Why Do People Do Such Barbarous Things?

musician-664432_960_720-300x200 Why Do People Do Such Barbarous Things?

“Hardly a day passes when some barbarous act does not jump to the headlines.”

Hardly a day passes when some barbarous act does not jump to the headlines. Barbarous—there is no other word to describe these vile deeds. Thus, whether it be the sadistic torturing, terrorist beheadings, mass shootings or truck ramming murder sprees (not to mention genocide and war), these acts are becoming ever more common. There is something inexplicable and sinister in such behavior since it seems to go against human nature.

Many simply shake their heads and write off such brutal acts of violence as sad testimonies to man’s inhumanity to man. They dare not delve deeper since it might unearth unsettling questions about our society in general. However, if we are going to address this problem, we need to start asking why do people do such barbarous things.

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Perhaps the easiest way to show why some people do barbarous things is first to determine why people normally do not do them. An explanation can be found by taking a look at two fundamentally good human impulses and a key cardinal virtue.

Addressing a Passionate Concern: To Kalon

People normally do not do barbarous things because the most fundamental desires of the human heart go in the opposite direction. By nature, we tend to search out all that is good, true, and beautiful. This first impulse is something that occurs naturally in us and sets in motion powerful movements inside our souls.

Aristotle speaks of what he calls to kalon, that is, our passionate concern for all that is elevated, dignified, and noble. It was something he recognized as universally present in the spiritual core of each human being. These highest aspirations of rational and free beings make us capable of acts of dedication, devotion, and even sacrifice for causes perceived as just.

When the to kalon is in order, people do not do barbarous things. They seek after the high standards of perfection, beauty or excellence proper to human nature. It gives rise to a vision of life that inspires civilizations. We need only look to the great saints, heroes, and martyrs who converted the barbarians from doing barbarous things by introducing high Christian ideals that appealed to this fundamental impulse.

A Desire for Plenitude

The second human impulse is found in our great desire for plenitude: that is, a sense of satisfaction, wholeness or completeness. Not only do we seek the fullness of the good, true and beautiful, but the fullest manifestation of these desires. Our souls are strongly attracted to that which moves us towards plenitude. We rejoice in this plenitude and never tire in seeking after it.

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This can be seen in the senses. It is proper for our eyes to see, but we are most drawn to very beautiful objects. When we hear, we experience greater delight by listening to the most beautiful harmonies. Even infants in their primitive reactions shun the ordinary, drably colored ball to go after the Christmas tree ornament that dazzles and sparkles. We naturally tend to the most expressive plenitude of our legitimate desires.

Such good desires for plenitude unleash powerful movements within the soul that serve as the foundation of culture. Indeed, throughout history, man has been drawn to extraordinary panoramas, works of art, music, ideas, or heroic feats that have rightly been called sublime. It is not the mere physical aspects of these things that inspire us to action. Rather, it is a rational appreciation of the spiritual qualities of magnificence, vastness, or grandeur that captivate the soul and speed it on its quest towards plenitude.

When this desire for plenitude is in order, people do not do barbarous things. Rather they do marvelous deeds.

Temperance is the Key

The key to controlling these two impulses is the virtue of temperance. Temperance is the regulating virtue whereby we govern our natural appetites and passions in accordance with the norms prescribed by reason and Faith. Temperance teaches us to desire that which is proper for us and naturally leads to balance, proportion, and magnificence. It allows us to pursue the good, true and beautiful without falling into dangerous fantasies, mental unbalance or errors. It helps us strive wholeheartedly toward the plentitude of these desires without being enslaved by unrestrained passion.

Saint Thomas discusses the restraining characteristic of temperance saying it “withdraws man from things which seduce the appetite from obeying reason” (Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 141, a. 2). Thus, temperance restrains but it also frees the person to pursue the fundamental desires of the human heart.

When the virtue of temperance is in order, people do not do barbarous things.

Why Do We Do Barbarous Things?

Once it becomes clear why people do not do barbarous things, it is easier to discern why others do them.

The reason is simple. Sin destroys the equilibrium inside souls seeking after the good, true and beautiful. We live in sinful, intemperate and abnormal times in which people claim the right to unrestricted freedom to do whatever they desire, regardless of the consequences. The majority of people are fascinated by the frenetic intemperance of fleeting pleasures and worldly interests that is so much a part of our culture. The unbridled love of sensual pleasures darkens the inner eye of the soul, bringing down all its aspirations. People hate the temperance that seeks to restrain them.

