Josef Fritzl, Human Monster?

Friday 20 March 2009

So now Josef Fritzl begins his life imprisonment term and the newspapers begin asking, how could this have been prevented?

It always interests me that this is often the first question that is asked when something bad happens. As if you can systematise the human heart so that nobody is ever hurt or damaged or wounded by anybody else. As if we can outsource that sort of thing, and then be able to blame the corruption or inadequacy of our social services. Because by God, we need a scapegoat somewhere.

It's like the way we call Fritzl a "monster". Anything to distance him from us. He doesn't have the right to be called human, but rather a monster. Surely? He should be put to death, not allowed to breathe the air. He has removed from himself the right to be called human. That's what some say.

I disagree. Whenever I hear someone talking with such full-on anger and rage about how people like him should be put in front of the firing squad, I understand the rage and anger entirely but I also wonder about what shame the person who says such things is hiding. How much they have stuffed down in their soul because they don't know what else to do with it. The shame about the things that they have done themselves that they are ashamed of, in the dark. Oh, I'm pretty sure that the majority of people harbour different types of shame than the sort that locks your daughter in a dungeon for two decades and rapes her 3000 times. And yet, for all of that, I still think Josef Fritzl is entirely human. This is what a human is capable of. This and Mozart symphonies and the self-sacrifice of mothers for their children and raping each other and making art for free and mutilating yourself and helping a homeless person get back on their feet and demonising other people to make ourselves feel better and forgiving people over and over again and punishing other people for our own sins and writing great literature that speaks to the hearts of millions.

All of that is the human experience, surely? We can call the bad people who do the bad stuff "monsters". That way, when they say, as Fritzl said to the jury at his trial, "I am sorry from the bottom of my heart. I cannot take back what I did," we can disbelieve them. We don't want to believe that such a monster could have the ability to feel sorry for the crimes he has committed. We don't believe somebody who did something so awful as that, as to ruin the life of his daughter (and I can't even begin to think how utterly damaged she must be in a million different ways), could also be capable of repentence and sorrow. I wonder why that is?

Maybe it scares us to think that someone like that, who did what he did, could also feel the same things we feel. Maybe it brings someone like that just a little bit closer to us, ourselves and all the things we try to keep hidden away. Sure, they might not be in the same league, but shame is still shame and the darkness is still the darkness. It's just a matter of degrees.

At the other end of the spectrum, it seems to me from my personal experience that the pinnacle of humanity is loving each other, even when we see each other as we are. It is perhaps not a thing that comes easily to us, especially in the alienated sort of world we live in these days. Sometimes I wonder if the ability to love each other when seeing clearly is not even a human ability after all. But then what is human (and I ask from within a Christian perspective)? Is it us here and God over there? Is it us here and Josef Fritzl over there? Or is it God and Josef Fritzl both in here? That seems to make the most sense to me, but I just can't shake the thought that you can't have one without the other.

Edit: this all makes sense to me in my own brain. I have arrived at these thoughts in a logical sort of manner, at least inside my own head, and they're not by any means a reasoned-out-for-weeks-never-to-be-altered-again conclusion. What I would like to know is, do you agree, or disagree? What are your thoughts? How do you see it?


  1. there might be a little of him in us all?

  2. Well, M(uc), I dunno. What do you think? That doesn't sit well with me either. Maybe the potential for a little bit of him in us all maybe? Or maybe not so much that, but other things - the way mob mentalities work, and people who are caught up in those situations find themselves doing abominable things they never in a squillion years would have thought they were capable of?

    I'm aware how how negative this post seems - and it's a bit scary having it out there actually because you never quite know how people are going to take what you write. Words are so inadequate to convey what you are trying to say. But it doesn't feel negative to me, it feels realistic - maybe because I think our glory stretches even further in the other direction.

    Maybe??? :)

  3. I don't think your post's negative, Sue, only true.

    Something inherent in our being free makes each of us capable of choosing evil as well as good, and some of us do choose evil in worse ways than others.

    God? With us, with Friztl, with his daughters. Crucified, weeping; our Saviour.


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