No Prayers for Elliot Rodger? The Serpent Speaks Again: Thoughts on the Tragic Isla Vista Murders

Number one son and I are planning to go out to breakfast with one of his old high school buddies. As he camps out on my bed, furiously texting away, I am so thankful for the mercy and kindness of heaven in protecting him and bringing him home safely to us. May peace and comfort be upon the families and friends of the deceased and injured during this painful time.

English: Halloween revelers on the 6600 block ...

English: Halloween revelers on the 6600 block of Del Playa Drive (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some of you may not be aware of the tragic murders in Isla Vista, home to 23,000 UCSB and other local students, that left 7 dead, including the perpetrator.

Let me tell you my story. On Friday morning I was getting my purple peek-a-boo highlights touched up when my son called. He was thinking of coming home for the long holiday weekend because he felt stressed with all the pressure at school and missed his family, his aged and ailing three-legged cocker spaniel, probably having his mom fuss over him and make sure he enjoyed his favorite foods, and perhaps even battles with his younger brother, but had decided against it because a paper was due Tuesday.  I suspect the call was to incite his mother to attempt to convince him otherwise, and mom happily obliged.  “Can’t you work on your paper at home?  I know you’ll have more distractions, but….we can all go out for sushi sometime.”

Around 6:30, with the last train to San Diego leaving in a hour, he called and said he was thinking of coming home anyway, but was concerned about the cost of the round-trip ticket, $100, as it is $20 more if you don’t get it in advance. I urged him to use my credit card to purchase his ticket, and I heard him print it out while we were still talking.   “So, are you going to be hungry, or are you going to eat that revolting, overpriced train fare for dinner?  “Not hungry,” he replied.  “I can’t eat when I’m stressed.”   “Is there anything special you want me to have for you; I can pick up Thai if you like, or whatever you want?”  “Naw,” he breathed.  “We can go out for sushi tomorrow maybe.”  His dad said, “no problem,” to picking son up at the train station 25 minutes away at midnight, and it turned out later because of a delay.

So, at 10:30 on Friday night, I received an anxious call from my son, still on the train, that his roommate had texted him that he had heard there had been multiple deaths and injuries from a drive-by shooter in Isla Vista, where he lives, and all the residents had been ordered to not leave their homes. News and campus officials provided little information, but the campus smart-phone grapevine was flooded with photos and eye-witness accounts as well as speculation and rumor. The roommate heard the many shots fired into the nearby Deli-Mart, one of the many crime scenes. I discovered later that the roommate also knew the three students stabbed to death at the perpetrator’s Capri apartment.  One of the murder victims had visited the apartment of my son and his roommate not too long ago. His roommate’s girlfriend was close friends with one of the women shot outside the sorority house.  A college campus can be a small world. After hanging up, I immediately set upon a search of what news and social media chatter revealed about the emerging situation.

My son informed me that Thursday night he had been sitting eating a sandwich in the outdoor seating area of the Isla Vista Deli-mart, right where a young man was killed, and he was planning on going to the deli for dinner that evening, had he stayed. He knew the deli owner, and showed me a photo someone sent him of the gunshot hole in the glass at the deli, with the owner in the background. My son told me he had never met the shooter, who was a student at SBCC, not UCSB, but he had seen his car around, as a new, black BMW with blacked out windows would not be the most common vehicle, even with an affluent student body.  My son called it, “an a$$-hole car.”

I was waiting up for my son when he arrived home close to 1 am.  We were both tired, but talked a bit.  I asked if he thought about the fact that IF he had not felt stressed, lonely and anxious and so decided to come home for the weekend, he would have been at the location of one of the shootings at the same time a fellow UCSB student was killed?  It could have been him eating dinner at the deli instead of  riding home on the train?  He recognized that.  I think this event shook him out of his funk.  Well, I can imagine that having a mass murder take place at your seaside university beats shock treatment or hours at the psychologist for therapeutic effect. It puts things into perspective.  How can you worry about finals, getting a job or getting into grad school following graduation and other worries about your future when your colleagues that were sitting next to you in class yesterday have no future on this earth?  Not that I recommend this as a treatment methodology.

I’ve been taking some courses via MOOCs Coursera and edX in the areas of Behavioral Economics and Cognitive Science.  Yes, I understand there are various errors of interpretation, where we can ascribe meaning to events that may not be there.  So, I realize I am attributing my son’s safety to divine protection, and validation that he has a destiny to fulfill on this earth.  Is it just a matter of randomness?  Can matters of life and death be reduced to random chance, as if life is a lottery that one is entered into involuntarily, and time and manner of leaving this life is some sick version of Powerball?  What about the students who aren’t here today?  Were they less valued by a loving Creator?  Or were they victims of randomness?  Do we need to know and understand what is not understandable?  Can we still press forward in our own blurry state, offering light and help where we can with open hands?  “…perhaps since the beginning of Creation, a piece of the world has been waiting for your soul to purify and repair it.  And your soul, from the time it was emanated and conceived, waited above to descend to this world and carry out that mission.  And your footsteps were guided to reach that place.  And you are there now.”  (Tzvi Freeman, “Bringing Heaven Down to Earth)

