Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Who Is James Holmes? Who Mentored Him?

On the night of July 19, excited movie-goers crowded into a theater in Aurora, CO for a sold-out premiere of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.  Before the movie, it was just another evening at the theater as movie-goers allowed Christopher Nolan’s production of lights, sights, and sounds to transport them out of their work-a-day world into the action, adventure, and intrigue of Gotham City.

But while enjoying the imaginary world of Batman, the audience was rudely interrupted by James Holmes, thought earlier to be just another movie-goer.  But, according to ABC News, Holmes donned a “ballistics helmet, bulletproof vest, bulletproof leggings, gas mask and gloves.  Holmes detonated multiple smoke bombs, and then began firing at viewers….” allegedly killing 12 people and wounding 59 others.   After his apprehension by police, he informed them that his apartment was rigged with enough explosives to decimate the building and perhaps neighboring structures as well.
James Holmes' high school photo (L) and college ID photo (R)

When the Friday morning news reports were broadcast, James Holmes and Aurora, CO instantly became “household names.”   We all asked, “Who is James Holmes?”  Some of us tried to look within the man, asking about his mental and emotional stability.  Others searched for sociological influences or political motivations that would lead a person to carry out such a diabolical plan.   Many of us were simply stunned.

Writing on any aspect of this tragedy can easily become an “I told you so” exercise to support one’s political or religious agenda.  Nor is it possible now to give a neat and tidy account of why James Holmes committed the crimes for which he is being held.  For even as I write, James Holmes, his family, the families of his victims, and many others suffer by the hour in various ways.

Yet when tragedy punctuates the normal flow of life, we should take stock of our lives and ask questions that seldom occur during our weekday routines or weekend activities like movie-going.  Questions like the following:   What is wrong or missing in a person that would generate such a tragedy?  If we can know, can it be ‘fixed?’  Who are we as human beings?   Where did we come from?  What is our purpose and destiny?  This week’s blogs are raising these questions, at least “between the lines.”

Each individual must consciously or unconsciously address these fundamental questions of life. The manner in which we address them forms our worldview, or “lens” though which we process and interact with the world around us.  I admit my own inadequacy to answer the questions arising from Aurora.  But let me suggest the strong possibility that James Holmes allowed himself to be “squeezed into the mold” of our contemporary culture, and that he came to lose sight of his origin, identity, purpose, and destiny as an individual.

Perhaps we will eventually know more about whether James Holmes was nurtured in a home and community that helped him gain a sense of his origin, identity, purpose, and future.  Holmes’ neighbor for 15 years described him as a young man who “…washed the car for his parents, he cut the grass, he played soccer.”  Holmes graduated from Westview H.S. in San Diego, CA, in 2006 where he was described as “a smart kid,” “great in chemistry,” and as a “normal teenager.”   In 2010, Holmes graduated with honors with a degree in neuroscience from University of California-Riverside where he was described as an “impressive” student, and “a smart guy.”

Holmes’ choice to specialize in the neurosciences in a highly competitive environment ushered him into one of the frontiers of the biological and medical sciences; and, a field that challenges our very core beliefs about the origin and nature of humans and human consciousness and behavior.  It is likely that James Holmes was greatly influenced by a naturalistic evolution worldview no doubt presented by many of his school teachers and university professors.  Here, James would have learned that he and all of humanity are the product of undirected, random processes within matter that over billions of years have produced molecules, cells, and eventually an array of more and more complex life forms.  If he came to believe that he is the product of purposeless evolution, “survival of the fittest,” then Holmes’ naturalistic worldview would offer him little hope when the deeper questions of life confronted him personally: “What is my purpose for living?   Why should I care about other humans, or about improving our understanding of human health, consciousness, and behavior?

Again, I didn’t know James Holmes, and I don’t want to be overly simplistic.  Some suggest he was influenced by the Tea Party movement.  (Turned out to be a different James Holmes.)  Is my hypothetical scenario any less plausible?  Allow me to continue if you will.

I believe the Judo-Christian Scriptures provide solid answers to the deep questions we have listed here. The Bible teaches that God is the Creator (Genesis 1-2; Romans 1) and that His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made…  The passage goes on to say that this truth is so clear that …they [who deny that God is Creator] are without excuse (Romans 1: 20); instead, professing to be wise, [those who deny] became fools (Romans 1: 22).

The “world system of thinking” which denies the truth claims above can easily force each of us into its mold.   Later in Romans, we are warned not to allow ourselves to …be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2)In other words, “be careful not to allow your way of thinking and defining reality to be molded by a world system that bases its “truth” on the pre-supposition that ‘all we see is all there is’.”

