Today is the anniversary of an extraordinary tragedy: the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building by Timothy McVeigh. I was just reading a piece on TIME about the anniversary when the following struck me:
“Timothy McVeigh killed 168 innocent men, women and children in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.”
Why do we always say “innocent”? What does innocent mean? In my strange and sometimes heretical spiritual worldview, I understand that not a one of us is “innocent.” In some way, to me, it takes away the humanity of those people who were killed to always call them “innocent”. I’m sure some of them fought with a loved one that morning. I’m sure others of them were slacking off at work. I’m sure some were thinking uncharitable thoughts of a coworker. You know, the kind of stuff each and every one of us is doing as we go about our workday. Each of those people killed was just a person trying to have a normal day, and thanks to the actions of a violent extremist, didn’t wake up to see the next day. They were human beings with good and bad, dark and light, sin and holy image, all mixed into one. And losing them is a tragedy, an unspeakable horror, even if they weren’t “innocent.”
Not to mention, in what sort of mass bombing would the victims not be “innocent”? Is there some way of deserving to be killed while you’re just going about your workday? Who gets to decide who is “innocent” and who is somehow deserving of a tragedy?
I’m still thinking about and processing the violent, terrorist acts committed against George Tiller and yesterday at the National Holocaust Museum. I’ve been
to the Holocaust Museum twice, and both times, it profoundly affected me. I remember sitting on the floor in a room filled with Holocaust victims’ shoes, sobbing. This room is toward the end of the museum, and yet it moved me more than anything else in the museum. Perhaps because of the idea of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Perhaps because it just engaged all my senses. I could even SMELL the shoes. Visiting that museum gave me both a profound sense of the evil humans are capable of perpetrating on one another, but also of the indomitability of the human spirit. You can try to take away someone’s humanity. Treat them like animals. Attempt to eradicate them. But you can’t control someone’s spirit. You can’t take away their faith.
In the wake of horrible tragedies, it is easy to see the perpetrators as not human. I’m guilty of it. I am a pacifist, generally, but in the wake of something awful that one human has done to another, I know what it is to want vengeance, to want an eye for an eye, though I rationally know that this “leaves the whole world blind.” I know, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “through violence you may murder a murderer but you can’t murder murder.” While it may be easier to simply dismiss these hate-filled killers as somehow less than human, it just isn’t right. The Nazis, in all their horrific violence, were still humans. Scott Roeder is a human. James von Brunn, hateful as his prejudices are to me, is a human. Someone loved them. These killers were someone’s babies. How did they get from there to where they are now? I don’t know, but it’s worth exploring. People may hate, and people may have prejudices, but a variety of factors contribute to making a hateful person into a murderer, a terrorist. Continue reading “murderers and humanity”
It’s tragic that a Kansas physician, Dr. George Tiller, was murdered while ushering at church this morning by a terrorist (yes, a terrorist. When you kill a person in hopes of intimidating and striking fear in an entire group of people, it’s terrorism). It’s crazy to me that anyone who claims to be “pro-life” would take a life in this way. Also crazy to me is that media outlets including the AP continue to refer to him as “late term abortion provider George Tiller.” Really? Which one aspect of Jon’s profession should I choose to refer to him by? “Lumbar puncturer Jon [Bufflo]?” Maybe “Lung sounds listener Jon [Bufflo]?” No, accurately, it’s “pediatrician Jon [Bufflo].” George Tiller was an OB/Gyn. Who sometimes performed “late term abortions” in the course of his care for his patients. To refer to him as “late term abortion provider George Tiller” is to further inflame the divisions that caused this tragedy in the first place, and it’s bad journalism.