24 January 2012

The Archbishop and the Monster

Former Archbishop Tutu has seldom been less helpful, than in his recent naïve and unworldly comments about the accused being called "the Monster of Modimolle".


Former Archbishop Tutu has seldom been less helpful, than in his recent naïve and unworldly comments about the accused being called "the Monster of Modimolle".

He pleaded that however awful the crimes of which the man is accused, we should not call him a Monster, because "he is still a child of God". As of course were the victims of the crimes, but victims' interests are generally much less interesting and convincing to preachers than those of accused or convicted criminals.

More bizarrely, he calls the accused "a child of God with the capacity to become a saint". I hope Tutu will send me an SMS when this man, or anyone else involved in such deeds, becomes a saint. But I won't hold my breath until then. In what way, one must wonder, did the retired cleric think his comments would be truly helpful to anyone? 

Though Tutu has no qualifications in human forensic psychopathology or any other relevant field, he did not  hesitate to make such sweeping statements, and I will feel as free to comment on his ingenuous and simplistic theology. This is typical of the sort of happy-clappy feel-good statements that don't match the facts of human and social science.

Unwarranted sympathy for Kotze

He is confused and confusing when he insists that "we are actually letting him off lightly by calling him a monster because monsters have no moral sense of right and wrong - and therefore cannot be held morally culpable, cannot be regarded as morally blameworthy."

I wonder where he gets his certainty as to the precise nature of monsters and their moral views. Someone who does monstrous things (and even Tutu admits these were monstrous deeds) is called a monster. The issue is that their deeds are morally repugnant, not whether the monster personally considers their actions right or wrong - that is the monster's opinion, and doesn't diminish either their legal or moral responsibility and culpability.

He seems to believe profoundly in a magical power of words, as though everything will be all right if only you call it by a pleasant name.

There is a place for condemnation

There is no risk whatever to our nation in calling people who commit or are credibly accused of heinous crimes a "monster". There is a continuing risk in treating such acts and their perpetrators too lightly. In the same week there were stories of the kidnap and rape of little boys and girls, of a woman clubbed to death, and neglected children burned to death in shack fires. Horror has become commonplace and ordinary, and perpetrators often go unpunished or without being condemned.

We mustn't say nasty things about people who create horrors, says the Bish. God forbid we might hurt their feelings, or even stop believing that they may one day become a Saint.

In terms of proved facts rather than romantic myth, the chances of rehabilitation for someone who could be proved to have done what Kotze is accused of, are so tiny as to be essentially nil. The risk of further awful deeds from such a person is too high to be acceptable. To pretend otherwise is a dangerous fantasy. Yes, it is possible for some criminals and some people who do awful things, to change and become safe citizens, but it is unwise to assume that this is always possible, let alone probable.

Tutu's biblical quotations are almost insultingly naïve, too. The thief on the cross was a thief, not a murderer who had tortured someone. And Mary Magdalene was only a prostitute, not a sadistic killer.

I gather Tutu's next letter of protest will be to Sesame Street, to stop calling a character Cookie Monster, but, rather, The Cookie Eater Who Could Yet Be a Saint.

(Professor M.A. Simpson, January 2011) 


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