As a result, people refuse to fix their thoughts on Aristotle’s to kalon that naturally beckons to them. They no longer seek the plenitude of sublime things. Rather it can be said of our generation what the prophet Daniel said of similar people of his time: “They suppressed their consciences; they would not allow their eyes to look to heaven, and did not keep in mind God’s just judgments” (Dan.13:9).

Replacing the Good with Bad

That is why people do barbarous things. The human heart cannot remain long without an object of its desires. If we will not attach ourselves to the principal considerations for which we were made, then we will latch on to others for which we were not made. When temperance no longer rules, people lose their moral bearings, find false absolutes to follow and eventually embrace the false, bad and hideous.

In addition, the desire for plenitude persists, but it will be misdirected toward the insatiable appetites of vices and passions that are ultimately self-destructive. We will seek out ever stronger sensations of pleasure that gradually become brutal and barbarous.

Thus, if we delve deeper into the problem of why people do barbarous things, we find a culture of frenetic intemperance that favors a return to barbarian times. Sometimes, it manifests itself only in bad manners, vulgarity and loose living; other times it breaks out into violence, cruel torture and sadistic killing that lead to man’s inhumanity to man.

The Object of Our Longings

There is one final consideration. When we search for that which is most elevated, dignified, and noble, we inevitably find God who is Truth, Beauty, and Goodness itself. When we temperately seek plenitude, we are inevitably led to finding it in our Infinite God who alone can satisfy the longings of our hearts for all eternity.

The real reason people do barbarous things is that they have rejected God and his law. They have revolted against the order for which we are made. It is no wonder that inhuman and sinister acts keep happening. Indeed, we are made for God, and our hearts will not find peace, as Saint Augustine reminds us, until they rest in him.

As seen on crisismagazine.com

  • allen

    it has been said in the end times that the devil rules earth and God rules heaven.there are people who are open to evil because they are worldly.only believers can discern right from wrong.

    • Gentillylace

      I am not sure that only believers can discern right from wrong, There are atheists and agnostics who behave well and strive to be good people according to their lights, even if their conception of the good in some ways contradicts that of the Catholic Church (e.g., artificial contraception is often perceived as a good thing by many atheists and agnostics).

  • Louis Boo

    People have rejected God and His laws because their shepherds have failed to watch over their sheep and guide them along the path. The devotions the church once had are no longer readily available like they once where. Sometimes there would be a special devotion or celebration at church for several days during the week. No longer. Many Catholics can barely spare 45 minutes for mass on Sundays. When God is put to the side and no longer holds an important place in a persons life, the world calls. How many Catholics no longer have holy pictures of saints or even a crucifix in their homes? Things like this kill the soul of man and lead them into dangerous waters.

    • Margerita Horvath

      amen! you hit the nail on the head

    • Jacqueleen

      People choose to go into dangerous waters…..it is called materialism, relativism, secularism, etc. God gave us a Free Will to either follow Him or to follow the devil….Some of us have learned that our enemy is threefold, the World, the Flesh and the Devil! Catholics, falling away from the faith by not attending Mass or going only to Mass and not embracing other devotions is part of the Great Apostasy which is a sign of the end times. We have been warned that in end times, it will look as though the devil is winning, but rest assured, we know who wins in the end….Stay focused on the Lord.

    • Drgeraldine Sanjay


    • truth shall prevail

      Yet another problem is that since the “senseless-sixties” so many people have been seduced by their (so-perceived) new freedoms; discarding the “tried and tested” morality and are still urged by the likes of Richard Dawkins to “make their own rules”. The result? Several generations (yes even of nominal “catholics”) of irreparable damage to children’s upbringing by irrational selfishness of haphazard “parenting”. Result? several generations of people without a moral framework, falling time after time into all kinds of traps set by Satan. Yes, by definition, we are living in the End Times … and yes the horrors of these times certainly describe the End Times.

  • Rockymtnteri

    Having free will does not automatically mean that we will choose wisely. If we are not taught truth…it may become impossible to find truth. Just as a child is taught from the very beginning by diligent parents what is good for them and what will harm them…our spirit must be taught was is of God and what is not. For far too long our Shephards have been afraid to teach us TRUE Catholic doctrines. I pray that they will once again take up the call God gave them…lead us to our Lord. Always.

