarceration. Cho vilified them, found them guilty of great offenses and then methodically executed his warped sense of justice: the murders of 32 people.
Atheists don’t believe in the Devil or demonic possession, but there is some respect for the theological idea of evil. Michael Shermer, editor of the Skeptics Magazine, acknowledges Christianity’s take on Satan has a great deal of weight to it. “Religion figured out long before science the pervasiveness of man’s 'vil'side, that’s why they created so many rules," he said.
Shermer, of course, doesn’t believe in anything like demon possession. And surprisingly, he has an unlikely man who almost agrees with him: Rev. Robert H. Schuller, founding pastor of the Crystal Cathedral, who says he’s “not prepared to give the Devil credit for insanity.”
In addition to his theological accolades, Schuller has a background in psychology. He says of Cho: “I think it’s pure psychotic crack-up.
“I’m not denying that Satan himself could have been in this act. I’m just saying if he was, I’m not giving him credit for it.”
But the scenario of demonic possession fits neatly in the Christian paradigm. It says the whole of human existence is predicated on the narrative of man’s fall from Grace in the Garden of Eden, after Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve, and that wherever there is good, there is Satan trying to destroy it.
The battle of good vs. evil in all of us is not a simple choice between two forks in a road, but a cosmic war being waged over our souls.
Says Dr. Richard Lints of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary: “The lesson, I think, is that when we don’t take our own evil seriously, we are much more liable to perpetrate acts of evil.”
Lauren Green is FOX News Channel's Religion Correspondent.
Lauren Green currently serves as Fox News Channel's (FNC) chief religion correspondent based in the New York bureau. She joined FNC in 1996. Her new book is "Lighthouse Faith: God as a Living Reality in a World Immersed in Fog."