Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Less than Human?

The tongue is a fire, which no one can tame—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. (From today's NT reading in the Daily Office)

On my newsfeed this morning, I saw this NPR article, which reports that Ariel Castro hanged himself last night. As you’ll see, the article isn’t so much about his death as it is about people’s reactions to the news of his death. I haven’t perused Facebook or Twitter to see it for myself, but the article suggests that social media are full of vitriolic hate-speech for the man who enacted a decade of unspeakable torture upon three women and a daughter. I have no love in my heart for Mr. Castro, but I must admit that phrases like “rest in hell” and “Oops, my sympathy bag appears to be empty” leave me sad, disappointed, and discouraged.

Is it ever acceptable to wish that someone suffers in hell for all eternity? Is someone’s death ever cause for rejoicing? Is the hurt that someone causes—like that produced by Mr. Castro—ever so great that suicide is something we would say is “right” or “deserved?” Do a person’s crimes ever make him so inhuman his death doesn’t even register as the extinguishment of a human life?

What happens to Mr. Castro now? Where is he? Does he go to heaven? Does he go to hell? Will we ever know? Who does the funeral? Who prays for him? Does he have a family? Does anyone care?

This isn’t the first time social media has been used by people to dispute the humanity of another human being, and it won’t be the last. Surely no one will rush to the defense of Mr. Castro, but is any human being truly indefensible? Do social media make it easier to kick a dead man when he’s down? I’m not saying that he deserves the decency that he denied his victims, but will anyone stop to remember that a human being—sinful though he was yet still made in God’s image—was so broken that he chose to end his own life?

I don’t think this blog gets enough views to cause any major controversy, but I still wonder whether I’m asking for trouble. Can I ask these questions—the kind of questions that I think Jesus would ask us—without exacerbating the harm that Mr. Castro caused those women and their community? Can someone point out the patently unchristian, subhuman nature of such online posts without simultaneously devaluing the evil of Mr. Castro’s actions? 

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