I’ve been catching up on the highly original FX series “Justified” and not only because of the incredibly sizzling Timothy Olyphant, but because the moral ambiguities it scatters across the Kentucky landscape feel so absolutely dead-on. You do what you have to do and if you don’t turn your back on your best friend, it’s not because he’s your best friend but because he might just shoot you. And turning your back on your old life turns out to be as hard as shooting to kill is easy.
The characters seek redemption but they don’t seem to find it. Redemption’s primary meaning relates to deliverance from sin, the act of salvation and yes, an element of forgiveness. Embracing God or Jesus or Allah clears one’s mind and heart and presumably allows one to see the truth and reject one’s wicked ways and past sins.
Which brings me to a recent story about how David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam” has found God–or, to be more specific, he has found Jesus Christ. To his admirers’ way of thinking ( he has quite a few admirers), he’s on the path to redemption. No one apparently interviewed the families of his victims to see whether the forgiveness portion of his redemption was forthcoming. No matter: Berkowitz answers to a higher power. (photo: NY Times.com)
I don’t think Berkowitz is evil; or rather, I wouldn’t have any way of knowing. Judging the character of anyone in this fashion is something I’ve decided is above my pay grade. Frankly, it’s hubris to assume we can know anyone’s heart and mind that well, be they serial killers or terrorists.
On the other hand, I’m not ready to let anyone off the hook, spiritually or otherwise, for committing a horrific act.
This isn’t about whether David Berkowitz is considered legally rehabilitated, by the way: his life sentences are immutable and he has expressed no interest in being released. But I don’t know whether I’d consider him redeemed, either. Redemption divests you of responsibility: you pass a test, you’re home free.
The International Crimal Court (ICC) has just issued a second arrest warrant for Sudan president Omar al-Bashir for crimes of genocide. I don’t know whether he thinks he answers to a higher authority but he’s certainly ignoring the ICC. Honestly, I can’t imagine any God in any religion giving him a free pass. (photo: icc.org)
Which brings me back to justification and “Justified.” In the show, as in real life, we’re presented with arguments, spoken and unspoken, rationales for certain kinds of actions or mindsets. We know what the justification really is: an excuse. And people who make excuses, however rational or required they may be, will eventually have to take responsibility for their actions.