If you should go skating
On the thin ice of modern life
Dragging behind you the silent reproach
Of a million tear-stained eyes
Don’t be surprised when a crack in the ice
Appears under your feet.
You slip out of your depth and out of your mind
With your fear flowing out behind you
As you claw the thin ice.
— The Thin Ice by Pink Floyd
It seems that in recent months there have been more and more major shootings. For many of these, the shooter was either insane, on drugs, or a psychopathic, cold-blooded killer. The most recent shooting, however, is more unique. Some claim to relate to the shooter, but I’m afraid he is on very thin ice.
On February 3, 2013, Chris Dorner shot and killed the daughter of a LAPD police captain and her fiancé. On February 7, Dorner killed one police officer and wounded another. On February 12, Dorner was discovered in a cabin, leading to a shootout that killed one officer and wounded two others. And on February 13, some charred remains resulting from a fire in the cabin (the cause of which is still being investigated), was found and verified as Dorner’s.
If you, like many, have been following the story, you’ve no doubt heard about his cause, or maybe even read his (profane) manifesto. The reasons for Dorner’s killings are, in many ways, personal grievances. He outlines the events which led up to his discharge from the LAPD five years ago (because an investigation found him guilty of lying about the conduct of other officers), and some events from his childhood, to justify the taking of innocent life. He argues that the LAPD took away his name, and since “a man is nothing without his name,” murder became the answer.
The Responsible Party
One of the most disturbing results of Dorner’s behavior is not just the death of innocent people, but how society has responded to it. Pages have been popping up on Facebook to support him, for example: “We Stand With Christopher Dorner” (27,480 Likes, as of this writing); “Christopher Dorner” (18,038 Likes supporting Dorner); or “We are All Chris Dorner” (4,974 Likes). Similar support has also emerged on other social networks. The supporters each seem to portray Dorner as a victim rather than a perpetrator. The “news” and opinion website, Salon, has even published an article which places Dorner in the role of the victim (“Understanding Christopher Dorner” by Matthew Cunningham-Cook):
Dorner’s reaction is partly rooted in a corrosive version of American masculinity — his response to institutional corruption is uniquely Jack Bauer and John Wayne. Gratuitous violence included. Dorner is a wholesale product of a society gone mad on racism and war, of a state that aggressively punishes dissent, of an intellectual milieu where telling the truth has become a dangerous act. There was no internal institutional outlet for him to address injustices against him: the blue line prevented that. . . . the Dorner incident, like all incidents involving madmen, requires us to consider the madness that structures life in America.
Here, the major outlet expresses a view that is somewhat typical — that is, the view that our criminals and wrongdoers are the product of society. In fact, I have a sociology textbook sitting next to me right now that says the exact same thing. This kind of argument naturally arises out of an atheistic/evolutionary perspective. Indeed, a Christian view teaches that humanity is inherently evil because of the our moral fall in Genesis 3; but the evolutionist has no basis for claiming that man is one way or the other morally.
This, however, creates more and more conundrums for the evolutionist. Why do societies always have views of right and wrong? Why do people do seemingly wrong things? To answer such questions, the evolutionist must believe that the basis for all concepts good and evil arise out of a social context. Which is to say that society creates competing values and interests which result in moral obligations that are either imposed or just make sense. This, in return, makes all morality relative to social norms and expectations — which is why the aforementioned sociology textbook can ridiculously conclude, “[D]eviant behavior is not essentially different from that of conformity.”
The problem with this argument is that nobody really believes it because it’s not true. If all moral claims were merely the product of society, then morality itself is relative and no one can ever call anything absolutely wrong for everyone. If you think, for example, that murder of innocents, racial discrimination, or corrupt police are always bad things, then you can’t believe that morality is relative. Indeed, if Cunningham (from Salon) is right that “a corrosive version of American masculinity”, “gratuitous violence”, “a society gone mad on racism and war”, and “a state that aggressively punishes dissent” are all bad things, then you must believe morality is absolute. But if morality is absolute, it has to come from an absolute source. It cannot come from us, since one person’s opinion of morality would be equal with conflicting opinions. Thus, the source for our rules of right and wrong must be transcendent — they must be defined by God.
