Friday, July 30, 2004

The Mark of Cain: Religious bondage

Summary: Taking a human life is among the gravest of sins. But how long should a killer carry the stigma?

Transcript: This week Encounter looks at scapegoats, celebrities, and the issues raised when someone who has served a murder or manslaughter sentence seeks reintegration into the community at large.

David Rutledge: Hello and welcome to Encounter. David Rutledge with you welcoming you also to the first program for 2004 in Encounter's Ethos series, where we examine points of ethical interest and concern. This week: the stigma of killing, and the issues of repentance and reconciliation that arise when someone who's taken a human life seeks reintegration into the community at large.


Murder and manslaughter have a high profile in the public perception of crime, but according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, your chance of being a victim of murder or manslaughter is something in the order of eighteen in a million.

And that may come as a surprise, given the frequency with which murders occur on our television and cinema screens. We're fascinated with killing, [? corporate media is fascinated with projecting killing], violent death seems to be sedimented [programed by corporate media], deep within our collective psyche [corporate media] and of course according to the biblical account of human origins, virtually the first thing that happened once we left the Garden of Eden was a homicide.

[And retribution, now we've been programed on how to go about it by those who also chose to rule and control the populations of the world with religious bondage.]  

THE EMPIRE OF "THE CITY" (World Superstate) part 1

THE EMPIRE OF "THE CITY" (World Superstate) part 2

New World Order Media Lies

David Rutledge: Encounter, Radio National, Sunday 6 June 2004.

The Mark of Cain

Reader: Now Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying “I have produced a man with the help of the Lord”. Next, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground.

In the course of time, Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.

The Lord said to Cain “why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it”.

Cain said to his brother Abel, "let us go out to the field”. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.

Then the Lord said to Cain “where is your brother Abel?” He said "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?" And the Lord said "what have you done? Listen; your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth”.

Cain said to the Lord "my punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me”. Then the Lord said to him "not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance”.

And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him.

David Rutledge: The story of Cain and Abel in Genesis chapter 4. It’s a story that occurs in what many of us take to be the mythical past – so what does it have to tell us today?

Miroslav Volf is Director of the Centre for Faith and Culture, and Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School.

Miroslav Volf: Potentially, each one of us is Cain. This story is situated within primal history, and primal history does not tell the story of a people – people of Israel, or some other people – it tells the story of humanity. We are all capable of killing; we are all capable of the kind of envy, the kind of rage, the kind of hurt pride that one finds in Cain. And given certain circumstances, we are all capable of doing the deed that Cain did.

David Rutledge: Why do you think God sets this mark of protection on Cain, and says that whoever kills him will be cursed? That seems like a strange development in the story.

Miroslav Volf: Well it does seem like a strange development in the story, because what you expect is that after Cain has committed this murder, you expect him simply to be excluded. And yet God places a mark on Cain, it’s not a mark so that people will know “ah, here comes a killer”; it’s rather a protective mark which says he deserves care – even though he is a murderer. Which is to say that God seeks in a sense to protect the perpetrator from the possibly understandable rage of a victim.

And I think that, too, is a very significant element of this story: namely, that even perpetrators are human beings, even they need protection, they need understanding, they need grace shown to them. Both elements – Cain did something that is utterly wrong, but grace needs to be shown to him – it’s these two elements together that make this story so incredibly fascinating.

David Rutledge: Miroslav Volf.

The curse of exile that God lays upon Cain is reflected to a degree in our criminal justice system, which requires that people who kill should be excluded from the community at large. But the extent to which the criminal justice system offers grace and protection to the offender is another matter.

Peter Norden: For a long time in Australia, probably the main industry was the transportation of convicts from the United Kingdom. And I think that that activity that occurred in the foundation of white settlement, has still significant influence on the way in which we talk about criminal justice generally – certainly serious criminal convictions such as murder or manslaughter.

David Rutledge: That’s Father Peter Norden, Policy Director of Jesuit Social Services in Melbourne, and former chaplain at Pentridge Prison.

