Evil ideologies such as white nationalism may deaden the conscience, but cause and effect more likely run the other way: lack of conscience and empathy makes an extremist in the first place, and can make a mass murderer whether his ideology is far-left, far-right, or something else altogether. These young men have not had character and conscience properly formed, and in the absence of such formation, their evil impulses have no check. More than that: evil is precisely what these killers aspire to be. White nationalism is liberalism’s equivalent to Satanism, and if the early reports are true, the Dayton shooter was an anti-Christian who styled himself as a Satanist or militantly anti-God atheist. Other mass shooters have targeted children (in the case of Sandy Hook) or patterned themselves after fictional icons of evil such as the Joker from Batman comic books (in the case of the 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooter).

Outside of the family, religion and liberalism are the major socially institutional forces that can shape conscience. But neither of them can do so today for society as a whole. Liberalism negates religion, declaring it optional, unscientific, and dangerously prone to bigotry. But liberalism is unfit to take religion’s place and is predicated on a radicalizing view of human nature. Modern liberalism prizes ‘autonomy,’ the idea of the self-created individual—who must, of course, be guided by enlightened liberals in the (politically) correct ways of self-creation. (You can self-create as a woman if you’re a man, but you cannot self-create as black if you’re white.) Liberalism is brittle: it has none of the depth of humanity that religion or traditional culture possesses. The autonomy principle promoted by liberalism holds a far stronger appeal, especially for young men, than does the absurd, essentially theological, yet godless, political-social creed itself. The result is sometimes the production of young, self-created nihilists, sub-Nietzscheans who want to matter in ways that they clearly do not: as big figures within the world or as warriors or martyrs—or monsters—not just losers and non-entities. Self-creation outstrips any connection to other human beings because liberalism, the very social air they breathe, has very little to connect people, unlike traditional religion.