24 July 2011

The Surreal Becomes Reality in Norway

Norway is not a newcomer to international tragedy. In World War II, the Nazi's used Norway as a major hub for launching their submarine warfare. While trying to maintain neutrality, they were pushed directly into the path of Nazi Germany's juggernaut of European domination.
However, for the past sixty-five years, Norwegians have known both peace and a kind of internal stability that keeps them well out of world news. Norwegians tend to be happy, healthy and friendly people. No act of internal terrorism has occured in over sixty-five years. Until Saturday, 23 July.
AndresBehring Breivik, 32, a native Norwegian, detonated a high yield explosive in front of the government offices in Osolo; then proceeded to an island youth camp, where he indescriminately killed and wounded a number of teenagers...most of them children of government workers attending a special week-long camp.
In a statement written before the attacks, Breivik reflects on the growing threat of Islam and the liberal European political systems that tolerate Islamic religion in established Christian cultures. One assumes that he sees his own government as being part of the problem -- and the teenagers as the future permissive group that will allow it to continue and spread. This is truly sick thinking and heinous action!
While not new to our culture, such moments come as a complete shock when they happen in cultures where the norm is debate or, at worse, a pie in the face. I was, frankly, shocked at the number of death threats Casey Anthony received when the sworn jury acquitted her of murder in the death of her daughter. Do I think she is guilty? I have absolutely no idea. Evidence presented by the talking heads of television had led me to believe she might be. Obviously a jury of her peers weighed the evidence and found it wanting in terms of her culpability. There simply was not the kind of irrefutable evidence needed to convict.
Now, in all the civics and political science books I have read, our system of government and justice rests on one being innocent until found (with substantiating evidence) guilty by a seated and sworn jury of fellow citizens. Yet, the media and many citizens had her tried, convicted and executed months before the real trial ever convened.
Spreading this out over history, group dynamics have played a powerful role in fostering reactivity of the kind that creates lynch mobs, character assassinations, death threats, and various manifestations of judgementalism. Even in the Church, these things happen with far greater regularity than one would be comfortable admitting. Recently, for example, a colleague was put through a terrible ordeal, when a member of his congregation accused him of malfeasance. He was almost forced to resign before an auditor was engaged to check the books. As it turns out, there was absolutely no evidence of malfeasance. Still, there are parishioners who remain convinced that my colleague is "guilty of something neferious." This is character assassination and, in moral theology, a grave sin.
Because I am both a son of the Church and a retired priest with 33 years of experience in these things, I long since accepted as a very sad commentary that the "Church shoots its wounded." I heard that indictment long before I was ordained and have, myself, experienced its truth on a few occasions. It is not the place one would expect to find such behavior, yet, I bring it up to show that the Church is a human community, and human nature seems to thrive on the pain and mistakes of others. Why else would Nancy Grace spend three years villifying Casey Anthony...without due process? While Casey and the whole Anthony family can be diagnosed as a "toxic mess," I think folks like Nancy Grace only reflect their own toxicity in the way she hounded that family.
In this latest and sickening tragedy in Norway, we see this dynamic played out in a way that reflects the actions of Timothy McVeigh in Okalahoma City (1995). Because one sees, experiences or hears about an injustice, it justifies the jumping to the conclusion that institutions and folks not even attached to those injustices are to blame and must be punished. Or, they clearly are not to blame, but the person passing judgement sees that group as a platform for setting an example for addressing the injustice. "At least it will get their attention," goes the thinking.
It is truly tragic and sad that we live in a world made unsafe more by seemingly regular people jumping to conclusions than by those who are actually equipped and bent on harm. Gossip, judgementalism and their attendant actions of jumping to conclusions and making threats (that often enough become a reality) have, throughout history, cost the lives of promising and talented adults and young people. They have ended or shortened the active careers of people whose gifts could have accomplished major good for many. I only point to Jesus for a truly tragic scenario that was made right only by the act of God -- who knew what human nature would do -- and entered into our moment of reality anyway in the person of Jesus.
While the work of salvation opens our hearts and minds to new possibilities, it does not change willful human nature determined to have its own way and exert its own control. Obviously, it is still happening on way too many levels.
Anybody want to take bets on a debt ceiling crisis?
Fr. Fred
Retired -- At Large and Running Amok
Lee's Summit, MO

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