Peter Norden: We have inherited, I think, a punitive mentality which reflects the British criminal justice system certainly, and it’s not unlike what you’d find in the United States, in most of their jurisdictions – a model, though, that’s in great contrast to what you can find in other parts of the world, such as in Scandinavia or Holland. Certainly in Scandinavia you see a far more rational approach, understanding that the behaviour’s unacceptable, that it’s brought harm to the community and the victims, but a real commitment to actually dealing with it, so that the person is aware of the harm they’ve done, modifies their behaviour, and is less likely to commit similar offences once the person participates fully in the community.

So they don’t actually see the prisoner as being separate from the community. The prisoner actually returns to their family once a month for a weekend, because they see the importance of connectedness to family, significant relationships, local community, as vital to preventing re-offending.

David Rutledge: That’s interesting, because – as you’ve pointed out – Robert Hughes, in The Fatal Shore, talks about how English lawmakers wanted not just to get rid of the criminal class by sending them to Australia, but they also wanted to forget about the criminal class, to effectively wipe it off the social map. To what extent do you think our criminal justice system today reflects this desire to completely erase all traces of the offender?

Peter Norden: Well, the big walls that are built around prisons are obviously to prevent prisoners from escaping. But I’ve always felt, as I’ve visited prisons throughout Australia, that they serve another purpose: to keep the community ignorant, and not knowing what goes on behind the walls. And the increasing difficulty we have of having media monitoring of what goes on within our criminal justice institutions – such as prisons – means the community has very little knowledge, except when there’s a major crisis, like an escape or a fire or a death.

So we put people in prison, but effectively the communication links are cut off altogether with those in the outside world. And that increases the propensity for the person – once he or she is finally released back into the community – to re-commit offences.

David Rutledge: Peter Norden.

The incarceration of serious offenders serves two principal functions: one, of course, is the protection of the community, but the other is retribution, the sense that if someone does something bad, then something bad should happen to them in return. It’s a time-honoured principle, indeed some would say a biblical principle, but does it serve the longer-term interests of justice? Miroslav Volf.

Miroslav Volf: I think justice is a very important issue. It’s a very important issue in a very basic kind of sense: we have this sense that the scales somehow need to be balanced, and I think that sense is very much a right sense, and it ought to be preserved as a sense. But I think we ought to think about creative ways in which we can ensure the safety of the victims – also of possible future victims – and when that safety is ensured, of the ways in which something restorative can be done for those offenders, or they can do something restorative for the community. Especially in situations where a deed is done – and such are most crimes; certainly such are murders – a deed is done that cannot be undone. It’s in situations where we cannot undo things we have done, that we talk not only of justice, but we also talk about forgiveness.

I think it was Hannah Arendt – famous Jewish philosopher – in her book The Human Condition who basically said that Jesus introduced the notion of forgiveness into public affairs, because – and here Arendt put it very philosophically – because time does not run backwards. You cannot undo what you have done. So if you just pursue the action of punishment, you will end up in a sense undoing the world, given the magnitude and how much evil there is in the world. And hence forgiveness becomes appropriate.


Reporter: ….she and her former husband are said to be devastated by the result to release to two boys, Thompson and Venables. She’s always said she doesn’t want retribution or revenge; she just wanted punishment. On Merseyside this evening, there are calls that the two boys should have been sent to prison for several years, so they could have felt the full weight of the punishment. Of course child psychologists and the Parole Board said that would have defeated the purpose…..

Mother: ….they have been sucked in by two devious murderers. James’ life was taken in a way that no-one could imagine – and for what? The murderers have walked away with a life of luxury, a bought home and a bank account, with twenty-four hour protection. Thompson and Venables may think they have got off lightly, that they can go and hide – but I know different. I know that no matter where they are, someone out there is waiting…..

David Rutledge: In England in 1993, two 11-year-old boys, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, bashed 3-year-old James Bulger to death and left his body on a railway line. Thompson and Venables were tried in an adult court, and sentenced to eight years in a secure youth institution where they received education and rehabilitation training. Recently the two were released and given new identities, sparking community outrage over what was perceived in some quarters to be the leniency of their treatment.

Gitta Sereny is the author of several books which have examined the lives and motives of individuals who have done terrible things. What does she think should be done with such young offenders?

