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Steve Pable

Hi John –

I am struck time and again at our all too human tendency to want to shift the blame to someone else. Just a few hours ago in the car, a sibling squabble in the backseat had escalated into hair pulling and smacking. Tears and indignant accusations were flowing freely.

My eldest was not involved in this particular altercation, but I wanted to point out to him the dynamic that was unfolding. When it came time to exchange apologies and take ownership of their offenses, our four-year-old was determined that her siblings should go first. When I asked what she had done for her part, all she could say was, "let's talk about what Olivia did to Nate..."

I pointed out to my son that whether four or forty, we are always quick to point to someone else's shortcoming, rather than acknowledge our own sinfulness and selfishness.

I'm convinced that what makes an incident like this so wrenching is the fact that it forces us to confront not only senseless violence and loss of life, but our own personal and cultural shadows lurking not far beneath the surface.

Praying for healing and hope for all those touched by this tragedy.

John Hobbins

Hi Steve,

We are on the same page. My intent is not to jump to specific conclusions in this instance; truth in that sense is more unpredictable than fiction:

But I do think it makes sense to frame what happened in light of the broader human predicament.


We are all involved in a universal pattern of relationships in which everyone and everything is in one way or another inter-related.

Plus we live in a sin-saturated humanly created world. Sin being active denial of the Living Divine Reality or the intrinsic condition of Prior Unity (even all the while prattling on about Jesus, the Bible, and the God, or more correctl;y the tribalistic cultic deity, associated with the Bible.

Sin, or the individual and collective active denial of the condition of Prior Unity is the worst cancer in the universe. It is the worst sickness. It is the most horrific disease. It implications cover the entirety of everyone's life. The world is filled with its symptoms and reeks with its torments and potentials, coming from all directions, most of which people cannot even see.

From another perspective USA "culture" (in particular) is now effectively in a state of collective psychosis. It is also saturated with the "culture" of violence, brought to one and all courtesy of the military-industrial-"entertainment" complex, and the gun-"culture" promoted by the NRA.

Some people just randomly SNAP in response to it all.

What was tragically interesting is the fact that one of the victims was only 6 years old, and the fact that other young children were in the theater too. A phenomenon which is probably quite typical. When I saw the film here in Australia there were several 6-8-10 year olds in the audience.
The question is: What kind of a dim-witted parent would take a 6 year old to see such a dark and darkly violent film?

John Hobbins

Hi John,

Thanks for commenting here. You make a number of controversial affirmations worth exploring, assuming you are interested in a conversation.

First of all, you talk about a Prior Unity that apparently has been revealed to you apart from Jesus, the Bible, and the deity of which both speak. Perhaps you will be so kind as to identify the sources of your knowledge of the Prior Unity of which you speak.

The God I know from scripture, tradition, and experience both forgives and punishes; your reference on the other hand to a "Prior Unity" seems designed to bypass reality experienced in the way I mention. I find that profoundly unhelpful.

A mystical withdrawal from life with its dark shadows and darkly violent moments, a retreat if you will, is a luxury most of us enjoy, unless we are a Buddhist monk, at rare intervals.

Furthermore, even if I am convinced as you are of the existence and strength of the military-industrial-"entertainment" complex, and the gun-"culture" promoted by the NRA, I am not sure what to make of your reference to them from someone like you, who just rushed to see the latest Batman film.

Perhaps it goes without saying for you that there are good violent films like Batman and those by Quentin Tarantino, and bad violent films like (I don't know) Rocky and Rambo. If so, we are somewhere on the same page. Except that I would emphasize, to use the example of Shakespeare, that bad drama (Titus and Andronicus) no less than good drama (King Lear) is starkly violent because drama is, almost by definition, cathartic or cleansing. So long as it maintains the tragic dimension of human experience, it cleanses of violence. It does not incite violence.

Put another way, if James Holmes had watched the latest Batman flick from beginning to end and experienced catharsis as most people do in the process, he could not have gone on to do what he did. Not on the same day at least.

Finally, as much as I agree with you that American culture stands at the center of global culture and that narrates and stylizes violence in ways that impact almost everyone (as the popularity of both Batman films and Tarantino films attest, not to mention those of the Coen brothers), I'm not sure it's true that other cultures stylize violence in more thoughtful ways. Do you find the way that Gaspar Noe (an Argentine) treats violence in Irreversible to be more thoughtful? Would you take 9th graders to see the 2000 Japanese film entitled Battle Royale? Not that it matters, they will take themselves to see it, whether adults like it or not.

Dean Sandvig

Thanks John for a look at this tragedy in a way that is different than most and, I believe, is very insightful. I too see the tendency for my kids (and myself) to point the blame to others instead of looking inside ourselves to see what we did. I've been reading a lot of Andy Andrews lately and one thing he mentions is that to improve ourselves we should focus on what others think we need to change and then do something to change that. Blaming others does not improve change anything. Then, we need to do something to change -- intent is nice, but even a seagull with the "intent" to fly does not actually fly.


Hello, John. I'm going to disagree a bit, based on this: "he lived in his mind." That's a definition of psychosis. And I think he responded to his "loss" via paranoia. Only bright people become paranoid. And people who go crazy are people who live "inside" their heads without testing reality, which keeps us in touch with society's norms.

I realize some may disagree with this. And I realize that many folks think insanity means it's impossible to meticulously carry out crimes. Paranoid individuals can. And do.

Based upon that analysis, here's how I'd deal with the issue of "sin" which you brought up. I think we as a society bear some blame for our failure to control guns (and the culture around them) as well as for our failure to provide universal healthcare and especially mental health care. I think we can (and should) repent for that.

And I think we can use this, and other events, to learn the forgiveness Jesus asks of us. Which does not mean individuals go "unpunished" - but that we work on ourselves when things like this happen.

I've linked (via my name) to a blog related to the paragraph above.

Thanks for posting on this! Be well.

John Hobbins

Hi Thera,

Thank you for your helpful comments and thoughtful reflections.

From what I've read, it seems clear that Holmes was not obviously in need of mental health care but even if he were, would he have accepted it and under what conditions could he be compelled to receive mental health care?

I don't know for sure, but let's assume for the sake of argument that he would not have accepted help and that, under current law, he could not have been compelled to receive the kind of help that might very well have led to a very different outcome than the one we are all mourning.

To be clear, I find it appalling that someone can make purchases of guns and ammunition of the kind Holmes did without being subject to preventative questioning by the authorities. I also believe we need to figure out ways to introduce preventative health care into the warp and woof of our lives; on the other hand, I don't believe "universal health care" is the answer. I lived in Italy many years and I can assure that what universal health care means is poor health care for the poor, mediocre health care for the middle classes, and the best health care money can buy for those who have the means.

I am sensitive to the question of undiagnosed mental illness and the pervasive practice of self-medication because I have worked side by side with people with untreated mental illness off and on throughout my life, side by side with people who are more or less functioning alcoholics (until they go over some cliff), and side by side with people who may not have a mental illness in the strict sense, but who are nonetheless very ill because of an uncontrolled addiction, a marriage in shambles, or lack of decent employment.

Given our society's commitment to individual rights, we make it easy for all of the above categories to go on with their lives as they please, until they cross a line and run over an innocent child (DUI), destroy their marriage and lose their home (gambling), go "postal" (job stress, loss of job), or abuse a partner or children (domestic dysfunction). Just examples.

Whether someone like Brevik or Holmes is mentally insane or not such that in some sense they are not culpable for their actions is to my mind an unhelpful question even if under current law a decision on the matter has to be made.

Perhaps that's because I feel that all murderers (planned, premeditated elimination of life out of pure spite or based on a choice of taking justice into one's own hands) are responsible for their actions regardless of the degree to which their mental health was impaired when they did what they did.

I understand the need to identify mitigating factors in order to make the punishment fit the crime; I think forgiveness needs to be an option but I feel that option cannot be automatic and written into law but offered as a possible path to the survivors of a crime. I am convinced that our legal system is broken in many ways though I also count judges and lawyers as friends who accomplish a lot of good despite more than because of the system they work within.

At least a crime of this kind forces us, the supposedly healthy, to reexamine our unhealthy ways.


Good points, John!

As far as universal healthcare goes, we lived for a time in Canada, where they have a great healthcare system. And it works for rich, poor, whomever. We were poor at the time and our doc never even charged the 10% he could have billed us. I got great pre-natal and delivery care there.

As for murderers being responsible, I like the places where someone can be convicted as "Guilty, but insane." That speaks to culpability. And I'm with you on this one.

As for his mental health, apparently he did try to get some treatment. (I read that somewhere but don't have a link.)

And yes, it's a problem in this country that severe mental illness has become "criminalized" - in that seldom can a person be treated or even medicated without their consent. And thus the untreated individual ends up in the criminal justice system, which truly drives judges nuts. Not to speak of the police. And the jails.

I'm not advocating for forgiveness written into law. Just for that written into our hearts. To the extent that's possible. And I do not fault anyone who cannot live up to what is surely aspirational for us if we try to follow Jesus.

Thanks for your long and detailed response. As usual, I think we agree far more than we disagree. And it's always a pleasure to "converse" with you

John Hobbins

Thank you, Thera, for a fine conversation.

I appreciate your willingness to hold guilt and insanity together, which opens the door to forgiveness as well. I would love to see an event like this trigger reform in more than one area, but I think reform, if it is to come, will have to be creative and audacious if it is to get past the roadblocks that currently exist such that particular solutions, insofar as they are associated with one political party only, are out of the question.

There are reports that the Canadian health care system has deteriorated of late - it is underfunded, a chronic problem with "universal" health care. Furthermore, I'm not sure it works so well for the rich - rich Canadians still come here if they perceive themselves to have their back against a wall and want the best healthcare money can buy. But all in all I think the health care system of Canada could be made to work in places like Minnesota and Wisconsin if doctors here could be convinced to see their salaries cut by as much as half. But that is not a likely scenario, is it?

I really don't know if institutions like Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins Hospital could continue to thrive in a government-centric system.

I lived in Toronto for four years and had many friends who were doctors and nurses. At that time, the doctors who were at the top of their game could go to the US and double their income. A few of them did, but not many.

I don't think the Canadian health care system would fly in Mississippi, Texas, or Illinois. The cultural premises are missing. Universal health care for them would probably look a lot like what it is in Italy.

Regardless, individual states are in a position to move to a Romneycare system if they wish. Tenncare on the other hand was a total bust. Perhaps we have it better than we know in Wisconsin, with 90% of the population covered, the most vulnerable part of the population included.

Max Morris

I agree with everything that you mentioned. I even agree with the solution. I'm glad someone acknowledged the motivations instead of just saying, "he was evil."

I'm not sure if I kept looking for insight to this until I found something that I was already in agremnet with, but the authorities seem to be unwilling to divulge much at this point.

It is however, the first time I had read something of this topic that had something healthful and healing to take away.


I don't think you fully researched your examples. Holmes was under the psychiatric treatment of military trained propranolol researcher Dr. Lynne Fenton. (Whether the fact his father was supposed to testify in the LIBOR scandal is related is worth researching but totally unknown yet.) Kaczynski was a child prodigy "volunteer" for brutal CIA mind control experiments at Harvard under Dr. Murray who continued Nazi psychological experiments. Remember Columbine? That was pharmaceutical fluvoxamine.

Martin Luther is quoted as if a moral authority, but he has no similar reason to explain his mass murders of Anabaptists, and in his written, potty-mouthed desires, against the Jews. He was much worse the mass murderer than any other referenced killers. The effort to promote Luther despite a theology of mass murder justification is part of the modern love of the Dimmesdale character (Scarlet Letter) types. (Emotional empathy affected through the guilt of continued unrepentant sin, but supposedly still good because of ability to feel guilt.)

These aren't excuses to minimize punishment, but a warning that our minds are susceptible to many different types of attack through pharmaceuticals, and the people, corporations, and governments that promote them. Just last month in Dallas a very peaceful and religious Rod Steele went crazy on Ambien, tried to kill his wife, then successfully killed himself. Many similar lifetime of sanity switched to violent psychotic events locally due to anti-smoking pharmaceutical Chantix. I doubt they make national news.

John Hobbins


The reason why drugs are so popular in the US is not because companies or the government con people into taking them but because so many people are looking for a quick fix, a pill, to bring healing in the midst of mental, physical, and spiritual suffering.

If not that, legal and illegal self-medication in the form of marijuana, alcohol, oxycontin, cocaine, and what have you is extremely common.

I don't buy your government/military/ big pharma conspiracy theory for one minute. All three are followers, not leaders. They know what their customers/clients want. Its do ut des.

If you simply want to point out that Americans are prescribed drugs and self-medicate with drugs in ways that sometimes contribute to disaster, I agree. If you want to identify ways to minimize those risks, I'm with you.

Otherwise, I think your blanket accusations do more harm than good. It also needs to be emphasized that government, business, and military researchers experiment with drugs and save lives or prolong them and, all other things being equal [which is to say, a non-drug alternative might very well be a more effective solution], enhance the quality of life of countless individuals.