In June, 2011, Holmes enrolled in a highly competitive graduate program in neurosciences of the School of Medicine at the Aurora campus of the University of Colorado.   A classmate described him as “a loner,” and he reportedly dropped out a month ago.  The last course in which he enrolled was on “mental illnesses and psychiatric disorders.”  Holmes’ parents and neighbors observed changes in his behavior; and, for reasons not yet clear, he had become reclusive and left an impression on neighbors in Aurora that he was “deeply troubled.”   When asked whether he takes drugs, his answer: “Prefer not to say.” And, “Am a nice guy. Well, as nice enough of a guy who does these sort of shenanigans.”

So, the question is, “What was becoming of James Holmes during this past year?”  Maybe you’ll say I’m oversimplifying that which brought about the change in James Holmes’ behavior.  Perhaps we will never know.  However, we do know that human health and well being are strongly dependent upon a clear self-awareness, social affirmation, sense of purpose, and an understanding of their relationship to the natural world and reality beyond the material world.

I’m curious that Holmes and his family attended a local Presbyterian church where it is reported that “Jimmy was clean-cut, well-spoken and a good kid.”  What influence did the social and spiritual environment at his church have on James’ life?  After all, God’s plan is for His Truth to be taught, witnessed, and applied consistently within local churches, His body at work on Earth.  Here and in a “Christian home,” James’ life and worldview might have been transformed (changed) by a regular renewal of his mind (Romans 12:2) by regular reading, meditation, and application of the truth of Scripture.   The Book of Psalms opens with this proclamation:

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
   -- Psalm 1: 1-3

Blessed (happy; having much joy in our “happenings”) are the man and the woman who “delight,” “meditate,” and “walk” according to God’s plan outlined in Scripture.  The human heart is, spiritually speaking, the seat of our worldview and value system; our mind, the seat of our decision-making (or “will”).  Both heart and mind must be continually nourished by the truth claims of the Scriptures.  Result:  We are armed against the false claims from a “world system” of thought that denies the authority of God and Scripture.

The tragedy in Aurora is that many lives were suddenly taken or changed forever by a person whose mind had become disoriented and darkened, perhaps by genetic and physiological causes; or, just as likely, by allowing his mind to be “programmed” in such a way that he exchanged his purpose for living and learning about the human mind for the diabolical purpose of destroying human lives.

I close with two applications.   First, I disagree with those who claim that gun control laws need to be stiffened to prevent such disasters.   If my logic above is correct, this was not about access to guns and ammo; it was about the spiritual and emotional health of a person.  Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) said it well:  I don’t think there is a solution here in Washington to solve this problem.  Just as I don’t believe Washington can produce a health care program that will meet the physical health needs of its citizens, neither can it address the emotional and spiritual health needs.  That must come from individual accountability fostered within healthy families, communities, and churches.

Second, I believe there is a somber lesson for those of us who would be teachers—whose “profession” is to be professors of truth.  As professors on college campuses, we should be good stewards of our profession of faith and of our academic discipline.  Students will observe and learn from our profession of truth through both our words and our actions.   Such “professing” helps students to acquire understanding about the world around them as they examine truth claims about human origins, purpose, and destiny.   School teachers and college professors have the privilege and responsibility to nurture young men and women who are looking for answers to these important questions.   May God be merciful to teachers and professors who have rejected the Creator’s clear message of hope that has been revealed in creation (Romans 1: 20) and in God’s Word, the Bible.   As the Apostle James states:   Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.  James 3:1

Related Topic from Oikonomia:    Of grave concern is the tendency within the evangelical church and associated college campuses to question the biblical account of the origin of human life by the special creation of Adam and Eve as given in Genesis 1-2, Matthew 19:4, and elsewhere.  See Caution at the Gate to a Perilous Path (Feb 06, 2011) and Could He? Would He? (Apr 30, 2011)


Mark Spencer said...

Thank you for writing about this tragedy. Rather than through influences from his upbringing and possible worldview, it seems to me that his behavior was prompted by schizophrenia. He certainly seems to fit that profile.

jsilvius said...

Thanks for your comment, Mark. A friend who is a psychology professor supported your opinion in an e-mail as follows:

John, it is good to hear from you. I think that further investigation will probably prove Holmes to be mentally ill, probably with schizophrenia. His age, his history, the withdrawal, the increasing weirdness of his behavior, the deviance of his act, the lack of an exit strategy are all indicative of the gradual descent into schizophrenia. I do not doubt that as Holmes had more and more difficulty distinguishing reality from his delusions that he was unduly affected by cultural worldviews and values. That he would choose Dark Knight Rising is itself indicative of his preoccupation with cultural messages. We have an old saying in psychology: The media affects most people some but some people a lot. The media has a very strong effect on persons who are losing their grip on reality. Remember how John Hinckley was unduly influenced by the movie "Taxi Driver" ? We will probably find that Holmes was profoundly influenced by some movie, class, theory, or author.