What makes a person kill?
That was the question that CNN’s medical reporter, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, attempted to explore in a report aired earlier tonight in the wake of the killing spree that began in an Atlanta courtroom last Friday. And it certainly seems like a good question to ask.
The report focused on the work of a psychologist who has researched and interviewed a number of murderers across the country. The gist of the story is that life events – whether setbacks, being wronged badly, or experiencing emotional trauma – trigger a process in the brain that eventually leads to murder.
While they didn’t say it, the implication of the report was that brain chemistry had as much to do with Brian Nichols’ killing spree as anything else. Or, perhaps we could say brain chemistry responding to events that happened to him at some point in his life.
“Fascinating,” was the anchor’s response.
Fascinating, indeed. Were we to draw out the implications of such a view we might logically conclude that poor Brian Nichols couldn’t help it. His brain synapses misfired. His psyche had been damaged by others. The neurons in his brain were running the show.
In other words, it wasn’t his fault; and thus he can’t be held accountable or responsible. In an age and culture that seeks to avoid personal accountability at all costs (a notion that I think runs through issues ranging from abortion to the politics of victimization), it is a handy ploy to attribute sinful behavior to aberrant brain cells.
Yet in doing so we put to death the soul, literally and figuratively.
What if everything in your life really was determined by brain chemistry? What if that kind of biological determinism really did control your every thought and move?
What kind of life does that leave you? What kind of person does that make you?
I would argue it leaves you something less than a human being and more like a robot or an ant.
Scripture paints a different picture – one in which human beings created in God’s image are endowed with a soul, with the ability to relate to God and others. And we are held accountable for our actions of sin and rebellion. We are not automatons, we are personalities created with dignity and value. That’s why it matters when we kill, or despise God through any other sin.
So was Brian Nichols simply acting as his brain impulses mandated? You and I had better hope not, for there would be no hope of real life, restored relationships, and redemption from sin.