Saturday, November 7, 2009

Humans and Monsters

Two events in the last month have inspired me to write this blog. One is the shooting at Ft. Hood, Texas and the other is a local tragedy where a mother and her two sons were murdered when their house was set on fire in northern Giles County, TN. I am not going to get into details about these crimes. I do not know the details anyway. However, one aspect in the reaction to these crimes has me greatly disturbed. In this age of Facebook comments and Twitter tweets, many people, many of whom claim Christianity, wrote some pretty unchristian things on Twitter, Facebook, and the comments section of news websites. These include words of vengeance and anger, but not justice. There were words like, “he [the suspect in the arson case] deserves what happens to him”, “Forget 3 sentences, go ahead and crank up the chair. The GUILTY MUST SUFFER !!!”, “He needs to face what the victims had to face. But after all is said and done God will punish him trust me.” These are direct quotations from Facebook about the suspect arrested in the arson case in Giles County, TN, Although, there were several other comments that offers some remnants of grace, most where of this caliber.

Let me say first that I understand the thinking behind these comments. I understand the desire for vengeance and to take and eye for an eye and a life for a life. There are times, like after 9/11 when I felt this way and I don’t know how I would feel if the life of a loved one were taken from me. I did not know the mother or her sons nor did I know any person at Ft. Hood, Texas. I am coming from a purely objective position, but maybe it is the right position to shed some light on this situation.

When people make comments like these and TV commentators like Nancy Grace call perpetrators “monsters”, “animals”, and “demons” they are dehumanizing the criminal. This is a natural way of reacting to a horrid act of violence. I feel we do this for two reasons. First, dehumanizing violent criminals offers us comfort because we then believe that no decent human being could commit crimes like these. There is no way that a human being with a heart and a soul could commit such an act of violence so there must be something subhuman about them. This is just an isolated incident and I do not have anything to fear. We leave these monsters to the other monsters like Osama Bin Laden, Timothy McVeigh, Ted Bundy, and Jeffery Dahmer.

Secondly, we dehumanize them because if they are not human then we hold no bloodguilt for imagining all kinds of horrible and terrible punishments being laid upon them, including eternal torment in Hell. We can exterminate them like vermin. We can exact vigilante justice. We can see this mentality in the comments listed above and those like them.

Of course, these men who committed these crimes are not monsters or demons or animals; they are human. They are someone’s sons. This is even scarier because we all have the potential to do evil. We all have the potential to snap and with the right weapons or even our bare hands we have the potential to kill. Now let me be clear on something. Understanding that these men are human beings and not animals does not absolve them from facing justice for their crimes. They should be held accountable for their acts of violence.

However, there is a great deal of harm in dehumanizing the perpetrators of violent crimes. It harms those of us who are left behind and it does not bring justice to the victims. If we dismiss these people as monsters then we will never fully understand the motives behind their crimes. What drove them to commit such horrid crimes? We must seek the answer to the question of why? We must understand the warning signs of mental illness and not dismiss them. Only then can we begin to prevent tragedies like this from happening again. We see this in the shooting at Ft. Hood. Looking back there were all kinds of warning signs, but no one took them seriously.

Finally, when criminals are dehumanized victims and their families are never given a full measure of justice. They deserve to understand why their loved ones where taken from them. Most importantly they are never given a chance to forgive and begin to heal. One cannot forgive a monster, but a human can be forgiven. Forgiveness is a vital and the most difficult step in healing. There are no monsters only humans created in the image of God. They need a human who has a soul worth redeeming in order to forgive.

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