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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

justice monster


recently i was introduced by my son to a really interesting TV show called 'dexter.' after viewing a couple episodes rented from the local blockbuster, i was kinda hooked.

the show is not what one would expect, given the title. this is a superhero show for a new millennium, telling the story of a serial killer named dexter morgan who does forensic work for miami PD, always on the scene but too close to the action to be that cool about it- something's a bit off. in a rather wild spin on clark kent's work in the newsroom, peter parker's photography or bruce wayne's direct line to the police, dexter works for the police in order to know where he can serve humanity. see, in order to satisfy his bloodlustful urges and still somehow be able to sleep at night, dexter morgan only kills other serial killers.

the obvious hypocrisy aside, this is an attempt at redemption. the guy recognizes that being a sociopathological murder machine is clearly antisocial, and struggles to understand himself and his secrets before he makes that one mistake that will ultimately lead to their exposure. dexter races against time and circumstance, making breakthrough after pyschological breakthrough, moving evermore towards becoming human, all the while taking what he feels is the moral high road and restricting his murderous appetites to those who 'deserve to die' (IE: those who prey upon the innocent, rather than the guilty.)

but what about us? this is a fictional character that we as a culture have created for our own entertainment, yet it is one who looks suspiciously like ourselves. we have this understanding of right and wrong and are able to discern between the two most of the time- at least in our actions. under the surface, however, we sometimes judge people unreasonably and subject them to harsh scrutiny, violence and humiliations galore within our heart of hearts. occasionally, we even share these negative perspectives with others, and in so doing, pollute them with the same toxins that are burning holes into our own ability to love and offer grace, help and support.

could it be that we create characters like dexter morgan as projections of what we wish we were cold enough to be for real sometimes? have we taken the whole superhero thing to startling new vigilantic heights, nobilizing sociopathy by creating a new type of superhero- a justice monster that needs no help in taking out the trash?

as we vicariously commit murder after murder, allowing ourselves to be entertained by the darkness that requires carnal satisfaction in the name of justice, Jesus' words in his famous sermon on the mount pose a challenge to us:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

in this small portion of Jesus' greatest oration, he acknowledges that murder is the ultimate outcome of something more subtle but nonetheless antisocial- the ability that human beings have to measure and evaluate each other, finding others lacking in worth. it is at the centre of our greatest crimes against one another and against God. perhaps if we could just stop deeming others 'unworthy' of blessing, favour, love, life and dignity (often because they fail where we fail) and see their inherent value, we wouldn't need to work out our issues by creating stories where killing others, rather than acting justly, even heroically on behalf of those in moral need is the solution.

i wonder what we'd watch on TV then...
or if we'd even have the time or interest to bother with it?

20 Comments:

At 9/02/2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What if we like Dexter for the exact reason the blogger states - in our forward thinking, new world, Jesus-justice sense, we let people 'get away' with things. Gone are the days of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and if we had more of that style of justice, would we be so interested in a serial killer who takes care of people our justice system cannot? (Chris)

 
At 9/03/2010, Blogger hineini said...

great post jollybeggar! I haven't seen Dexter myself but I have heard that it deals a lot with the issue of vengeance.

I have always been so amazed by Jesus' teachings on justice. In our culture when we hear justice we always seem to think "punishment". These two terms get combined or conflated with some pretty significant consequences. I think one of these consequences is that when people feel that someone has done something wrong and they don't receive the punishment we feel they deserve, we feel justified in calling for justice when all we mean is more punishment. For myself, this call for justice is not actually a call for justice but a call for vengeance, something I'm very uncomfortable with but something I don't have to pay much attention to if I can mask it or relabel it as a call for justice. Jesus' interaction with the crowd in the story of the woman caught in adultery is a great example of what is going on here. I am planted firmly in the crowd, wielding a stone and lusting to let fly when I am tempted to call for justice in a way that demands further punishment for another person.
When we speak of a higher calling, of not taking the easy way and of making some sacrifices in the name of love I always think of this story and the indignation the crowd felt as the woman was let off with what surely was seen as insufficient punishment. I'm not sure just how much I actually understand justice but right now I am hoping for a justice system that is free to reject punishment with the goal of preserving life and redeeming lives through the higher calling of forgiveness and reconciliation.

 
At 9/04/2010, Blogger jollybeggar said...

i really strongly (is that redundant?) agree with these thoughts on the important differences between justice and vengence. the portrayal of the person standing in the crowd holding the perfect stoning stone, waiting for the whistle to blow is powerful and is, in my view, the main reason why this incident from Jesus' ministry years is chronicled... because everyone present is in the wrong. we all get to place ourselves in this story and face the fact that we might, in the same situation, very well behave just as badly as all those who, one by one in the moment of conviction that follows, let their stones fall harmlessly to the ground.

