Courtesy of mass murderer Adam Lanza, Sandy Hook School in Newtown,Connecticut has been deprived of 26 members of its community, six adults and twenty children between the ages of five and ten. Â Â
Our hearts breakâas they should. Unfortunately, to judge from the endless commentary on this matter, it would appear that our heads are just as fragmented.
The demand for better âmental healthâ treatment is a classic case in point.Â Yet this focus on mental health reflects, not just massive intellectual confusion, but equally massive moral confusion.Â
The ever perceptive writer Ilana Mercer was among the first to recognize this.Â Just hours after the Newtown shooting, legions of commentatorsââself-serving tele-experts, twits of psychology and psychiatry,â as Mercer refers to themâstormed the airwaves to âdiagnoseâ the shooter.Â But as Mercer was quick to note, the diagnosis of evil doers can only lead to the denial of evil itself.
âAdam Lanza,â she declares, is âevil, not ill.â
And she is right.
The language of âevil,â like that of âgood,â is the language of morality. Â The language of âmental healthâ and âsickness,â on the other hand, is the idiom of science (whether pseudo-science or not is beside the point).Â Mental illness is as incompatible with moral judgment as is physical illness.Â Neither Aspergerâs syndrome nor cancer has anything to say regarding the moral worth of Lanzaâs character or actions.
Adam Lanza, the man who shot up a school murdering 20 little boys and girls and six of the adults who tried to protect them, was evil, not ill.
The sick deserve our compassion.Â The wicked deserve our condemnation.Â Do you see the inconsistency between describing Lanza as both âillâ and âevil?â If it is some mental âillnessâ that compelled him to commit mass murder, then he no more warrants blame than he would if it was some physical illness like cancer that compelled him to vomit uncontrollably or suffer a dramatic weight loss.Â
The great conservative Edmund Burke had famously declared that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.Â Yet good men cannot do a thing about evil unless they are able to recognize it for what it isâand what it is not.Â In fact, in the absence of this ability, men canât hope to be good at all. Â Â
So, point one: lest we know this elementary difference between evil and illness, we will render ourselves incapable of making pronouncements concerning either.
This conflation of illness and evil gives rise to an even greater problem, however: far more evil promises to be done in the name of âmental health treatmentâ than would ever be done in the name of justice.
C.S. Lewis is among those who took note of this nearly 60 years ago.Â Lewis wrote that when âthe idea of mending tails off into that of healing or curing,â then the healers are likely to âact as cruelly and unjustly as the greatest tyrants.âÂ Indeed, âin some respects,â they could âact even worse,â for âa tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressiveâ of all tyrannies.Â The therapists will âtorment us without endâ because they have âthe approval of their own conscience.â
Lewis makes another crucial observation.Â The language of good and evil affirms the moral agency of men and womenâeven human monsters who would deliberately harm children.Â The language of mental illness, in contrast, deprives us of it.
âTo be âcuredâ against oneâs will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level with those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.â
Yet when punishment, even capital punishment, is visited upon a person because he is believed to deserve it, the subject in question is âtreated as a human person made in Godâs image.âÂ Â Â Â Â
Those of us who are resolved to combat evil must be just as resolved to differentiate it from illness.