Gitta Sereny: What is being done in England is about as far as we know they can be helped. It’s a way of life that is forced upon them that lasts several years. You know, they are taken to these special schools, special boarding establishments, and they stay there for up to eight to ten years, and begin their grown-up life there. They go out from there to work, they’re constantly observed. I think that seems to me the most that can be done, which is to help children through environment, as indeed many of them – if not most – have been harmed through environment.

David Rutledge: But what about the victims’ calls for retribution? This is something that really interests me: we see that James Bulger’s mother has pointed out that the two boys who killed her son have – as you say, they’ve for the past eight years been afforded the protection of the state, they’ve been given an education, now they’re being released with a chance to start over. Do you think that resentment at that outcome is just a sort of primitive revenge instinct, or do you think that the desire to see punishment meted out is a fair and just response?

Gitta Sereny: Well, of course, on the part of the mother of James Bulger, anything is fair. But seen from an outside point of view: we know, don’t we, that retribution for children cannot be the same as is dealt to adults. I mean, an adult who murders a child goes to prison for life, and most of us would agree with that. But of course you can’t do that with children, because the reasons why it happened to them – because it’s as much happening to them as happening by them – you cannot punish them in that sense. It is true what Mrs Bulger says: they have a good life, they are looked after, that’s absolutely true, and it must be resented by her. But you can’t put children into a place and then not give them a decent life, that’s impossible. But they are very strongly observed, very strictly reprimanded or punished if there’s the slightest sign that they are misbehaving or going in that direction again.

So I think that is about the most you can do with such children – and don’t forget one thing: for an adult to be taken out of his family and locked up is one thing, and it’s terrible, but there you are. But for a child to be take away from all his friends, from his parents, from his mother, and put in a closed environment, is a very severe punishment.

David Rutledge: Gitta Sereny. And on ABC Radio National this is Encounter, where we’re looking at the Mark of Cain – the stigma carried by those who kill.


John Hannaford: I’ve read all the reports involving Mr Kable, and to a large extent they frighten me. And I can understand why the family members, why the solicitors, why the judges are concerned about the danger – or potential danger – of this person. He’s not regarded as mentally ill within either the clinical understanding of a mentally ill person or the legislative understanding; he’s regarded more as being bad rather than mad. And the legislative framework today doesn’t provide us with any opportunity to protect the family or protect the community from such a person.

David Rutledge: Former NSW State Attorney-General John Hannaford, speaking in 1995 in defence of the Community Protection Act, a piece of legislation designed to keep an offender in prison beyond his or her scheduled release date, on the basis that the offender was more likely than not to commit a violent offence when released.

The Community Protection Act was remarkable in that it was designed to protect the community from one person only: Gregory Kable, who was coming to the end of a manslaughter sentence, and had served extra time for writing a threatening letter to the carers of his children. Gregory Kable fought the legislation all the way to the High Court, where it was overturned. But the legacy of his crime has stayed with him in other ways.

Gregory Kable: I was convicted in 1989 for the manslaughter of my wife, and sentenced to five-and-a-quarter years. I was having a dispute with my wife over the custody of our children; my wife and myself had a personality clash, we also had financial difficulties and problems raising the children. Our first child, Ben, died in a humidicrib in Camperdown Children’s Hospital – he was born fifteen weeks premmie – a very traumatic experience which I don’t really believe my wife and myself recovered from. It made our other two children that followed very important to us, very valuable to us, and subject to the separation, ended up with a disastrous effect, which brought me to the point of actually killing my wife.

David Rutledge: This was essentially a custody dispute that got out of hand?

Gregory Kable: Yeah, a custody dispute that got out of hand. There were numerous predisposing factors: one was being belted as a child into submission by my stepfather, taught a very bad lesson; the other was losing Ben; and I suppose you can add on top of that the difficulties with the Family Court, things like “you can see your kids every second week” – very traumatic for a person that’s spent every day of their life with their children. and so that led to the crime.

David Rutledge: Was there anything leading up to the crime that made you feel that you could do something like that? Did you think of yourself at the time as a violent person, or a person with a predisposition to violence?