'spare the rod, spoil the child.'
perhaps it all begins here.

all that business of spanking and sitting in corners during those intense imprinting years probably teaches the child more about being devious in order to avoid punishment than it does about developing more positive habits and behaviours. then there's all that guilt and lecturing which is probably better at teaching self-justification and finding loopholes than fostering greater social conscience.

far from being about doing right, it becomes about not getting caught doing wrong.

in the end, for all the misguided, albeit well-intentioned effort, there are many who grow up to become quite adept at finding loopholes and fudging on facts, while still calling down greater punishment upon those who are foolish enough to get caught crossing some line.

so tomorrow, a couple babies are being dedicated in our church service. i wonder to what degree these thoughts on 'raising a child up in the ways of the Lord' need to be part of the dialogue- perhaps not necessarily in the pledges made before the assembled crowd, but in the corporate support of the families dedicating their kids to Jesus.

there is, after all, another adage that bears repeating:
'it takes a whole village to raise a child.'

how many of us feel comfortable sharing our convictions on raising children with others? beyond the old 'remember that consistency is the key' thing, how ready are we to take a fellow parent aside and share these thoughts with him/her before a spanking or a stern talking to? what is the moral responsibility of those in the village to the children being raised within it?

 
At 9/06/2010, Blogger hineini said...

"all that business of spanking and sitting in corners during those intense imprinting years probably teaches the child more about being devious in order to avoid punishment than it does about developing more positive habits and behaviours. then there's all that guilt and lecturing which is probably better at teaching self-justification and finding loopholes than fostering greater social conscience." (jollybeggar)

Well, thats one way to see it. The other way, and maybe a little less bleak and more generous, is that these abusive gestures in the name of vengence, punishment or "tough love" work to subvert and cripple the self-confidence and feeling of value in the child. Insecurity, whether its low self-confidence or fear of terrorist attacks, is something that I see at the base of much of the ugliness that gets done in our world.

So yes there are those who once abused become devious and venomous (often leaving further abuse as their progeny), but then there are those who are mortally wounded, wearing these scars of guilt and rejection their entire life. This is the parenting advice that I want to share. It has little to do with "the way of the Lord" or pledges of the veritability of the scriptures or a rejection of the mythical forces of evil but instead its a commitment of everyone involved to never decline an opportunity to speak praise and unconditional acceptance and appreciation to child, parent and anyone else we encounter.

 
At 9/08/2010, Blogger jollybeggar said...

well, and to my credit, i DID load that big heavy statement up with qualifiers like 'probably' and 'more about...' in order to be sufficiently non-commital.

less bleak and more generous? i suppose, if we consider subverting and crippling the self-confidence and feeling of value in the child more generous than conditioning them to take what they've never been given. i'm pretty sure both thoughts are bleak enough.

however, the challenge at the end is one that i think we need to always rise to, seizing every opportunity to affirm, as unconditionally as we are able, the worth of others.

i love you, man.
not even joking, even though it sounds that way. :)

 
At 9/08/2010, Blogger hineini said...

ya, I was re-reading what I posted and it didn't make much sense. I think the idea was to point out that we don't have to conceptualize children turning to an insidious deviousness as the response to punishment for a reason to rethink punishment's value but simply to look at the very basic effects violence has on an individual, especially ones so vulnerable.

i like thinking of forgiveness as a gesture that is significantly successful at conveying this unconditional care for another person. its a very cool idea.

 
At 9/09/2010, Blogger jollybeggar said...

"...thinking of forgiveness as a gesture that is significantly successful at conveying this unconditional care for another person."

delicious

 
At 9/13/2010, Blogger jollybeggar said...

so after all this dialogue, i found myself in a live moment trying to delineate the difference between grace and justice...

i mean, if justice means 'receiving due penalty for transgression' then grace, being 'unmerited favour' is definitely a breach of justice. it is laced into the word 'unmerited.'

but i'm feeling my understanding of the concept of justice expand and deepen beyond a simple black and white causality logic thing, and i'm doubting that i can ever actually make that statement again without wondering if i believe it the way i used to.

citing james konow, somebody on wikipedia says that "Justice is the concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, fairness, or equity, along with the punishment of the breach of said ethics"

i think that i've always seen the punishment part as the essence of the definition, not simply an addendum.

hmmm

 
At 9/16/2010, Blogger hineini said...

Defining justice is one of those things that can fill libraries. It's a high stakes question that often surprises us in what jollybeggar called a "live moment". I believe that these live moments are in fact the only times that we see justice, theory and justice being somewhat ghostlike companions, one the mere specter of the other.

I think your very right in pointing out that to think of justice as simply "receiving due penalty for transgression" leaves us wanting, we may even say that this simplicity doesn't do it justice :)

I see a lot more promise in holding grace with judgement if we are going to start from a dichotomy, with justice being that which works to pry open the latter and make room for the former, often at times that seem inappropriate or impossible. For me justice describes a reality where the grace/judgement spectrum is done away with, where no record of wrongs is kept and the expected punishment never arrives but instead individuals are freed and empowered for the next step, and the next.

 
At 9/17/2010, Blogger jollybeggar said...

'where no record of wrongs is kept and the expected punishment never arrives but instead individuals are freed and empowered for the next step, and the next' (hineini)

this is a really satisfying articulation of what i understand grace to be.

being that no record is kept and there is no looking back over one's shoulder, the orientation is forward. the challenge, then, is to handle this grace carefully, responsibly. otherwise, one dissolves into an existence of pointlessness- with the past discarded, legacy thinking has to do not with doing things that are remembered positively, but with doing things of consequence, right? it feels to me like we're talking about labouring towards the complete realization of the kingdom of God- a time and place where this grace is being played out in every live moment of every life.

