Twenty years ago, a little boy in Germany dreamed about becoming a jet plane pilot, and this dream became the theme of his life.
But about a few weeks ago, this same young man, now 27, deliberately crashed his Germanwings Airbus 320 into a mountainside in the French Alps, killing himself and murdering 149 other people.
At the time of this writing (at the end of March 2015), there is only a lot of guesswork about Lubitz’ motive for his horrendous act. But the general theme is that the young man was depressed, and committed this mass murder as an “acting out” of his emotional problems.
As someone who has helped, over the years, more than a few adults and children with a clinical diagnosis of depression, I take offense at the sloppy, unprofessional suggestion that depression caused this deliberate plane crash.
It is true that depression raises the risk of suicide, but never does it -- by itself -- cause homicide. If homicide occurs, it is because something else was going on as well. And in the case of Lubitz, there is more than just a hint of causal factors other than depression. Notes have been found in his apartment from his physicians that raised concerns about his ability to work. His girlfriend ended a romantic relationship with him soon before the fateful day of his deliberate crash.
Also, in his past, is a record of his receiving an injection of an anti-psychotic medication: note here especially that this was an "injection," which should raise not a few flags. That fact alone is a sign of a condition that goes beyond depression or “emotional problems.” Such medication is given for clinically severe disruptions in thought-organization, or reality-testing, or both.
But even the presence of a more severe psychiatric disorder is not enough. Many, many people with psychotic problems (like schizophrenia) are able to work and enjoy family life successfully if the problem is managed well (with the necessary help of professionals).
So depression cannot be blamed. And neither can schizophrenia (because at the end of March, I suspect this will be the main identified culprit in the media news cycle in April).
Of all the passions, depression (or, rather, “despondency”) is not the one that murders. Rather, it is -- obviously -- anger that most often lurks in homicide’s background.
It is also self-centeredness (or ego-centricity). I doubt if Lubitz was angry at the people he killed on that French mountainside. He probably did not know a single one of his passengers. His anger, rather, was directed at his circumstances -- perhaps at his girlfriend for ending the affair, or at Lufthansa for demanding work performance, or at his colleagues at work for not giving him his due, or at his physicians for threatening to keep him from flying.
Actually, this anger at the physicians might turn out to be the most significant, because someone was threatening to block this young man from attaining his dream.
Lubitz was angry with probably a number of people and circumstances -- so blame anger, first and foremost. The reason why he killed those 149 passengers in particular, though, was not because of direct anger at them: it was due to self-centeredness, or what the Fathers call “self-esteem.” Lubitz was so wrapped up in himself that he lost all sense of pity. He had sunk into his worldwide ego so much that he was able, with satanic strength, to completely disregard the pitiful screaming on the other side of the door, and to ignore the useless bangings of the axe wielded by the pilot who was trying, heroically, to get in.
Whatever the motivation, and if it ever turns up in plain sight (which it almost certainly will not), the fact remains that the motive will be nothing new, and will not be interesting. The script for anger and ego-centricity is as ancient and trite as the rebellion of Lucifer. The more passionate an individual becomes, the more utterly predictable he is, and thus uninteresting and completely uncreative. Only saints are free, after all: Orthodoxy recognizes Satan as the one most imprisoned, along with everyone else who yields their soul to ego, anger and pride (the idea that the devil is the king of hell is reprehensible).
There will certainly be a post-mortem psychiatric diagnosis given to Andreas Lubitz, but it will not explain his horrible decision and blasphemous act. If a diagnosis is waived around as an explanation, then it will become a disgusting excuse, and Lufthansa and whatever media signs on to this lazy explanation really ought to send every single one of my former patients a note of apology ...
… because not a single one of my severely-depressed clients ever got close to thinking of destroying other people.
Our modern culture is producing more despondency and more anger, and maybe more Lubitz’s. Despite the record number of prescriptions handed out for these emotional conditions, the frequency of real, clinical disorder is increasing.
This tells me that our “way of life” in today’s society is not helping young people mature. It is not helping adults find balance and wisdom. It is not helping our seniors make peace with the past and prepare for eternity. Our “way of life” is entertaining everyone, but in the meantime it is killing their soul.
It is obvious that our Church had better not adopt the “way of life” patterns of modernity, since these egocentric patterns have produced such miserable failure.
Rather, the society of Orthodox spirituality is a culture of ego-sacrifice: and that is the single, most important reason why modern America (and modern Europe, including Greece and Russia, and the modern world in general) has become violently allergic to Orthodoxy. (Consider the incursion of corporate-thinking and entertainment/celebrity-cult into American pop-religion as nothing but a histamine reaction.)
The Body of Christ leads us in the way of ego-sacrifice, in a culture that has never been more ego-centric. The world tells us to follow our dreams, identify our perfect career, with a beautiful house framed by glamour and celebrity. The Body of Christ tells us to be willing to give up our lesser dreams, and to walk in the light of Christ instead. God’s Will for us is not a career or a dream: His Will for us is deification.
American individualism has been a toxic disaster all around. Hope, though, remains in Orthodox personhood, the way of the Cross and transfiguration, the way of Resurrection peace.
On one extreme side is this recent instance of Andreas Lubitz who inexorably pursued his individual dream of a flight career: but who should have also sensed his developing psychosis and voluntarily surrendered his wings, so that he would not endanger innocent lives. That is what the Church would have told him. That is what the Holy Spirit was trying to tell him.
But on the other side, in the Body of Christ, in Orthodoxy, we are called to surrender ourselves and give up our rights and our selfish concentration on our own needs and wants, and to instead seek happiness in Christ and in the fellowship of others. We know that only in the direction of a person (your spouse, your friend, your fellow Christians, your children and especially your Lord) can you truly transcend yourself. We know that happiness comes only to the point that you become transparent to the beauty of the infinite Trinity.
So -- against all modernity and selfishness -- be holy, happy and peaceful in the personal light of Christ. Get out of yourself in ego-sacrifice. Worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
After all, we Christians do not crash, egocentrically, into the mountain of reality.
We ascend it.