I choose to believe that some things are outside the realm of evidentiary testing.  As Abraham Joshua Heschel famously concluded, “God is not logical or illogical; he is supralogical.”  In disagreement with arguments from both sides of the aisle, I don’t believe the things beyond this earth can be tested by the ways of earth.  They cannot be either proven nor disproved.  While atheists make the false assumption that what cannot be tested is assumed false and the burden to provide a preponderance of evidence is upon their opponents, believers also make the false assumption that what cannot be examined should be deemed true by virtue of emotional experience or pseudo-science.  Faith and the miraculous are by definition outside the laws of nature.  I do have a problem with those who make testable truth claims, but fail to provide any data or documentation for those claims.  My faith in God does not extend to those who claim to speak for him.  In God I trust; all others pay cash and provide evidence.  I prefer the recognition and wonder of enigma and choose to make peace with ambiguity rather than surrender to the unquestioning embrace of dogma.  “Making sense of everything is not an obligation or even a possibility. Acceptance of mystery is an act not of resignation but humility.” -David Wolpe

So bizarre. Parents worry their kids in university will get too involved in the party scene, not do well in their classes or have difficulty adjusting to life away from home. But I doubt if many stay awake at night in fear they will be murdered. Perhaps we don’t appreciate how thin the line is between this world and the next, and the influence of heaven that protects us, even while we are unaware and unappreciative.

I believe we are living in times like the Days of Noah, when the earth was filled with chamas (violence.) It seems as if the barrier between thinking dark, antisocial thoughts has given way to acting out hatred, jealousy and bitterness in murder.   Usually I don’t prefer the KJV, for a lot of reasons, but here it seems to meet the target: He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.  Rev. 22:11   We’ve grown up in an environment where social constraints place limits on harmful behavior and encourage decency, at least to some extent.  Imagine a world without even a flawed moral foundation limiting the expression of  man’s most depraved passions; a world without boundaries.  Blogger John Parsons opined that a depraved mind was considered literally insane from a spiritual perspective, as persons devoid of conscience are so driven by their passions they are unable to reason ethically.    While we live in a world where a lot of people do some bad things as well as a lot of people do some good things, but only a minuscule few on this planet do truly horrific things.  Think of what it would be like to exist in a space where the numbers are reversed, and humans with any modicum of decency are the ones on the nanoscale.  Imagine a world where men’s hearts are filled to the brim, so full that not a drop can be added, with the most unspeakable evil, and there are neither inner nor outward limitations.

I recall that Alan Dershowitz, in his commentary, “The Genesis of Justice,” concluded that the creator’s decision to destroy most of his creation was a rash and unreasoned act by an immature God that was still learning how to play his God-role, kind of like a 16-year-old who just got his license?  Dershowtiz’s God-who-needs-training wheels would grow wiser from his mistakes, and not put pedal to the metal again.  I am thankful Mr. Dershowitz gave up following his first foray into biblical interpretation, and stuck to law wherein he is gifted.  In contradiction to Dershowitz’s conclusions, I believe Noah’s flood was not only an act of destruction; it was an act of salvation.  The only righteous men and women on earth were protected from both slaughter and corruption at the hands of the masses, and life on earth and the wisdom of heaven was preserved.  Unlike most commentators, I do not conclude that Noah erred in failing to convince one person outside his family to change their ways and redirect their hearts.  We don’t find anywhere in the text where Noah or his family was directed to preach to the masses; only that they were to follow the Creator’s instructions that would lead them to life and a future for themselves and their progeny.

Most of us at times entertain troubling dark thoughts and even times of deep darkness and despair that are endemic to the human condition.  What is it that allows a person to be swallowed up by this darkness, shutting out every hint of light, until one becomes, as this individual proclaimed, “no longer human?”  To be human is to be “b’tselem,” in the image of God.  When one has blotted out this image, one is no longer a man, but a beast, and worse than a beast because the passions of a beast are animated with the corrupted intellect of a human.

I read the killer’s entire 137 page manifesto, which the other members of my family shunned in disgust, because I wanted to understand his thought process, what made him tick. It seems as if he was being given many divine opportunities to choose life, that there were faint hints of light piercing through the darkness of his soul, but he rejected them. He chose death; for himself and others. He could have turned his angst into art, as many angst driven youth have.

