How can one contemplate the slaying of eight people at a hair salon in Seal Beach and draw any meaning from such evil?
I certainly cannot. As a professor of comparative religion, I can only offer a modest reflection on an act of violence that snuffed out lives without reason and sent piercing pain through a close-knit community.
But the proclivity of human beings to kill members of their own species is as old as mankind. In the Bible, the act of homicide made an early appearance when Cain killed Abel. People's propensity to kill one another hasn't abated in modern times.
In the 20th century, mass killings on an unprecedented scale were committed against Armenians, Europe's Jews, Cambodians, Bosnian Muslims and Rwandan Tutsis. And in this nation, every year about 20 mass murders are perpetrated on a smaller scale, which makes us wonder if anyone is safe, and if humanity has advanced much beyond the Stone Age.
No theologian, writer or statesman has come up with a truly satisfying explanation for evil's ubiquity in human affairs, but some have provided partial answers. The author of the Book of Job described the suffering Job as raging against God but finally admitting that, "I have uttered what I did not understand."
President Lincoln, in his second inaugural address, a meditation on the utter carnage of the Civil War, stated that "The Almighty has his own purposes."
The novelist Graham Greene spoke of the "appalling strangeness of the mercy of God."
It is difficult to see what purpose the Almighty might have intended in letting a vengeful man allegedly kill good people in the Salon Meritage on Oct. 12. But, along with the mystery of evil in human affairs, there is another mystery — one that may seem natural or obvious on the surface but is nonetheless amazing: the depth of human goodness.
Along with copious flowers and a prayer vigil at Salon Meritage, people have begun to offer financial assistance to the survivors.
Susan Rees, co-owner of Splash Salon in Huntington Beach, has set up the Seal Beach Victims Relief Fund that accepts donations at any branch of Wells Fargo Bank. Mother's Tavern in Sunset Beach held a fundraiser.
Seal Beach government officials, the Lions Club and the local Chamber of Commerce have also pitched in to raise funds. And on Saturday, U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher gave out hugs at a local grocery store.
There is also much everyday heroism that goes unnoticed.
Yes, loving and caring for one's children may not, on the surface, seem deserving of commendation, but kids can come with a multitude of problems: Down syndrome, autism, drug abuse, unintended pregnancies or just plain adolescence. Most parents provide unassuming but courageous love and support to their offspring, not just for 18 years, but for a lifetime.
Spouses, too, are supposed to love, honor and support one another till death. Yet, spouses contract cancer and heart disease, mental illnesses and Alzheimer's disease. They may lose jobs, become alcoholics or sustain terrible job-related disabilities. Again, the other partner most often exhibits quiet heroism in face of such tragedies.
Why so much goodness? Because the better angels of our nature are, in the end, stronger than the demons. Love and benevolence in human affairs are ultimately stronger than hatred and evil, though it may not seem so at times like this.
One hopes that this terrible event will inspire additional acts of healing and goodness, and that it will make the Seal Beach and surrounding communities more loving and caring.
BENJAMIN J. HUBBARD is professor emeritus of comparative religion at Cal State Fullerton. He lives in Costa Mesa.