Gabe’s post on the 20th of this month brings up an integral question. If we’re going to talk about heroes and villains, don’t we at some point have to define our terms? And maybe that’s the whole point of this month – to write about heroes and villains in such a way that after 30 days we perhaps have a consensus. Andrew clarified that consensus for us in his post on the 15th: there are no real heroes and villains, but instead all of us have a bit of both in who we are.

But what else? What more can we say about heroes and villains? I don’t think it requires much life experience to realize that our heroes are often not so heroic, and our villains hold some goodness somewhere in themselves. This is why American entertainment is so enthralled with the antihero: Walter White, Ironman, Don Draper, and the list goes on. The reality is that cinematic, definitive heroes and villains don’t often appear in the real world.

Except that sometimes they do. Honestly we don’t have to look any further than Charleston to find both. Villain: Dylann Roof. Heroes: the victims and their wildly forgiving families. I’m not willing to budge on either of these classifications, even though somewhere in me I know the victims were not perfect people. But heroism and villainy are not necessarily defined by good and evil. They’re similar and related categories, but not identical.

In his book I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling With Villains (Real and Imagined) Chuck Klosterman defines a villain as “the person who knows the most but cares the least” (14). The reverse can’t be definitive of a hero (the person who knows the least but cares the most), yet I think this definition is where we need to start. A good person can still become a villain if they are faced with the gravity of an unjust situation or system and do nothing about it. But villainy also rides on the coattails of intention. Our legal system admits this: meditated crimes almost always receive longer sentences and harsher penalties.

So Dylann Roof is unquestionably a villain. But if we accept Klosterman’s definition of a villain (which I think I do), a horrifying question starts to haunt me: What did Dylann Roof know and why didn’t he care?

The answer to that question lurks somewhere in a darkness that I do not want to penetrate. Honestly, it scares the hell out of me. I don’t want to know the answer; the question is terrifying enough. And it’s terrifying not only because even the easiest answers are hair-raising (he knew, he knew that shooting those innocent people would kill them, would take their life, and he didn’t care), but also because the question can be turned back onto all of us. Come, Lord Jesus.

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