Mad or Bad?

Dear Friends,

Anders Breivik has been on trial in Norway for killing 77 people and injuring 242 others last July.  He does not dispute the charges against him, and says his actions were necessary in order to prevent the “Islamisation” of Norway.  In an interesting twist, the prosecution is now arguing that he is insane and should be committed to psychiatric care, while his own counsel maintains that he is of sound mind and knew what he was doing.  Everyone agrees that what he did was very, very wrong.  But is he mad, or simply bad?

And why would the prosecution want him declared insane?  Of course, I do not have a direct line into their thinking.  But could this be an example of our reluctance to face the reality of evil in the world, and in other human beings not very different to ourselves, and therefore, most threateningly, in ourselves?  It is somehow more comforting to suggest that someone is ill rather than evil.

The trouble is, we rob human beings of their dignity when we deny their responsibility.  With genuine wrongdoing, there can be punishment, repentance, forgiveness and restoration.  With illness, there will be care, treatment and perhaps healing.  This is not to deny that there is such a thing as mental, as well as physical, illness.  But it is all we are left with when we leave God out of the picture.  If there is no God, how can there be such a thing as evil, and how then can we deal with the things we know are deeply wrong?

Chris Hobbs,

Senior Minister (Vicar).