It is true, in part, that people are a product of society. It is undoubtable that everything we interact with (people, movies, magazines, etc.) has an effect on us. Yet if man is born morally neutral, then people doing wrong things can only be explained by negative outside influences. Except “the outside” is made up of people. So the argument becomes “people make people bad,” which is circular. Indeed, while people may be a product of society, society is also a product of people. So if a society is evil, it must be because people are evil. And evil people is one of the myriad of things that is impossible for atheism and evolution to explain. Thus, when we come down to it, each person must be personally responsible for their actions since we cannot transfer blame to society. Otherwise, we should be imprisoning the friends and families of corrupt police, murderers, and thieves rather than the perpetrators themselves.
Dorner emphasized throughout his manifesto that he is not a bully, “it’s not in my DNA.” However, since Dorner is a murderer of innocents and not simply the fault of society, it is clear that he is not the victim but the bully.
We believe that man is essentially good.
It’s only his behavior that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.
— Creed by Steve Turner
Dorner’s recollections of his neighborhood, school, and workplace experiences certainly seems to indicate that he was harboring grudges for decades. Indeed, one of Dorner’s ex-girlfriends described him as stressed out and bottled up from when she knew him back in 2006. The tone of his manifesto also indicates that he thought that the injustices he claimed had been committed against him justified the shootings as a “last resort.” Yet he wrote, “No one is saying you can’t be prejudiced or a bigot. We are all human and hold prejudices. If you state that you don’t have prejudices, your lying! But, when you act on it and victimize innocent citizens and fellow innocen [sic] officers, than [sic] that is a concern.” As such, it would appear that Dorner became what he hated — someone who allowed his perspective and opinions to justify the murder of innocent people.
How did he become what he abhorred? Well, there are some clues. Dorner claims to have been the only African-American person in many of his school classes. In one instance, a student used a racial slur in reference to Dorner, and Dorner responded with a punch and a kick. The principal punished both students — the student for using the derogatory statement, and Dorner for responding violently. Dorner expressed in his manifesto that he still doesn’t know why he was punished in addition to the other student and wrote, “He [the principal] stated as good Christians we are to turn the other cheek as Jesus did. Problem is, I’m not a [expletive] Christian and that old book, made of fiction and limited non-fiction, called the bible, never once stated Jesus was called a n***er.”
The claim about the Bible being mostly fiction is not new (and there are volumes of books which rebut this claim). What I find most interesting — and what seems to be at the heart of Dorner’s statement — is the thought that Jesus doesn’t understand what he has been through. Thus, Jesus’ teaching about grace is not applicable to him. As a result, Dorner felt justified to hold grudges to a point where vengeance and justice meant murder and injustice.
This is a tragic misunderstanding of Christ’s life and teachings. For one thing, Christ suffered a great deal unjustly. Indeed, none of His suffering on earth was justified because Jesus was God in human flesh (John 10:30). And in spite of that fact, He was tortured and executed in one of the most painful ways yet known to man (Matthew 27:32-44; 1 Peter 2:23). He was mocked (Matthew 27:38-44) and had the sins of all humanity from every point in time hurled at Him (Romans 3:21-26). In addition to this, God (including Jesus) is all-knowing (Isaiah 40:28), that means that He does understand and empathize with our pain.
Also, as Christians we are called to endure unjust suffering. 1 Peter 2:19-21 says, “For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” When Christ told us to turn the other cheek (Luke 6:27-36), it was a call to be merciful. Why? Because God is merciful. God didn’t give us what we deserved (eternal condemnation), He was merciful to our fallen state and gave us a second chance. Even if the people Dorner killed “deserved” it, Christ called him to show love to those who hated him.
I completely understand — as do many — Dorner’s hunger for justice. But Paul tells us in Romans 12:19, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.'” Thus, in our search for justice, we do not use revenge, we ask God because we know that through Him ultimate justice will be enacted.
Costly grace was one of the many anthems of the German theologian and spy Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Costly grace is the grace taught and lived by Jesus. Costly grace is a call to show radical love. Think about it: if Dorner had shown some grace to those he believed to have committed injustice, innocent people would be alive today (including Chris Dorner).
I think we could use some more costly grace in this world.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship