I would not be Adam Lanza even if I had done everything on Michael Pakaluk’s list of sins, and I am not Adam Lanza even if what Pakaluk quotes from Plato is correct. (What Plato says differs from the idea of original sin in various ways, one of which is suggested by Pakaluk’s quotation from Saint Josemaria Escriva: There the emphasis is on what we are capable of if “Our Lord abandons us,” while Plato speaks of our own “part[ing] company with all shame and sense” without mentioning a divine agency.)
It is important to acknowledge one’s ugliness and cruelty, and to guard against the acts that, in one’s blackest moments, one might commit. Most of us have probably felt an impulse senselessly to destroy. As a child I ripped the wings off a butterfly, not because I wanted them, not even because I was visiting some anger upon an innocent creature, but simply because I could. I have felt guilty about it for more than two decades.
But I killed a butterfly, not a person. The claim that a proper response to mass murder is for everybody to “repent in sackcloth and ashes” shows a loss of perspective and obscures very basic and very important differences.1
1. I mean the difference between capacity and action, the killer’s moral standing and ours — everything that the idea of original sin and the quotation from Plato leave out. About Plato: I’m not sure what it would mean for what he says there to be true (or false), but it is not equivalent to the idea of original sin, which is defined by reference to things absent in Plato and a story he does not tell. I’m also unsure what it would mean to owe to a deity a debt that I had not incurred through my actions, or not to owe one, although I do understand the idea of unjust punishment by an authority. (12/21/12) (I also understand the idea of rescuing someone from consequences that you did not ordain. 12/24/12)