“I am Envy, begotten of a chimney sweeper and an oyster-wife. I cannot read, and therefore wish all books were burnt. I am lean with seeing others eat. O that there would come a famine through all the world, that all might die, and I live alone! then thou should’st see how fat I would be.”
— Doctor Faustus, Scene VI, by Christopher Marlowe (c. 1590)
On Friday, May 23rd, an American college student in Santa Barbara published his autobiography, stabbed his roommates and their friend to death, got into his car and began a shooting spree. He had killed three more people and injured over a dozen by the time he crashed his car and shot himself fatally in the head. He was twenty-two years old.
As family and friends mourn their dead and comfort the injured, pundits debate and argue over the Isla Vista killer’s motives. Some feminists demand that people pay attention to his misogyny. Others put the blame on “white male privilege” (although the killer’s mother is of Asian descent). Anti-feminists point out that he killed more men. Many liberals call him a gun nut; some insist he was driven by racism. Some conservatives blame his parents’ divorce; others point to mental illness. After all, his parents’ friends tell the press that the killer had been in therapy since he was nine. The implication is that if the killer was mentally ill, that excuses or fully explains his murderous rampage.
His twisted world
The killer, however, explained his violence in a perfectly lucid and unusually well-written 137-page autobiography, titled “My Twisted World”, that details his life from birth. It begins with the word “humanity” and then the assertion, “All of my suffering on this world has been at the hands of humanity, particularly women.” He claims that he has been “cast out and rejected, forced to endure an existence of loneliness and insignificance, all because the females of the human species were incapable of seeing the value in [him]”. As a matter of fact, by his own admission, the killer was deeply loved and cared for by his mother. He had also an indulgent father, loving grandmothers, a concerned step-mother, two siblings and a best friend who stood by him until the killer’s hate-fuelled rages and fantasies drove him away. But it is the killer’s hatred of humanity, rather than his dismissal of his loved ones, that chills the soul.
Those in favour of stricter gun control in California will search “My Twisted World” in vain for evidence that its author was a gun nut. In fact, he was not familiar with them at all until as a college student he goes to a shooting range to practise for his massacre. He describes the man from whom he rents his handgun as “an ugly redneck” and after he fires his first few rounds at a paper target, he feels sick to his stomach. It is perhaps significant that a memoirist who can describe his childhood Pokémon collection in detail cannot remember the make and model of the first handgun he touched.
The killer wrote that at this moment he asked himself what he was doing there, and how his life could have led to this: “There I was practising with real guns because I had a plan to carry out a massacre.” It would seem that the idea of “real guns” sickened the class-conscious killer as much as his plans did. But in the days following his short target practise, he decides that because “girls are repulsed [by him]”, he will never have children or be a creator, and so might as well be a destroyer. He has been rejected by all humanity, he believes, despite the fact that he is “the ideal, magnificent gentleman.”
And thus humanity must die.
The seven deadly sins
Christians know that there are sins particularly dangerous to human souls. The seven deadly, or capital, sins are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth (acedia). Every one of these sins appears in My Twisted World, beginning with the author’s assertion that his is a “magnificent” story. And the attentive reader can read how these sins, most of which first appear in childhood, seem to have grown in adolescence until they completely dominated the author as an adult. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts” (par. 1865).
First, pride. The killer notes that his father came from a “prestigious” English family “once part of the wealthy upper classes.” He brags that his Chinese-Malaysian mother once dated the famous director George Lucas. He describes himself several times as “beautiful” and “a gentleman.” He turns up his nose at low-status work because he is “an intellectual.” He is outraged that girls do not see how desirable he is, and he is furious when a black acquaintance brags to him of having lost his virginity to a blonde girl. “I am a descendent of British aristocracy,” the killer fumes. “He is a descendent of slaves. I deserve it [sex with blonde girls] more.” And as his autobiography draws to a close, he announces that he is god-like: “magnificent, glorious, eminent, supreme… Divine!” On his “day of retribution” he will be “ a powerful god, punishing everyone I deem to be impure or depraved.”
Then avarice. The killer exults in material goods As a child, he has all the toys and video games he could wish, but suffers social setbacks at school when his now-divorced mother moves into a modest home in a poorer neighbourhood. He desperately brags about his father’s luxurious home and revels in first-class travel and expensive holidays. When he discovers that his mother is dating a rich man, he begs her to marry him so that he can be wealthy, too. As adolescent, he decides that the only way he will win women is by becoming a millionaire, and as a young man he spends hundreds of dollars on lottery tickets to bring this about. He buys designer clothes and flaunts them over social media.
Above all, envy. “By nature I am a very jealous person,” he writes, “and at nine my jealous nature sprang to the surface.” At nine he bursts into tears when he thinks his friends are paying more attention to each other or his sister than to him. As a teenager, he grows angrier and angrier when he discovers that other boys were having sex. As a young adult, he cannot go outdoors without being tortured with envy for couples holding hands. He drops out of classes when he discovers his prettiest classmates have boyfriends. And his now volcanic envy leads directly to wrath.
Wrath. As a child, teenager and young adult, the killer’s avarice and envy result in tears, maternal comfort and gifts. But his sexual envy leads him to fantasize about torturing and killing beautiful women and the men who win their favours. As a college student, he begins to act out by throwing drinks on strangers, shooting a crowd with a super-soaker filled with orange juice and attempting to throw people off a ledge at a party. Finally, he decides to carry out a murderous “Day of Retribution”.
Lust. As an eleven-year-old boy using the internet unsupervised, the killer is shown photos of naked women by a stranger. He is both titillated and frightened. As a thirteen year old spending late nights alone in a cyber café, the killer sees a teenager watching an online porn film. He is again titillated and frightened. “Finding out about sex,” writes the killer at twenty-two “is one of the things that truly destroyed my entire life.” The killer wants sex, and thinks about it constantly. His self-abuse only exacerbates his lust. His memoir makes it clear that it becomes increasingly difficult for him to see any young woman, including his best childhood friend, as anything but a sexual object, desirable and yet also to be hated and punished for not having sex with him.
Gluttony. As a young adolescent, the killer allows himself to become addicted to video games, particularly World of Warcraft. It is obvious to the reader, if not to the writer, that this addiction isolates him from his peers and stunts his social development. As an older teenager and young adult, he describes stuffing his face with food, eating being “the only vice” he is allowed as he can’t “get” sex.
Sloth (Acedia). This is a sin that joins the envy growing in the killer’s heart. Acedia is sadness at spiritual good, and as an adult killer is miserable at the sight of others’ happiness. He is horrified when he realizes that his little brother may become more successful and popular than himself, and so initially decides that the boy, too, must die.
All blame, no shame
What is remarkable about the killer’s autobiography is that he reveals no shame for his pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony and sloth. He writes about them with complete frankness. There is no suggestion in “My Twisted World”that anyone important to the killer warned him that these tendencies were deadly sins that could destroy his life and soul. Certainly there is no evidence whatsoever that Christianity, even at the Catholic boys’ school he very briefly attended, made it onto his radar screen. The killer seems to have no idea whatsoever that the intrinsic value of a human being has nothing to do with acceptance by his peers, social status, sexual partners, beauty, intelligence or cash. And this ignorance led him to a hell of his own making.
The killer used the words “heaven” and “hell” often. “Heaven” for him was how other men felt when they had beautiful girlfriends. “Hell” was how he felt. He expected a worse hell if he were arrested for his crimes, and so he shot himself. He is not clear in his autobiography about what he expected after death. Possibly he hoped for annihilation. But I gravely fear a much worse fate: that he will be himself as he was the day he died, for all eternity.
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