Your crass characterization of Luther suggests that you know next to nothing about Luther's life and times. If you wrote what you did in a Western history class, you would deservedly be flunked.

But I hope we could agree on this. Stay away from drugs as much as possible. Legal and illegal. The cure is often worse than the disease, and alleviates symptoms more often than causes.

I stand by my tentative analysis. I am certainly willing to entertain the possibility that Holmes' psychiatrist, if indeed he was following her directions at the time, and the drugs he may have been on (or chose to take improperly for his own reasons), may have hastened his descent into hell and made things worse rather than better.

On the other hand, I think the demons he faced are ones we all face; how we deal with them is up to us. True, if we expel one demon only to open the door to seven more, we make things worse, not better.

For another analysis, not unlike mine, go here:


I'll leave Luther's worst-in-class morals to his own words: "That seditious articles of doctrine should be punished by the sword needed no further proof. For the rest, the Anabaptists hold tenets relating to infant baptism, original sin, and inspiration, which have no connection with the Word of God, and are indeed opposed to it. ... Secular authorities are also bound to restrain and punish avowedly false doctrine ... For think what disaster would ensue if children were not baptized? ... Besides this the Anabaptists separate themselves from the churches ... and they set up a ministry and congregation of their own, which is also contrary to the command of God. From all this it becomes clear that the secular authorities are bound ... to inflict corporal punishment on the offenders ... Also when it is a case of only upholding some spiritual tenet, such as infant baptism, original sin, and unnecessary separation, then ... we conclude that ... the stubborn sectaries must be put to death."

Of course, I'd still flunk a Luther-phile directed course. (They'd murder me if not for the Enlightenment.) I'd flunk a Church of England graded class for saying the Church of England separated so Henry VIII could divorce. I'd flunk a Calvinist class for defending Sabastian Castellio's defense of Servetus. I'd flunk a neo-conservative class for showing internal documents that Truman's publicly stated reasons for dropping the a-bomb were a lie.

I would not link the natural medicines of God, like marijuana with the pharmaceutical by-products of the military-industrial complex, even if they could be abused too.

While it is true that producers need willing consumers, with state power and money, including through Freud's nephew Edward Bernays' creation of modern public relations propaganda methods, they worked to make alternative means of production illegal, as Luther killed his competition, so too does the FDA make everything from raw milk to neighborhood butcheries illegal.

John Hobbins

What you lack, decentralist, is an ability to contextualize.

For example, it is well-known that one of the main reasons, perhaps in fact the principal reason, that Luther ran afoul of the Pope was because he questioned the right of the church to persecute and put heretics to death. Even later, when he changed his mind in the thick of battle, he took a moderating stance compared to that of the princes who were both his protectors and benefactors and to whom he was subject.

You make no mention of the legacy of the Catholic church on the issues for which you have singled out Luther for blame. Furthermore, even after the Enlightenment and indeed because of the Enlightenment, witches were burned at the stake in France at a higher rate than Puritan New England. In short, your singling out of Luther as worst-in-his-class lacks perspective. Worst in what class and compared to whom?

Among religious leaders down through the ages in times of social conflict, Luther was a relative underachiever with respect to what was called "the third use of the law." State actors in any case have been guilty of the greater atrocities, all the way down to our own Presidents as various as Roosevelt, Truman, Bush and Obama, who are nonetheless not worst-in-their class compared to Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, and Pol Pot.

You are right that you would flunk a lot of courses, not however because your views might be unpopular, but because they are one-sided, blind in one eye as it were, and you apply not peer-to-peer standards of evaluation, but a 21st century standard of your own concoction. This sort of creative anachronism is the antithesis of historical thinking.

Your defense of the medicines of God is pathetic. It does not cut it for the many children and family members whose lives have been stunted or forever compromised by a pothead Mom or Dad or, worse yet, by an addict of more potent divine medicine like heroin or cocaine.

Finally, whilst fair and sober criticism of the FDA is always welcome, your wild punches in that direction and others disqualify you from being considered an acute and constructive critic.


Whoever wrote this.... it made me understand why James Holmes did what he did.
It made me understand.