Gregory Kable: There were times when I treated animals indifferently – I think you can get away with it, you know, smacking a small pup that’s pissed on the carpet or the floor in the lounge room; there was one occasion there when I thought I hit the pup a bit too hard. That would probably be the only thing. I was not violent, there was never any violence in the home; the maximum amount of punishment that I would dish out to my children was “you can be locked in your room”.

David Rutledge: Why a manslaughter conviction rather than a murder conviction?

Gregory Kable: I was sentenced at the very bottom of the range because there was no premeditation, I rang an ambulance for my wife, and I even rang the police. In fact I didn’t know my wife had died until I was sitting in the back of the police car, and one of the officers turned around and said “your wife has just died”. That was an incredible feeling, to think that I’d taken a life – and the argument was pure and simple: that I wanted more time with my kids. And so the answer to that: violence doesn’t win, and I didn’t see my kids ever again.

David Rutledge: If we take this issue of diminished responsibility: you had harsh treatment when you were a kid, there were background circumstances there which explain why you did what you did – but do you think that your responsibility for what you did is less, because of your background?

Gregory Kable: I don’t think my responsibility is less – in fact it’s greater now, today, than it ever was. And I don’t seek to excuse myself, in fact I don’t forgive myself for the crime that I committed. Not being able to forgive myself for it – in a way, some people might say that’s a handicap, but in a way it keeps me on the correct side of the law, and reminds me of my history and what I was capable of.

Peter Norden: People are, for the most part, charged and convicted of murdering their wife or their husband, a family member or a next-door neighbour. Something like 80% of the murders that are committed in Australia over the last few decades are of that nature: someone you know, someone you’re very close to. A very small number of murders are of strangers, and a very small number are committed by people who’ve had a previous offence in their lives. Most people convicted of murder, it’s their first offence, and it’s the last offence of their life.

When I was working in Pentridge, in a maximum security prison here in Melbourne, every week I would have someone come in charged with murder, and completely broken – generally male rather than female – and the person would say “the very one person in this world in my whole life that I love, I’ve destroyed. And now I’ve got to spend twelve months, eighteen months, waiting for the trial. And I expect, if I’m convicted, I’ll be having to serve another several years in prison, and it’s the last thing in this world I ever really wanted to do. And I’ve got to face the consequences of it”.

So after ten years, that person has to face the task of coming back to the community, coming back to their own family – particularly if it was a domestic murder – and the members of the extended family; often coming back to the same neighbourhood where they’d lived. So there’s a real challenge for the person then to find an opportunity of re-linking with significant others in a freer environment, and also from the community from which they came.

David Rutledge: How do you guide somebody through that process?

Peter Norden: It’s sort of one step at a time. Usually when a person’s released from prison, they don’t really want too much freedom. Often you’ll find they stay at home; they won’t move out very much; they’re familiar with a restricted physical environment from their prison experience. And it’s only with time that they start venturing out or becoming involved, going to shopping centres, dealing with crowds, unpredictable behaviour. Because life in prison is a very predictable environment – and it’s repetitive; the same things happen and the same people. So there’s a lot of change when you move into the open community, things that we take for granted.

David Rutledge: Do you think it’s possible for someone who’s committed murder or manslaughter to really become fully reintegrated into the community, or is the stigma that they carry too strong?

Peter Norden: I think it depends on the circumstances of the offence. You can move from completely unpremeditated murder of your lover or your family member, something that you deeply regretted doing from the moment that it occurred, to someone who’s committed a premeditated murder or has been part of a criminal network, and has been paid money – in the worst scenario – to take another person’s life. Although even in the lightest of these cases, people recognise that the loss of human life is something that can’t be compared to anything else. And if you’ve been responsible for the loss of a human life, there’s nothing more serious in this world.

And when you’ve been in that situation, there is a real challenge to overcome: imagine being known – publicly, throughout Australia, throughout your town, throughout your city – for the worst thing that you’ve ever done in your life, or the worst day you’ve ever had in your life. Imagine that being your public reputation. None of us would want to be known for the worst day we’ve ever had in our lives, or the worst thing that we think we’ve done in our lives – but that’s the situation faced by someone who’s got a criminal conviction through the courts. All of us know that we carry wounds, and those who have been publicly convicted carry those wounds more publicly.

