A Devout Meditation in Memory of Timothy McVeigh

One of the most disturbing facts that came out in the Timothy McVeigh trial was that the examining psychiatrist pronounced him perfectly sane. "He has no major mental illness," said Dr. John Smith, who evaluated McVeigh during his trial for the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people. "He did not commit this act because he was deranged or misinterpreting reality," Smith continued, "but because he was serious."

In Thomas Merton's 1966 essay, "A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolph Eichmann," Merton unveils the horror of such sanity. Eichmann too was judged perfectly sane. "We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction," said Merton. "And now it dawns on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous."

McVeigh held a mirror up to our face. He forced us to stare at a distorted version of ourselves. He tried to imitate the Judeo-Christian moral values embedded in our culture, and instead misread and perverted them. Unless we look at how sanity produces horror, our spiritual values will erode and, at the end of the day, the perversion will stand.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2001
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