HBO’s edgy documentary series, America Undercover, recently had a show dealing with the relatively new phenomenon whereby victims of serious crimes—or their surviving kin—confront the incarcerated perpetrators of said crimes. These tense meetings are held under the direction and control of a facilitator, usually someone experienced in high-level negotiations.
This was the enticing premise of the program’s introduction, and it left no doubt that HBO was venturing beyond autopsy/true crime and taxicab backseat sex talk. But, even before the first case history unfolded—that of a surviving son confronting his mother’s killer—two questions immediately sprang to mind.
- Why did the perp agree to the meeting?
- What resolution or redemption could possibly be expected by the bereaved son?
The first question can be approached via the notion of assuaging the guilt of the perp. After all, what is the point or meaning of “paying a debt to society”? In only a sense so broad as to be devoid of any significance, did society lose a mother. In truth, this very man lost HIS mother. Moreover, while restitution in kind is not possible in a homicide, merely forcing the perp to remain in an institution, living off society, and thus being put into greater debt, rather than paying it back, is a non-starter.
While prisons are full of sociopaths without any remorse, we must conclude that this murderer, in agreeing to the meeting, is hoping for a means to take some of the load off his conscience. He is seeking absolution from the only one who can provide it (or so he believes)—the surviving son.
Less clear is the motivation of the son, beyond pure misguided self-indulgence. If he asks the killer, “Why did you do it?,” what reply can he expect? I very much doubt that even after being locked up for ten years, most assuredly a long time to think about his crime, the perp could offer any answer, let alone a satisfactory one. Does the son want to hear the perp say “I’m sorry”? Or, does the son simply wish to lord it over the convict for a few minutes in an artificial and surreal setting?
Ponder the son’s motivation and you are forced to conclude that it is only his incredible conceit, a gigantic egotism that he can solve the problem of evil, all by himself, in the somewhat ludicrous forum of a jailhouse interview. Boiled down to its essentials, this conceit is nothing more or less than atheism and idolatry, two persuasions that are hardly unknown these days.
The prima facie case for atheism goes further than his rejection of a religious system to explain the problem of evil. Logic and right reason should have revealed to the son that no amount of “data” extracted from the perp, or anyone else for that matter, could ever remove the hurt and his sense of loss. The pain and emptiness in his heart and soul are not helped one iota with earthly “information content.” No believer would follow this course because to believe in a “higher power” concedes by definition that there are forces beyond our control and full understanding. In the Church, we call these “mysteries.”
It is idolatry in that not only is he barring the true God from his life, he wants to become God by explaining the problem of evil. And you thought this was all worked out with Job…
How ironic that the perp, in demonstrating the existence of his conscience, has now recognized an objective morality, the source of which eludes the bereaved son! America undercover, indeed.