Monday, March 23, 2009

The Fritzls of California

The trial of Josef Fritzl in Austria, with all its sordid detail and dramatic developments, has captured the imagination of the world. It has all the necessary components to rivet our attention: brutality, imprisonment, deviant sexual behaviour, murder, enslavement. Surely, we think, this is true evil in our midst, and it isn't a good thing we're not like that.


Before we get too smug about how righteous we seem by comparison to a lustful, dictatorial sadist who enslaves and murders his own offspring, let's consider the root of this evil. Essentially, Fritzl disregarded any authority that would restrain his appetites. He decided that his own judgment overruled religious teaching, moral law, civil law, social custom, family tradition – anything that would stay his hand. Of course, this brought about what it always brings about: the Law of the Fist – might makes right. Those within the small scope of his power were ruled by brutal force and exploited for his gratification.

Despite what we'd prefer to think, the root of this wickedness is not lust, or greed, or desire for power. It is pride. The pivotal movement, the essential choice that led to all those other horrors, was Fritzl's exultation of his own will as the ultimate authority in his life. From the moment he discarded the Law of God – or even of human law, which reflects God's Law – as having any authority over him, those terrible results were predictable. It all began with his pride.

This is what should disturb us. While not many of us will have the opportunity to lock our daughters in a dungeon to be raped at our leisure, we are all faced with the temptation to set aside moral laws and exult our wills as the ultimate authority. Every morning when we put our feet out of bed, we risk putting them on the first steps of the path that leads to that kind of perverted depravity.

Which brings us to the subject of California. Amidst the media-stirred frenzy following the passage of Proposal 8 last autumn, one of the responses has been a ballot initiative that would eliminate state recognition of marriage and replace it with “domestic partnerships”, which could be between any two people for any reason. This initiative will certainly be surrounded by a flurry of commentary from all sides, but I doubt that any of it will attend to the foundational premise of the effort: the idea that society has the authority to redefine what marriage is. The parties circulating these petitions are assuming without question the principle that marriage was created by society, instead of the other way around.

That's pride. Though it is expressed in a different manner and in a different venue, that's the same sort of pride that Josef Fritzl exhibited when he decided to discard morals and customs in order to remake his “family” in the form that pleased him. It is dethroning any authority that would tell them they couldn't do something they wanted to do, and enthroning their own egos in its place.

I've little doubt that this initiative will make it to the ballot in California. It may lose, but it will be there, and will be debated and discussed ad nauseum. Through it all, the subtle message will spread that customs, morals, and laws that are inconvenient can be set aside. A certain number of people will come to realize, as Fritzl did, that they don't have to wait for any laws to change. If they can set up their own little kingdoms, they can define their own laws and impose them on people within their power.

That's why I fear that we've only seen the beginning of the Josef Fritzls of the world. May God help the innocent.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Precise thinking on the issue of who creates and defines what.

I would add that in our existential, individualistic world it is very easy and convenient to surround ourselves with a separate peace all in the name of tolerance. "Well, that's the fruits and nuts across the street or across the country. So I'll say to the approving nods of others 'to each his own' and go on with the life I want to live."

The ruse of sexual depravity is that it is either victimless or only preys on those who indulge in it. In fact, sexuality is a common fountain all drink from whether they will or no, and whether they realize it or no. Sexuality is what perpetuates every society in the most fundamental, even mathematical way. We need only consider the effects of population upon the housing industry--the source of the current /worldwide/ economic crisis--to get of glimpse of this truth.

What the neighbor does in his or her bedroom is in one sense very much their business and theirs alone. But in another, you (and your children, and their children...) will live with it no matter how eloquently you argue for the right of privacy and self-determination. Previous generations understood this. Ours is forgetting it to its own undoing--we are long past mere peril.

David Thomas