If Good Works are Complicated

Then so are bad ones.

But Americans have a habit of looking for a single-motive that will make sense of evil.

Ferguson, Missouri? Racism.

Bill Cosby? Male.

Tom Brady? Adulterer.

Boston Marathon bombers? Islam.

Dylann Roof? Confederate flag.

But not so fast:

The murders of nine black Americans in a Charleston South Carolina Methodist Episcopal Church have stirred angry denunciations in newspapers and magazines about their white killer, Dylann Roof. He belonged to several organizations which cling to symbols and sentiments of the long defeated Southern Confederacy. Some people are retrospectively blaming American slavery and slave owners for the bloodshed. There have been calls for the demolition of the Jefferson Memorial. Other angry critics have defaced statues of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.

While there is a connection to the so-called Lost Cause on the surface of Roof’s disturbed mind, it is not an explanation for the tragedy. The reason for the bloodshed is psychiatric, not racial or political. It is one more example of the Amok Syndrome.

For a long time Amok murders were considered a macabre trait of the Muslim nations of Southeast Asia such as Malaysia and Indonesia. There, westerners discovered individuals who became depressed and discontented for various reasons – rejection by a woman, loss of a job, the death of a beloved son or daughter. At some unpredictable point, they rushed into the street armed with a “kris” – a large machete-like sword – and began killing people until they were cut down by neighbors or the police.

The idea of westerners succumbing to such a disorder was first suggested by the Austrian novelist, Stefan Zweig, who had encountered the phenomenon in his travels and published a book of novellas in 1922, Amok, Dramas of a Passion, describing people who succumbed to this murderous emotion in various ways. Zweig was heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud, among the first to suggest that beneath the surface of many actions lies an undetected emotional illness.

People began noting that outbursts of similar violence took place in many countries. In 1972, Jin Inn Teoh, professor of psychiatry at Aberdeen University in England, reviewed a range of incidents from around the world and concluded amok behavior existed everywhere. There were differences in the way it manifested itself, but it was essentially the same outburst of mass violence. More recently, researchers for Wikipedia have amassed a list of 1,315 examples, which they called “rampage killings.” They have occurred in Africa, in the Middle East, in South and North America and Europe.

Just maybe the heart is desperately complicated, and the Coens know it.


15 thoughts on “If Good Works are Complicated

  1. Call it.
    No, I ain’t gonna call it.
    Call it.
    The coin don’t have no say. It’s just you
    Well, I got here the same way the coin did


  2. Anyone who thinks that Aberdeen University is in England is significantly out of touch with reality…


  3. DGHart:“just maybe the heart is desperately complicated”.

    not sure how much interest in ‘heart’ you’ll get at OL, so thought I better comment (enough name revealing DG? revelation is progressive)

    Or how about this: “Teen shot family after woman laughed at him” http://news.yahoo.com/suspect-montana-family-shooting-wyoming-18-old-182805140.html

    You should do a series on ‘theology of the heart’ since God does not look at the outward appearance but upon the heart; will render to each man according to all his ways whose hearts He knows; and Who spends our lives testing those hearts revealing them to us too. Only hope: a new heart where the day is dawning and the morning star is arising.


  4. If you don’t want to reduce the motivation of the slaughter of 9 Blacks from the church in Charleston to racism, that is ok. But to eliminate racism as a motivation with the evidence at hand is irresponsible.


  5. limited appeal? The heart as spoken of in the word is everything – not an emotional mess of feelings but the core of our being and what controls everything (according to the Lord)

    why bother ?
    if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, let us make our joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose? Phil 2:1-2


  6. George Packer–“The war in Iraq was not popular, but the troops were, at least nominally. Both sides, if being honest, felt the falseness.”


    Our scapegoats do our good works for us, and we “thank you for your service”, but since the cost of veterans benefits is on the books (unlike the wars), nobody’s telling the truth.


  7. Sometimes being Reformed means that your good works are done to maintain the status quo and slow down sudden changes. What’s new is what was old.


    When people talk about “one covenant, many administrations of the substance of that one covenant”, ask them how many administrations and ask them when these administrations started and when they ended. Did one end when another started, or can there be more than one “administration” at one time? Is the new really new, or simply the old slightly revised, but not in substance?

    They should be able to make up the answer, because the entire scheme is made up in the first place, not taught in the Bible.


  8. The antithesis between a “broken heart” (like yours) and the hearts of others (not you) will do no good if your heart does not know and trust Christ’s death for the elect as that which saves the elect. If Jesus Christ died for everybody but this only “enabled God” to save those with “broken hearts”, then sinners will look to their own hearts for the difference between lost and saved.

    The only way you can tell people that the gospel is “outside of you” is to tell them that the gospel they must believe to be saved excludes what’s in their heart as the condition of salvation. Unless you preach that Christ died only for the elect, and for all their sins imputed by God to Christ, you encourage people to to put faith in their own (changed) hearts to make the utlimte difference between life and death.


  9. Well, I’d agree Curt, which might be a first.
    But I also want a bumper sticker that says:

    Better shoot that Confederate Flag before it shoots you.
    And let PP adopt its kids.

    Know where I can get one?


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