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Deeper than Hatred

March 30th, 2021 by dk

This week’s tragedy near Atlanta is not only a story about a troubled young man on a shooting rampage. It’s not just a hate-crime story, targeting Asian Americans. It’s more than the latest instance of domestic terrorism. It represents what could be a teachable moment for white evangelicals about the mysterious workings of the human mind.

We have here an opportunity to discuss and deepen our understanding of repression, sublimation, displacement, transference, and overcompensation. These concepts have been around for a long time. Shakespeare wove them into Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

Our modern understanding of the inner life has not reached or has been rejected by too many white evangelicals. Each instance of a pastor railing against sexual improprieties while having an affair with the choir director has been treated as a one-off. No pattern is acknowledged.

Robert Long may be the man of the hour in this way. 

He’s not a church leader, but he’s a devout believer. The 21-year-old may have frequented the three massage parlors he attacked or he may have only fantasized about it. He admitted to the shootings, described himself as a sex addict, and claimed he was trying to eradicate whatever temptation the parlors may have posed to others.

We can all agree his plan to accomplish that goal was extreme. It wouldn’t take much to add that his denial of his urges contributed tragically to his actions. We all repress urges that don’t make us proud. Not all of us have murderous urges, but that’s really a distinction without a difference at the level of how our minds operate.

Urges denied don’t disappear. They travel inside our psyches, getting stronger as they go. Repressing the feelings without acknowledgement can amplify their eventual expression. Where and how those urges resurface are as different as the people experiencing them. What’s common is that they don’t dissipate in the darkness of denial — quite the opposite.

They may attach to another person — transference — who had nothing to do with the original urge. They may pop up in a seemingly random way — sublimation. They may turn inward, provoking self-shame and suicidal ideations. They sometimes manifest in heartbreakingly destructive ways, as they did this week in Atlanta.

What must be added to that story is that we shouldn’t be surprised. And that we’re all vulnerable. The complexity of our inner thoughts is deeply and universally human. That message by itself may be reassuring enough to prevent (some) future rampages.

We all have errant thoughts and desires. If they aren’t acknowledged, they can become aberrant and then abhorrent. That capacity is contained inside all of us. It is the human condition.

This virus — it’s a useful and timely metaphor — spreads best when it’s not believed or acknowledged. Admitting a shameful thought is akin to washing your hands. It won’t stop the virus, but it keeps things from getting worse.

If just a few choose to seek therapy, confront or confide their dark desires, the world will become slightly safer than the one Robert Long found himself navigating.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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