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  • Purging my soul . . . one blog at a time
    great theoblog by Sam Nunnally
  • Qumranica
    weblog for a course on the Dead Sea Scrolls at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, taught by James R. Davila (archive)
  • Ralph the Sacred River
    by Edward Cook, a superb Aramaist
  • Random Bloggings
    by Calvin Park, M. Div. student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton MA
  • Resident aliens
    reflections of one not at home in this world
  • Revelation is Real
    Strong-minded comment from Tony Siew, lecturer at Trinity Theological College, Singapore
  • Ricoblog
    by Rick Brannan, it's the baby pictures I like the most
  • Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
    Nick Norelli's fabulous blog on Bible and theology
  • SansBlogue
    by Tim Bulkeley, lecturer in Old Testament, Carey Baptist College (New Zealand). His Hypertext Commentary on Amos is an interesting experiment
  • Ancient Near Eastern Languages
    texts and files to help people learn some ancient languages in self study, by Mike Heiser
  • Midrash, etc.
    A fine Hebrew-to-English blog on Midrash, by Carl Kinbar, Director of the New School for Jewish Studies and a facultm member at MJTI School of Jewish Studies.
  • Phil Lembo what I'm thinking
    a recovering lawyer, now in IT, with a passion for a faith worth living
  • Roses and Razorwire
    a top-notch Levantine archaeology blog, by Owen Chesnut, a doctoral student at Andrews University (MI)
  • Scripture & Theology
    a communal weblog dedicated to the intersection of biblical interpretation and the articulation of church doctrine, by Daniel Driver, Phil Sumpter, and others
  • Scripture Zealot
    by Jeff Contrast
  • Serving the Word
    incisive comment on the Hebrew Bible and related ancient matters, with special attention to problems of philology and linguistic anthropology, by Seth L. Sanders, Assistant Professor in the Religion Department of Trinity College, Hartford, CT
  • Singing in the Reign
    NT blog by Michael Barber (JP University) and Brad Pitre (Our Lady Holy Cross)
  • Stay Curious
    excellent comment on Hebrew Bible and Hebrew language topics, by Karyn Traphagen, graduate, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia PA (archive)
  • Sufficiency
    A personal take on the faith delivered to the saints, by Bob MacDonald, whose parallel blog on the Psalms in Hebrew is a colorful and innovative experiment
  • The Sundry Times
    Gary Zimmerli's place, with comment on Bible translations and church renewal
  • Sunestauromai: living the crucified life
    by a scholar-pastor based in the Grand Canyon National Park
  • ta biblia
    blog dedicated to the New Testament and the history of Christian origins, by Giovanni Bazzana
  • Targuman
    by Christian Brady, targum specialist extraordinaire, and dean of Schreyer Honors College, Penn State University
  • Targuman
    on biblical and rabbinic literature, Christian theology, gadgetry, photography, and the odd comic, by Christian Brady, associate professor of ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature and dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State
  • The Biblia Hebraica Blog
    a blog about Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the history of the Ancient Near East and the classical world, Syro-Palestinian archaeology, early Judaism, early Christianity, New Testament interpretation, English Bible translations, biblical theology, religion and culture, philosophy, science fiction, and anything else relevant to the study of the Bible, by Douglas Magnum, PhD candidate, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • The Forbidden Gospels Blog
    by April DeConick, Professor of Biblical Studies, Rice University
  • The Naked Bible
    by Mike Heiser, academic editor at Logos Bible Software
  • The Reformed Reader
    by Andrew Compton, Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (focus on Hebrew and Semitic Languages) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • The Sacred Page
    a blog written by three Catholic Ph.D.s who are professors of Scripture and Theology: Michael Barber, Brant Pitre and John Bergsma
  • The Talmud Blog
    a group blog on Talmud News, Reviews, Culture, Currents, and Criticism
  • Theological German
    a site for reading and discussing theological German, by Mark Alter
  • theoutwardquest
    seeking spirituality as an outward, not an inward quest, by David Corder
  • This Lamp
    Incisive comment on Bible translations in the archives, by Rick Mansfield
  • Thoughts on Antiquity
    By Chris Weimer and friends, posts of interest on ancient Greek and Roman topics (archive). Chris is a graduate student at the City University of New York in Classics
  • Threads from Henry's Web
    Wide-ranging comment by Henry Neufeld, educator, publisher, and author
  • Tête-à-Tête-Tête
    smart commentary by "smijer," a Unitarian-Universalist
  • Undeception
    A great blog by Mike Douglas, a graduate student in biblical studies
  • What I Learned From Aristotle
    the Judaica posts are informative (archive)
  • Bouncing into Graceland
    a delightful blog on biblical and theological themes, by Esteban Vázquez (archive)
  • Weblog
    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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