Many are attempting to make sense of this tragedy:  Could it have been prevented?  Who can we point a finger at?  Let’s take a look at all the cards being played in this, “blame game.” Access to weapons: guns, knives, car?  Mental illness? A sex-saturated culture?  Inadequate psychiatric treatment?  Poor parenting/family dysfunction? Divorce?  Bullying?  Police, “missing it?” And of course, Hollywood?  A convoluted form of the children’s game, “telephone,” as his mother (1) discovered troubling YouTube videos, reported her concern to a (2) counselor (trainee?) who contacted a (3) mental health hotline that (4) called police that (5) assessed the situation with inadequate information?

This morning, as my doctor was giving me a shot in my back, he surmised that, “we have a lot of disaffected males.”  I agree.  Many young males have no clear path to manhood in our society.  Their God-given drives to conquer their world and creative powers of sexuality lack the needed strong hands and patient wisdom that provides essential direction.  Lacking a committed father, father figure or positive masculine kinship group, the rootless male turns to his clueless peers, and the soft clay of his heart that yearns for nobility and heroism is shaped by media and popular culture that misdirects his passions and derails his destiny.

Based upon the info I gathered and my gut feeling, I think that despite some of the bad genetic and environmental cards he was dealt, he also failed to appreciate many good things in his life, and I believe this ingratitude was a dark curtain he drew around himself, increasingly shutting out perception and appreciation of all that is light and good.  He had a mother who loved him unconditionally, a grandmother and other relatives who doted on him, a younger brother who looked up to him, friends who stuck by him until they couldn’t, intelligence, talent and a comfortable living despite his parent’s divorce and father’s financial downturn. I believe he made many choices in the direction of the dark side, and found himself imprisoned there.   However, the way of darkness continually entices all of us in thought and behavior, and some succumb completely. Can’t say I understand it.  Grace and hope were always there, and he refused them.  God’s mercy always provides an escape route; but we can refuse that turn-off from the highway to destruction.”Everything is in the hand of heaven except the fear of heaven.” (Berakhot 33b)

Many surmise that some mechanism of perverse voyeurism is the gravitational force that allures people (including myself) to seek to gather information, scrutinize detail and draw our own conclusions when these sorts of apparent anomalies invade our space and consciousness.  We know the adage, “If it bleeds, it leads,” but few have questioned why?  I have some non-standard thoughts on this.  With the first biblically recorded murder, we learned, “the voice of your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”  Blood has a voice.  That voice cries out to heaven, and perhaps we hear it, and it troubles us.  That voice not only cries out for justice; the, “kol dam,” cries out, “why?”

Rabbi David Fohrman’s book, “The Beast the Crouches at the Door,” has a chapter entitled, “Blood on the Ground,” and I would urge everyone to read it, as well as the rest of the book.  Fohrman discusses how Cain is cursed from the land that opened its mouth to receive his brother’s blood, an anguish Cain despaired was too great to bear, “…here you have cast me away from the face of the earth…”  So, here’s my jumping off point from the text:  What if a person who fills their heart with hatred, bitterness, jealousy, along with murderous thoughts and fantasies toward their fellow man finds himself likewise cursed from human fellowship, due to his own behavior and threatening vibes he gives out that he may even be blind to?

As the primordial murder was fueled by jealousy, so these acts of calculated rage were likewise.  And as the inaugural crime was prefaced by a warning and a way out not taken, so, I believe this one was also.  We are fascinated by these things because we are also capable of the same, whether we repress this intuition or seek to comprehend it in all its ramifications.  Should recognition of our own beastly potential terrify us?  I don’t think so.  Elliot Rodger had to climb over many protective fences and destroy additional barriers tall and strong that allowed him entrance to that ever darkening, ever narrowing tunnel.

A local Facebook friend questioned, “I wonder if anyone ever prayed for him?”  I feel in those words the anguish of Cain, and perhaps the greater anguish of their parents, and the unimaginable pain of the one who breathed into him the breath of life.  One problem we have when we read scripture is that we may not hear the tone of voice.  What if the divine voice was not the pronouncement of an angry, retributive judge, but the pain of a loving father as he informs his beloved, wayward child of the consequences of his own choice to turn away from the divine word of admonishment rather than run and embrace life-preserving rebuke?   Was there someone to stand in the gap and intercede for Elliot Rodger by name?  Would the heart’s desire of a mother for the good of her child be heard by heaven as a prayer?  We don’t know.  There are many prayers of mothers and fathers poured out like blood upon the earth for errant sons and daughters.  I don’t believe those prayers are wasted, even if they fail to appear efficacious for the purpose in which they were sent.

I pray this tragic event is going to spawn more than blame-placing, platitudes or calls for political action, but becomes an impetus for those who seek to be a source of light and hope spreading as the world grows darker and darker. “Purify time.  Each day, find an act of kindness and beauty that belongs to that day alone.”  (Chabad.org)  Yours may be the voice and the hands that roadblock the next tragedy.

May all the Sons and Daughters of the Holy One

gaze into the radiance of the Holy One’s glory this day,

and see themselves as they were created to be.  

(Bill Bullock, aka “the Rabbi’s Son)

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