David Rutledge: Fr Peter Norden.

Being known for one’s criminal past doesn’t necessarily amount to public shame or infamy. Justice Action case worker Gregory Kable feels that the public recognition of his background can serve a valuable function in the community.

Gregory Kable: If I can show the whole community what led me to the violence, then surely they would be interested enough to take that information in, so that one person who committed a crime like I did, can then go on and prevent a hundred people from going and doing the same thing.

David Rutledge: So you’re saying that you actually have value in the community because of the crime that you committed?

Gregory Kable: Well, people come up to me all the day – especially fathers angry about their wives, and the difficulties they’re having in their marriages – and I spend time with them and give them the information they need not to go on and commit any violence, just by telling them thing that I’m aware of, how to react in a domestic situation where there’s a crisis.

David Rutledge: How to see the warning signs?

Gregory Kable: Well, not only that, but how to think about it, how to address it. For instance, a parent might say “oh, I hate my wife, and I can’t see my children, she’s preventing me from seeing my children”. And my answer to that person would be: if you want to have a good relationship with your child, then you have to have a good relationship with your wife. So go and buy your wife a box of chocolates and a bunch of flowers, tell her you’re sorry for everything that happened – but you still want to see your child. And I guarantee you that would be a better answer than going to the Family Law Court.

And also, it gives them an option other than “I’m angry and I want to do something about this, and my wife’s a bitch”. You know, “I’ll take it out on her, she’s doing something really horrible to me”. So if I can reflect better options, and pass on my experience, and tell them about my crime, the that would prevent them from taking the same path.


David Rutledge: The taking of a human life causes a strange moral polarity. The guilt of the killer is held to be so great, and the moral gulf between killer and victim so wide, that it seems entirely natural that we should see the victim as “innocent” – and not just the victim, but the victim’s family members and all other individuals who are affected by the crime.

Yale theology professor Miroslav Volf is a former Croatian national who emigrated to the US fifteen years ago. After the desolation of his native country by Serbian forces in 1993, he was faced with the question of how victims should see themselves in relation to the perpetrators of evil acts. One result of this challenge was the publication of a book – entitled Exclusion and Embrace – and in that book, Miroslav Volf writes about how violent crime lays a heavy responsibility on all those whom it touches, and that innocence is not automatically conferred upon the victim, but is something that has to be carefully nurtured.

Miroslav Volf: Most of the violence in the world that happens, it happens not on the battlefields, it doesn’t happen in the streets, it happens in living rooms. And yo see, now, if you have the victim and the perpetrator: my goodness, they have a history together, their lives are intertwined. It’s very hard to parse out, here, who is on the whole the more guilty party. Even when you have a person who seems completely “innocent” – walking down the street, and is robbed, raped, or whatever – there’s a certain intertwining that happens by the sheer act of violence exerted upon the person.

I paid some attention to this in my own work, where the question is: what does the violence committed against me do to my soul? So that I, by the sheer act of having been violated, become myself violator of that person – possibly of other persons – in my imagination, possibly potentially also in my daily life. It is this sense of the victims’ needing to keep their own hearts pure, in order to keep their humanity pure, so as not to let the perpetrator take not just take a piece of freedom, a piece of property, piece of dignity from them – but the beauty of their very humanity. It’s that which victims have to attend to –and there I think a sense of repenting on the part of the victims is very much an appropriate stance.

David Rutledge: Repenting of what, exactly?

Miroslav Volf: Well, repenting of – if their lives have been intertwined prior to the crime – repenting of all those things that they have done toward the perpetrator, where you have a domestic situation. Or, if that was not the case, repenting of the kinds of attitudes, kinds of imaginations and thoughts, that victims may have over against the perpetrators.

David Rutledge: Fantasies of revenge, this kind of thing?

Miroslav Volf: Fantasies of revenge, that’s right. Those are not innocent feelings, even though we all can understand why they’re there. They’re not innocent. And for their own sake, as well as the sake of the perpetrator, they have to do that – they ought to do that.

