Sunday, August 26, 2007

Seung Cho and Religion

UPDATE: 8/29 Roanoke Times has another article speaking of Cho's entry into a research exposition. Look at the poem he wrote. Christian imagery. Marytrydom -- delightful suffering for God. And so much alienation.

In today's Roanoke Times, there's an article kind-of wrapping up what we know about Seung Cho before the independent review panel's final report is issued (probably this week). Generally, it's an OK article, albeit more summary than penetrating analysis (as such things so often are).

Anyway, what really struck me was the section entitled "Demon Spirits" and the comments of the pastor Dong Cheol Lee from the creepily-titled One Mind Church in Cho's hometown of Woodbridge, VA. Cho and his family didn't attend that church but the pastor felt compelled to reach out to Cho on the recommendation of a neighbor.

Pastor Lee believes that Cho was possessed by the devil (or some sort of "demonic spirit") when he went on his massacre. And this, I think, is so significant and so overlooked in the reporting about the events of 4/16 -- the role of religion in motivating Cho to do what he did, which is something I've talked about before. Look again through this article and again through the rest of the coverage of Cho's manifesto and look how often he evoked God/ Jesus. And these new snippets: the Bible as Literature class that he felt so "content" in, how he told Nikki Giovanni she was going to hell.

The journalist may have actually been more right than he knew when he ended the whole Roanoke Times article with: "During one session, Giovanni described having once eaten turtle soup. Students shared experiences of consuming other unusual animal fare. Cho's poem the next week lashed Giovanni and the class. 'He told us we were going to hell,' said Marciniak-McGuire. During Cho's short, tortured life, he knew that territory well." (my emphasis)

Cho lived in a world of his own creation but one with recognizable roots in the Christian tradition -- a world populated by God and the Devil, in which they are both still active forces in the world; a world where Cho could choose sides in this Manichean world and think that he was doing God's work; a world where violence in the name of religion is justified because the stakes, one's immortal soul, are so high. He likely thought himself, like Mark David Uhl, like those in Battlecry, like Paul Hill, like the Lord's Resistance Army, like the crusaders, to be a "soldier of Christ." Normative Christianity may not condone such action but perhaps it's time to stop burying our head in the sand, pretending that such ideas aren't still out there.

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