 
At 10/01/2010, OpenID societyvs said...

"could it be that we create characters like dexter morgan as projections of what we wish we were cold enough to be for real sometimes?" (JB)

Yes. It could all stem from the idea that many people think the justice system is failing them and the need for a harsher form of justice needs to exist (in some cases).

I haven't really watched Dexter but I have seen Watchmen and my favorite character in that movie was exactly like Dexter (the ink blot mask guy - Rorshacht). Sometimes, deep in us, we feel that cry for justice in a way the system cannot deliver...and it pains us.

But truth is, mercy (or grace) is a form of justice just the same. However, mercy should not be the expectation of people that have to face justice, yet within our Western systems this is game played in the courts.

Question is, is there such a thing as being too merciful/gracious?

 
At 10/05/2010, Blogger hineini said...

"Question is, is there such a thing as being too merciful/gracious?" (societyvs)

no

 
At 10/18/2010, Blogger jollybeggar said...

"my old sense of crime and punishment says 'yes' while my growing sense of embraceable ideal says 'no.' what to do?

http://e-pistles.blogspot.com/2010/10/chance-get-out-of-jail-free-card.html

 
At 11/17/2010, Blogger Buddy Brow who gives a damn said...

when Isaiah said mans righteousness's are as filthy rags, he was referring to a woman's minstrel rags, seems Dexter would fit nicely into a secular society's definition of mans righteousness according to Isaiah.

 
At 11/17/2010, Blogger marcythewhore said...

I think of Hannibal Lecter as Nimrod.

 
At 11/17/2010, Blogger marcythewhore said...

If you really, really want to get into the heart and soul and psyche of Dexter......be more than a video pscyhodabbler.....read the Dexter series of books by Jeff Lindsay.

That, or continue to be square.


http://www.randomhouse.com/doubleday/dexter/

 
At 11/18/2010, Blogger Buddy Brow who gives a damn said...

finally got a little time to give Jolly Beggar a look see, seems like an interesting thinker. I found a portion of his piece on a show called Dexter ( never saw it ) somewhat interesting

in this small portion of Jesus' greatest oration, he acknowledges that murder is the ultimate outcome of something more subtle but nonetheless antisocial- the ability that human beings have to measure and evaluate each other, finding others lacking in worth. it is at the centre of our greatest crimes against one another and against God. perhaps if we could just stop deeming others 'unworthy' of blessing, favour, love, life and dignity (often because they fail where we fail) and see their inherent value, we wouldn't need to work out our issues by creating stories where killing others, rather than acting justly, even heroically on behalf of those in moral need is the solution.

One's inner sanctum is usually a fearful place to tread and more often than not leads to self deception. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. When we leave God out of the equation, Dexter would seem to be a better than expected outcome. BTW thanks to marcythewhore/fred for this suggestion

 
At 11/18/2010, Blogger marcythewhore said...

Passenger handcuffed and molested at Fort Lauderdale International airport. You could be next.



http://www.brasschecktv.com/page/972.html



Time also to investigate Michael Chertoff and ask why he was allowed to start this program as head of Homeland Security and then personally profit from them he left office.

 
At 11/18/2010, Blogger marcythewhore said...

Today in History: On November 18, 1978, more than 900 people died in Jonestown, Guyana after cult leader Jim Jones convinced them to drink cyanide-laced grape punch. That's 900 votes Obama and the liberal Democrats could have used in the last election.

 
At 11/30/2010, Blogger jollybeggar said...

"Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. When we leave God out of the equation, Dexter would seem to be a better than expected outcome" (Buddy Brow)

nicely put.

i love that old u2 song where johnny cash sings bono's lyrics like a man who has been living them for awhile.

"they say they want the kingdom, but they don't want God in it..."

i miss johnny

***
I went out walking through streets paved with gold
Lifted some stones - saw the skin and bones
Of a city without a soul
I went out walking under an atomic sky
Where the ground won't turn and the rain it burns
Like the tears when I said goodbye
Yeah, I went with nothing
Nothing but the thought of you
I went wandering

I went drifting through the capitals of tin
Where men can't walk or freely talk
And sons turn their fathers in
I stopped outside a church house
Where the citizens like to sit
They say they want the kingdom
But they don't want God in it

I went out riding down that old eight-lane
I passed by a thousand signs
Looking for my own name

I went with nothing
But the thought you'd be there too
Looking for you

I went out there in search of experience
To taste and to touch and to feel as much
As a man can before he repents

I went out searching, looking for one good man
A spirit who would not bend or break
Who would sit at his father's right hand
I went out walking with a bible and a gun
The word of God lay heavy on my heart
I was sure I was the one
Now Jesus, don't you wait up
Jesus, I'll be home soon
Yeah, I went out for the papers
Told her I'd be back by noon

Yeah I left with nothing
But the thought you'd be there too
Looking for you

Yeah, I left with nothing
Nothing but the thought of you
I went wandering

 

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