  • Marie Halligan

    Excellent article! Bad attitudes and behaviour seem to be both contagious and habit-forming. I know I have had to take a few steps back from popular culture and with my new-found objectivity, I can see how corrupting it is and that is because so many people have lost God.

    • eric mulvihill

      eric mulvihill, england. quite frankly, many catholics here worry about american catholic right wing views. john horvat 11 is of a completely different calibre. he is talking in a new way, and drawing on the whole of our tradition which includes elements from greece and rome and elsewhere. this is compelling and will win unexpected friends. but catholic means more than universal, a word we should not always feel happy with, because it suggests dominance. kata holon actually means according to the whole, and that is what horvat gives us. yes, we think the english medieval period was very special too. julian of norwich, an anchoress, wrote the first book in english, along with the cloud of unknowing among the greatest books of mysticism. okay, i’m irish.

      • Jerry Bresser

        Jerry Bresser, Michigan, USA. Quite frankly, Eric, many U.S. Catholics also worry about American Catholic right wing views. It bothers us that so many of our priests, nuns, and fellow church-goers lean to such liberal views and even vote Democratic without caring that
        the Democrat Party approves of abortion on demand, and actually voted to remove reference to God from their Official Platform. From some comments made I truly believe that some actually felt the Democratic candidate was St. Hillary. I am so ready for sermons that call QLGBT participants sinful and not alternative life choices; and stop treating Islam as a legitimate equal religion.

      • Marie Halligan

        I’m the daughter of Irish immigrants to England,living in Ireland 11 years now! Things are going downhill here too,but England had a massive head-start and is much further down the slope!
        Yes,I like John Horvat’s take on things and his style,which is thoughtful,gentle and not at all “preachy”! God bless!

      • Joe

        eric I find it amazing the english are worried about catholics in the us. do europeans even know how to spell church anymore?

  • RCQ157@yahoo.com

    I think that some people don’t believe in God because they cannot see him or hear him talk also they seem to believe that whatever they do God won’t see them doing it and because God won’t stop them from committing their act of cruelty to another human being or to an animal. This also makes me cry out for the cruelty of doctors wanting to kill babies so they can buy fancy cars and homes, as if their salary is not enough, isn’t this greed. The senseless killing of human life many gets sentenced to death row shouldn’t these doctors get the same sentence?? I truly hope they make a law to abolish abortions with the exception of incest, the mother dying, rape. I also think that these doctors that is doing these things should be brought to justice tried and sentenced according to their crimes of cruelty to babies that could not help themselves, these murderers should be brought to justice.

    • john

      If abortion is killing a human then there should be no exceptions. Even in unfortunate situations, an innocent child should not be killed

      • Gentillylace

        An unborn child who is the product of rape or incest is not to blame for the father’s sin. If there is an ectopic pregnancy or other circumstances where the mother’s life is in jeopardy, an operation may be necessary to save the mother’s life. This operation may kill the unborn as a side effect, but it is not *intended* to kill the unborn. Therefore it is not abortion. If there were artificial wombs available where the unborn could be placed, that might be a preferable option.

        • john

          I don’t regard a procedure in those circumstances as an abortion. Hence you you are correct in what you say.
          However, in the earlier referenced case of rape and incest or any other unfortunate situation, it is a “cop out” to advocate for abortion to undo the damage done. Those children are innocent and deserve a life time too.
          The mother has an opportunity to be heroic, and there are many heroic couples willing to adopt in these circumstances. I know first hand.

          • Marie Halligan

            I agree- an abortion won’t lessen the trauma of a rape or incest,it is an invasive procedure and either requires a general anaesthetic, which is dangerous in itself,or prostoglandin to induce early labour. If the latter option is taken, no anaelgesia can be given as it would counter-act the prostoglandin and stop the labour which means this type of abortion is agonising for the woman. The surgical one also carries a serious risk of infection, as do all invasive operations,but abortions are often performed in places where the priority is profit rather than patient welfare and they tend to attract the sort of staff who, well… they might not be as attentive to proper practise if you know what I mean.I know this because I trained as a nurse in England and then worked in operating theatres when I qualified.I exercised my right to not participate in abortions but I had to do a module in Gynaecology during my training and there were gynae theatres in the Operating Dept I worked in as a Staff Nurse.It’s a grim,bloody,ugly thing- I hated it and still do! A pregnancy is only 9 months out of one’s life.With proper mental health care,anyone who has not been suicidal before should be able to make it through 9 months and if they can’t face keeping the baby,there are plenty couples only dying to adopt a new-born , who are so rare! There really is NO excuse for abortion, NEVER EVER!

        • Marie Halligan

          You are right- in an ectopic pregnancy,if an operation wan’t done, the child would soon burst the fallopian tube and die because it had no sustenance, and the mother would suffer haemorrhage and acute peritonitis,a life-threatening condition. This is why an ectopic pregnacy is a surgical emergency and you are correct- the object is to save the mother, NOT kill the child, who cannot be saved.Artificial uteruses would be a life-saving invention alright! All this technology and people looking to “enhance” themselves with robotics,but nothing about this yet! Priorities,eh?

  • Rosech Levy

    We have free will and many choose not to believe in a creator (but never seem to understand how they came to be, like maybe out of the air?) They don’t want to believe in a creator because they are urges to do and be evil. That is their choice but karma strikes hard on most of them. They need to know more about cosmology and how now many scientists are saying this planet/world came into being not of chaos but a “something” that made it be. In other words, you cannot get anything from nothing.

    • Kathleen

      I agree with you Rosech Levy. It always amazes me how some smart people can be so dumb. We definitely cannot get something from nothing. There are those among us who think we are so dumb because we believe in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But, we are being so very smart to follow Him. God bless all who believe in Him and may God have mercy on those who don’t and may He bring them to see the light.

  • Temperance is the Key. It is a fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23. It moderates us so that we are not excessive even in good and necessary things.

  • Paul Tran

    Let’s face it, sin began with the Fall of Man. Any barbarous act committed today can be put down to this single act as Adam & Eve disobeyed God hence sin entered the world.
    Moreover, I wouldn’t hold the Greek “to kalon” as an example one should aspire to as the ancient Greeks were well known for the sexual proclivities (i.e. pederasty, pedophilia & homosexuality) which were all deemed to be for “the general good” of society.

  • María Elena Melgarejo Lozano

    What can I say after what you, Mr. Horvat have just said. You know that there is a lot to do, and a long way to walk. With the grace of God and Our Holy Mother we shall see miracles if we start again and again with growing effort to be faithful to our catholic faith in spite of our weakness. There is much to be said to the people around us, but there is a lot more they expect to see in our everyday life of love, service, forgiveness, understanding and all this with joy because we are full of hope. The Holy Spirit shall help us in order that people can find Jesus Christ in each one of us. We are being called to a purification period because we deserve it. We have been found neither hot nor cold, but we certainly do have God’s help in Sacraments. We are not left alone. The return to order starts in ourselves.

  • Aint So

    John, I don’t think you can imagine how greatly I admire you but I have to say that your declaration that “When we search for that which is most elevated, dignified, and noble, we
    inevitably find God who is Truth, Beauty, and Goodness itself” is precisely the opposite of what is actually true. The last part of this sentence appears to contradict the first. What may not be understood in this discussion is that goodness, truth, and beauty are not only found in God but He alone is the very source and embodiment of them. Genuine virtue does not exist apart from God’s immediate Person in Heaven or on earth. It is not our search for the virtuous which leads us to God but our sustained personal vulnerability to God which leads us into all virtue. You seem to say as much yourself in the last part of that sentence which apparently contravenes it in the first part. The reason for this, as you alluded to earlier in your comments is that “By nature, we tend to search out all that is good, true, and beautiful” In other words, by our own nature we tend to seek out genuine virtue and spurn the corruption of evil which is all that is divergent from God. Evil must masquerade as good even to become palatable to us. This is because the nature bestowed upon us by our Creator is not just like His own but our nature is His own. We are made from the same “stuff” as the one who created us for the sole purpose of loving and embracing us. We often foolishly advise each other that our human nature became corrupt as a result of sin when if this was so, we would as a result of our apparently corrupt nature, spurn the advances of our God instead of embracing and adoring Him as we are so compelled to do when we recognize Him being in near proximity to us. It is not our nature which has become corrupted because of sin but the capacity to recognize Him that our true created nature provides. This corruption precludes our natural
    response to Him of selflessness, vulnerability, and and our natural and insatiable desire for intimacy with Him. Few of us even understand that our love and adoration of God, because our nature is His, has a component when we genuinely encounter Him which is entirely involuntary. The lives of Christian mystics illustrate this quite succinctly when they are thoughtfully examined. Even devils are utterly compelled by God to fall upon their faces, how much more will we who love Him be compelled at the vision of Him?

    Human beings do barbarous things for one reason. In the denial of ourselves of the true vision of God which requires an unqualified surrender of personal vulnerability to Him, we find ourselves incapable of the one disposition which could lead us into sanctity or even the desire for sanctity and it is personal sanctity which alone enables our becoming truly and genuinely virtuous. As with sanctity, virtue is no goal of the Christian life but a result of something infinitely more important which is our entry into the consummate communion with God for which alone we were created by Him. Without our entry into sustained communion with God, our being imparted the true virtue which is found in and arises only from Him such that virtue originates only from Him, is not possible. Because sin is our state of separation from God, the direct result of our invulnerability to Him, it is also a separation from our own Created nature which was and is entirely God’s own from our beginning. Lacking our entry into a sustained communion with God, enabled by our surrender of consummate vulnerability to Him, we cannot hope to become permeated by the sort of genuine virtue we must all come to embody upon entry into Heaven if we hope for entry there. Along with true and compelling knowledge of the unfathomable God comes the knowledge that, with regard to this sort of genuine virtue, our destitution is absolute. If we are truly to become enabled of embodiment of the virtue required of us for entry into Heaven it will rise within us only as a result of the personal vulnerability contingent with God having taken up residence within us at our invitation. To the extent that our pursuit of goodness is the mere pursuit of what we hope will become virtue rather than a single minded pursuit the very Person of God, our search for virtue can only result in scrupulosity. Our first mission here in earth, the one God created us for is not to become “good” or even virtuous people. Our first mission here on earth is to allow the uninhibited satisfaction of the insatiable hunger of our Creator for each one of us, allowing Him the pleasure of our company by our sustained and immediate attention to Him for the sole purpose of pleasing Him and not ourselves. No matter how we try, we and our church have the greatest difficulty imagining that it is not our “merit” which most greatly impacts our salvation. Even if we could assume an entirely sinless state, which of course we cannot, we possess no merit of either salvation or our eventual entry into Heaven. This is why we always seem to fail in our understanding of the apparent anomaly of the Good Thief who died at the crucifixion next to Jesus and entered heaven that very day without the recorded elements of even a good confession.

    What wards off barbarism and instills virtue within us is our allowing God the unfettered and unqualified permission to take possession of us. We freely admit to the possibility of human possession by evil spirits, why not possession by our God? When we allow ourselves to become enabled of possession by God, not only are we imparted genuine knowledge of Him (not understanding!), but permeated by His likeness within us which is our sanctity This results, not in the entirely insufficient “virtue” men can imagine but in the genuine virtue which can alone be imparted by our Creator from Himself.

  • Phil Alcoceli

    America’s and Christianity’s enemies viciously promote Liberal Fascist Suicidal Infantilism. It’s core is envy, anger, hatred and unforgiveness. Level headed people control and stay away from those four horses of Doom as much as possible. To fanatical, violent clones these four things give them a false sense of divinity, of omnipotence, of entitlement, of invincible self-righteousness.

    Did I come up with this as an arm chair theorist? No. I worked in a jail and met some very vicious people and murderers face to face. Four remedies: first, restore in churches and everywhere the fact of SIN. Without it, we are totally disconnected from God and his Redeeming Grace. Second, bullies eventually break if good people resist, resist and resist even if, sometimes, lethal force is necessary.

    Third, pacifism at all costs is DEATH. Jesus was not a pacifist and that’s why Christianity’s history is not pacifist. Don’t allow Satan’s children to make you ashamed of it. Stop shaping churches to their instructions and false condemnations. Stop putting so much energy in appeasing and making Christ’s enemies you masters just because they accuse you of intolerance, lack of compassion or inclusiveness, homophobia, war mongering, sexism, etc. That’s Satan’s False Gospel.

    Fourth, Worship only Christ because every time you allow these rats to shape you, your family, your church, your community or your country, you worship and empower criminal, savage, beastly behavior. As criminals have told me: liberals are their best friends and criminals by proxy themselves.