Friday, January 14, 2011

The Assassin and the Fear of Nothingness

I heard an interview Friday, on NPR (where else?) with a group of forensic psychiatrists. The topic was what motivates an assassin to do their terrible chore? They were unanimous in their conclusions, and it made sense to me, even though it wasn't what I expected.

Virtually all the crazies, who go out and try to kill a politician or anyone famous (such as John Lennon) do so as a finale, after a long chain of personal failures. They, in response to those failures, are left with a terrible fear of nothingness. That is, as a person, they are totally worthless, or insignificant-o-phobia. This of course includes Loughner, the Tuscan shooter. It was interesting that they (the psychiatrists) were confident that, while Loughner exhibited paranoia, and other assassins exhibited extreme political ideas . . . neither of those factors caused them to finally pull the trigger.

I have believed for sometime now that the essence of all human behavior can be defined by is this struggle for significance. I can relate this problem to the Fall of Adam and how, since sin entered this world, that we all have suffered in this pandemic of feeling a lack of significance. Thus, we are capable of doing almost anything to find that significance.

Of course, that's what the gospel is all about . . . the solution to that problem. First God created us with an intrinsic and insatiable significance because we were created in His image. That includes even the worst of humanity. But then, morally, by the perfection of Christ, we are totally clean and re-valued with infinite worth and significance.

But this is where my opinions diverge from the mainstream (at least the Evangelical mainstream) and that is, I believe that all of us continue to struggle with this deep psychological longing, despite becoming a Christian. Additionally, that subconscious longing for significance becomes the remote controller of our drone-wills. I don't mean this fatalistically. We do have choice. We can become less and less controlled by that carnal servo. But the best Christians in the modern world (I hold Billy Graham on such a pedestal) still make their choices based on this hope of becoming more significant.

I know that I've talked about this before, but when I've traveled with humanitarian relief groups in the developing world, I know that 80% of my, and the other volunteer's motives, are not altruistic. We desire to be more significant. We want attention, praise (from the poor we are helping and from our peers back home). But in 20% of the motives are from a good place, empathy, compassion, obedience . . . that ain't [sic] bad.

My point is, I think it is healthy if we have more realistic views on why we do things and why others do them to us. When someone wants us to do such and such, to please God, usually you can trace it to them wanting personal significance and your actions when help them find it better . . . or so they think.

I also know that when I make mundane choices (or life-changing ones) that I should be honest with myself that a chunk of that motive is to find significance, which is an unreachable destination. This is the vanity, which Solomon spoke of in melancholic terms.

But the great, wise king also concluded that fulfillment is reached as we enjoy the simple things of life and simply for the sake of that enjoyment. And to respect God and to follow his directives for a more pleasurable life in this world . . . as we learn to rest in that passive, but total significance. Chasing after any other is indeed pursuing after a mist in the middle of mayhem.


Dana said...


I think you're right. Goes with Hebrews 2.13. We're enslaved to the fear of death, and that's not limited to actual physical death, but I think also includes that which "looks like" death to us - and insignificance certainly fits that bill.

On another note,
I haven't seen Headless Unicorn Guy here or at iMonk the past few days. I know you're busy, but since you have his email, how 'bout you email him and find out if he's ok? Please tell him I asked about him.


jmj said...

I will ... email the HUGuy

jmj said...

I will email HUG

Anonymous said...

I'm OK. I was on vacation at a con in San Jose for about a week, and mostly incommunicado.

Headless Unicorn Guy

Wanda said...

" . . . as we learn to rest in that passive, but total significance. Chasing after any other is indeed pursuing after a mist in the middle of mayhem."

Good, good.

Thank you.

jmj said...

Good to hear from you HUG, I was just getting ready to e-mail you.

Dana said...

I was hoping that you were enjoying yourself at some sci-fi/fantasy writers' convention, HUG!


Eagle said...

HUG...glad to see you again!! :-)

Johan said...

Important thoughts.
Topical for me too, as I'm at the moment struggling with feeling disappointed with myself. So yes, I think Dana is right with identifying this as a fear of death.
I'm also ruminating over this: what if the unconditional, uncondemning acceptance of God, his bestowal of meaning to us, is his means of changing us?