Culture: Making sense of senseless suffering (for mature readers)

Culture: Making sense of senseless suffering
Frazzled, a little on edge and weary on Friday night, my husband and I sat and watched Looper at the cinema, which would not prove to be panacea to our state of being – violence has a tendency to escalate fractured emotions – though it did offer up a kernel of a moral, which was its redeeming feature along with Emily Blunt

Essentially what we find in the film is a young man named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)  – one of several young henchmen – recruited into a group of assassins who shoot and kill people who come back from the future ("crime travel" is what the film's genre has been called by the New Jersey Newsroom). 

"This time travel crap, just fries your brain like a egg... " says the crime boss character Abe, and you can actually start to feel your brain doing the same as you watch the film, but let's lay that aside.

When the protagonist is faced with the prospect of killing his future self (Bruce Willis), things start to go awry. In this Back to the Future meets Bladerunner meets The Matrix meets The Terminator movie, Joe is forced to sober up from his life of drug-taking, murdering and numbing individualism to think not only of himself, but "himselves", and also Blunt and her son*. 

It's all terribly violent with sex scenes thrown in (look away, did I), but at its core is a simplistic message about lost boys with no moral compass becoming awful men and the consequences of one's actions, especially on children.

This past week we have witnessed the first details of ABC radio administrator Jill Meagher's murderer emerge. What we see is a portrait of a man, a pastry chef with a penchant for prostitutes, who had endured an unfortunate, abusive and violent relationship with his father. He became a father himself, living a fractured life with four children to two separate women and clearly a lot of pent-up anger inside.  

Beautiful Jill was his unwitting target – caught up in the cross-fire of a life gone awry. He chose to stay in the dark and took away her light.

Also recently in Australia, Andy Muirhead, former host of the ABC's popular Collectors program, arrested on charges of child pornography, was the subject of a Kate Legge feature in The Weekend Australian Magazine on Saturday. 

Legge painted a revealing picture of an ostensibly successful young man who could not temper his anxiety and thus spiralling addiction down the road to viewing child pornography so hideous in its nature (for child pornography is, by nature, a depravity unimaginable) that it is hard to comprehend just how he became so numb to his actions until his arrest. 

The details of Muirhead's case are very disturbing; they nearly made me wretch as I read them to my husband. Confronting was this detail elucidated by Legge:

We expect offenders to be deviant, depraved, grubby; not respectable, cheerful, next-door types. But Griffith University professor Stephen Smallbone, a leading expert in preventing child sexual abuse, confirms those who access internet child pornography are typically white, male, educated professionals: judges, soldiers, dentists, teachers, academics, police officers, and yes, celebrity television presenters.

Like Jill Meagher's murderer, it is very much a case of, 'How could this happen?'. Two completely different men from different backgrounds each committing crimes that we regular, law-abiding, God-fearing folk could not imagine doing, nor becoming. 

What we see is a complete disconnect; between the man and his better nature (conscience), or the man and God. His personhood becomes completely corrupt. Such persons, left to their own devices, to fester in isolation and without appropriate checks in place, then become a menace to the human race, and to themselves; a moral disgrace.

Into that cavernous space, where the broken parts of them reside, the hideous things come crawling like spooky creatures in the night... the mind games, the habits, the thoughts that no man should ever entertain, let alone think, until, twig!, temptation is given permission to run its course and the crime is done and its perpetrator numb to both its cause, its outcome and possible consequences – never mind the victim, who is not a "person" (with hopes, dreams, a family) to them.

"People? Really? This collective noun glosses over the emotional vulnerability and powerlessness of toddlers, pre-school children and young teenagers...  unspeakable cruelty demands zero tolerance of those who profit, produce or encourage this foul trade. These are children, not people," notes Legge, quite rightly. 

Where should we sit amidst this calamitous web of misery and evil? How to make sense of it? When it is too late for those who have been caught up in the stickiness of tattered lives and darkness threatens to settle in and overwhelm us all? 

We must surely seek to get to the root of the cause. For the Christian, that means negotiating a fallen, rotten, stinky world full of the consequences of original sin with the good sense to see that all is not as it should be but there must be justice, mercy and love, which conquers all. Where we see wastelands, we should turn over the soil. This is our toil.

"Behold, I have given you the power ‘to tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you," said Jesus (Luke 10:19).

Surely we must value the sacredness of childhood as being an antidote to future depravity, to love our children into a state of convivial familiarity within the home, but not expect to put all the pressure on the family when society, and the individual and his or her actions within its structure and influenced by its many appetising offerings, is also very much to blame – the fallen world culture, just the same

Ban the internet? Put out the brothels (and the pokies and Lotto while you're at it, too)? Who are we to hold to account? What are we to do? 

I don't know. But at the risk of being too zealous, of offending the 'anything goes' few at the risk of being seen as nanny-state ninnies, we perhaps too easily give in to the idea that if we don't agree that some things are not beneficial to society at large, then we should allow them to carry on because it's scary standing up for something.
If you see a log on a road, and swerve to miss it in your car, do you stop, pull over and remove the log so it is out of harm's way for others, or do you continue to drive on thinking, 'Glad I escaped!' and not give a thought to the next passer-by? By forfeiting your present material comfort (inside the car), your good deed might become a blessing to others.

In the film Looper, the young man takes out his own life, seeing what he might become if he doesn't do so: just another hopeless case of history repeating. It is a tragic suicide. This Hollywood act of redemption and self-sacrifice gives us pause to think, 'But what could have been? Must it come to this?'.   

Yes, family love and stability can inoculate against wrongness in adults, but in the case of Muirhead, by all accounts from a good family, something very different went wrong. He could not find sufficient resources within himself to conquer his depravity, nor the means to ameliorate his anxities about life and his newfound fame in appropriate ways. 

What is the way out of bad actions and guilt? How to stop before the consequences catch up and threaten to overwhelm? Saint Paul tackles these problems in his letter to the Romans; the inner struggle for the right within us over the wrong. Who amongst us will be humble enough to admit when something is wrong? 

If in doubt, chuck it out is my motto – accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and don't look at Mr In-Between (sex scenes!), because you never know what might trigger; some behaviour in your own self that you thought you were never capable of doing. 

Some lingering image or thought that you could better do without; some resentment that has not yet found its way out given permission to run wild at an inopportune time (like when defences are down and so too is sense).

As my husband keeps reminding me, what might cause one person to stumble (access to a home computer, beer in the fridge) is not the same for everyone – hence, we should not judge the activities some indulge in or refrain from at the expense of social cohesion. 

But if it is our common experience that certain things (such as pornography and unloving parents) result in bad outcomes, we must shine a light on them and put things right. In essence, get in there before things go horribly wrong. Turn up the soil; root out the weeds; plant new seed before it's too late or else await the inevitable. 

"God whispers in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world," wrote CS Lewis. 

We are all vulnerable to the pull of the delicious things society dishes up as the remedy to our lonliness or childhood woes; but the balm of Christ – peace, love, well doing, grace – can soothe all things and restore them to their rightful way. We cannot think that we will be exempt from suffering, so we must buffer ourselves with faith and walking in the light.

It wasn't so long ago that Hitler roamed the earth and led the Jews to their death camps. To what now might we be turning a blind eye? 

*Be warned, this is no Scrooge-y Christmas tale; there is a devilish child who will make your blood curl.  

See also: 
Thinkings: On the Robert Hughes' of the world
Perspective: Pornography is not great in any shape
Girl With a Satchel