Sunday, May 11, 2008

...At Least I Didn't Kill Them

He has achieved something most private citizens never achieve. In fact, he has elevated himself, almost single-handedly to heights rarely achieved even by heads of state or military officers. While he has prepared for this day for more than twenty years, he has rocketed to recognition in less than a week. This is normally the pattern, most world-take-notice achievements do not actually occur overnight. No, most world news worthy events only happen after intentional and decades-long preparation.

It is not a medal he has won, he has not achieved great political success, he has not almost single-handedly brought medical and emotional healing to millions. No, he is no hero, no beloved leader, he is certainly no Mother Theresa. The notoriety he has achieved ranks not with saints, but with devils. He has made himself equal to Pol Pot, Heinrich Himmler, or Stalin. This is the reason his name does not appear in this entry. If you have read or heard the news over the past week or so, you know his name. You do not need me to tell you.

When his daughter was about 17 years old he locked her in a hidden underground dungeon, and for the next twenty-four years he kept her and some of the children he fathered by her (three of them he and his wife adopted after his captive daughter “abandoned them on their doorstep,” and one died in the dungeon, apparently incinerated by him.

It is reasonable that the horrified and shocked public would call him names like “monster,” “tyrant,” and “evil.” It is this last epithet that has gotten his attention. He has protested that label, insisting that he isn’t evil. His defense against that heinous appellation? He can’t be evil he argues, because he didn’t kill them, after all. He didn’t kill them! For this act of restraint and mercy he argues that he isn’t evil. Never mind imprisoning his children in a dungeon for twenty-plus years. Never mind raping his own daughter to produce those children. Never mind providing such insufficient care that one child died, its body incinerated and a nineteen year old who remains in a hospital-induced coma because of the poorness of her health in the dungeon.

Yes, at least he didn’t kill them.

What else could he muster as evidence to prove his non-evilness? He fed them, didn’t he? Provided electricity, running water, beds on which to sleep, and clothing. It is interesting that someone had attempted to make the dungeon look a bit like a home. Tiles around wet areas, a bit of color here and there, some funny looking stickers or designs in a couple places. Certainly, in addition to not killing them, there are these bits of evidence to his humaneness. I suppose that if his family were poor and allowed to run around in the open air as free persons, these bits would indeed indicate some paternal care for his offspring. His paternity though hadn’t seen sunlight or smelled fresh air in a decade or more. These bits of care – almost insulting in their meagerness – do not assuage his guilt, but make it more stark.

But there’s the rub. If we aren’t careful, we will fail to see that we practice the same sort of self-deceit that he does. Oh, most of us don’t hold people captive for years, fathering our own children from our own children. But most of us use relative comparisons to justify or dismiss the things we do. “Oh, it’s just a couple bucks,” or perhaps even “They deserved it. If they hadn’t pushed me, I wouldn’t have punched them,” or my favorite “That’s just the way I am; you’ll just have to accept it.” We can use any number of justifications for taking advantage of people, for being rude, for ignoring someone in need, for doing things we ought not do. Our father-in-the-dungeon rationalizes almost exactly like we do. He looks for the good in himself just as we look for – and assume – the good in ourselves. We use his same line of argument.

Are we rude to the store clerk? Do we steal from the office? Do we take payment for work we didn’t do? Do we parade at church and then wallow in the gutter at home? Do we dishonor our spouses and mistreat our children? Do we deny others the things that might please them so that we can spend our time on ourselves?

We do all those things and more. And then we rationalize why we aren’t quite so bad as our brother in Austria – or maybe even the neighbor across the street.

After all, at least we didn’t kill them.

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