Monday, February 11, 2013

The Immorality of Narcissism: Christopher Dorner

I've been tracking this story since before we knew Christopher Dorner was the suspected killer; the first victim, Monica Quan (with her fiance Keith Lawrence), was the daughter of a fellow high-school student and our alumni community was horrified by the tremendous loss. It has only become more painful as Dorner's 'manifesto' has come out and made clear that he was targeting Randal Quan by killing his daughter. I don't want to focus on Dorner except as an exemplar of horrific morality: the morality of self-exaltation. The first example I see is from Genesis 4:23-24.
Lamech said to his wives, "Adah and Zillah, listen to my voice, you wives of Lamech, give heed to my speech, for I have killed a man for wounding me; and a boy for striking me; if Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold."
This Lamech (there are several in the Bible) has exalted himself above everyone else: a man wounded him, so he killed the man; a boy hit him, so he killed the boy and he feels justified in doing it because he is of more value than anyone else.

Narcissism is our natural state; we are born narcissists and must learn that our wants and needs are not the only wants and needs. People often talk about babies as born "good" but I don't believe that-- babies are born innocent, not "good." We must be taught what "goodness" is and we must be willing to let go of some of our complete self-absorption in order to become "good."

This immediately raises the question: who is the arbiter of "good"? Or "just" or "fair" or "right"? This murderer, like Lamech, believes that he was right to murder the daughter (and her fiance) of a man who disappointed him and let him down. He sees himself as a victim in all this. I don't believe any thinking American can agree with Dorner that it's appropriate to murder the child of a man who he blames for losing his job with the LAPD because, if it is justified for him to take vengeance against an innocent party because she is related to someone he hates, then none of us are safe from such summary judgments, nor are our children.

Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" I remember the first time I read that scripture and took it personally. I was in my early 20s and I rejected it completely: "not MY heart!" It took the better part of two decades to recognize the truth God speaks in that passage: our hearts are deceitful and self-serving, Dorner's heart is deceitful and self-serving-- he has habitually viewed the world as unfair to him and thus whatever he does to get back at the world is fair and killing the child of the man he blames for losing his job is right.

So, if we cannot trust our own hearts to guide us in what is right and wrong, what can we trust? What higher authority is there, beyond our hearts?

I've often heard people speak disparagingly of God's mandate-- "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" (Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20)-- as brutal and barbaric but, in the light of Lamech's narcissism, it is a law of balance: no, you may not kill a man for injuring you, you may not kill a boy for hitting you, you may not murder the daughter of the man who disappointed you in an administration hearing. And by God's law, Dorner would die for committing murder. I hope he does. I hope he meets his Maker, having repented of his self-absorption and all his sins; I don't wish he goes to hell, although he may well. It strikes me as ironic that our society is so reluctant to judge criminals, that we're so quick to listen to excuses ("bad childhood," "abuse," "psychological damage") and act like we have more mercy than God (!!) but, at the same time, we're so fast to tell people to go to hell. Better we should judge rightly here and allow God to determine the ultimate disposition of the soul.