I know it’s sometimes difficult, of course – and when I talk about this, about what the victims “have to” do, I don’t want to demand anything. I want to portray a kind of humane way of life for victims, and if they feel that that’s a noble vision of life with which they want to identify, that would be wonderful. But I think we would be wrong to be overbearing toward the victims, demanding that they do this or that.

Basically I’ve written this book for myself, and I think about these things for myself, I don’t think about it for others. This is how the book was born, actually: a third of my country, Croatia, was occupied, and I felt rage about that. And I looked at myself in the mirror and said “well, is that the proper human response? Is this who I want to be – a person raging about this?” And I said “no, I will condemn that deed – but I will act differently, I will not let their deed poison my soul”.

David Rutledge: But does this refusal to let one’s soul seek revenge – does this involve casting aside notions of good and evil, of guilt and innocence?

Miroslav Volf: I don’t think it does. It will when we become truly innocent. but manifestly, we are guilty. Relationships have to be predicated on truth about what has transpired, also on notions of justice in terms of what has transpired. And only by going through truth and justice can we go to forgiveness. Because to forgive somebody means to blame somebody also, implicitly. It means to blame them in the act of releasing them from what you blame them for. And therefore I don’t think we should give up notions of innocence, guilt, good and evil; I think those are very important, very useful categories. They’re filters through which we have to pass in order to come to a healed relationship.

And that’s why I think in the Christian tradition – I may surprise your listeners here, and you, even – in the Christian tradition, and in many religious traditions, there’s this notion of final judgement of God. I think that’s a grand idea. When I was fifteen or seventeen, I thought it was a terrible idea, because I thought of this overbearing God who’s like my father, who sticks his nose into everything I’m doing, and he wants to make sure that I do things the way he wants me to live, rather than the way I want to live. Now a more mature idea of the final judgement is: this is the day of truth; this is a day of justice, when things as they were will be exposed. But in the Christian tradition, it’s a day of judgement in the context of grace – yes, that’s who we truly are, but nonetheless God has embraced us, therefore also we embrace each other.

David Rutledge: Isn’t divine judgement, though, wedded to an idea of eternal damnation for the guilty?

Miroslav Volf: It need not be connected with notions of eternal damnation, just as any notion of judgement does not mean simply condemnation. Judgement means simply passing on a judgement about something that has happened. You can judge and acquit, you can judge and move on – but judgement is essential.

David Rutledge: But in human societies, where you have people who have lost their loved ones, lost their children – whole communities have been torn apart – where does the will to forgive come from, how can it be summoned up out of these terrible kinds of circumstances?

Miroslav Volf: That’s a very good question: where does it come from? I think it’s a very deep mystery. Because when you think about it, it ought not to be there – and nonetheless, it is there. And it is there in the victims. I’m always surprised how much more willing victims are to forgive than the perpetrators are to repent. I can see partly why that’s the case; because an act of forgiveness is an act of power – I released somebody from something that they’ve done against me. Whereas an act of repentance is an act of relinquishment of power.

But nonetheless, how does it come that we have this capacity to forgive? And I think it’s the fruit of what I would describe as the fact that we have been created in the image of God: the God who loves, who is love – and therefore we are created for love. And when we love, even in situations of deep offence, we find that we are in tune, that we resonate, with what is best in us.

And it’s predicated upon the notion – that escapes our “secular” culture – the sense of one’s life being somehow hidden in God. For instance: what we do in terms of memory, and how much we insist on never forgetting a deed that has been committed against us, because we feel if we forget that, something will be terribly lost. And partly I think that sense is there because we don’t see our lives continuing beyond, we don’t see our lives “hidden in God”, as I like to put it, as somehow preserved in eternity. If we saw that, if we saw God as taking care of all that happens in history – so that I don’t have to hold on to it, it is kept safe somewhere else – I’m much more free to deal with individual events in my own life that have been caused by others.


Interviewer: If you got out of here, there are a lot of people who think you’d go and start killing people again.

Charles Manson: Again? you guys are misinformed, I haven’t killed anyone.

Interviewer: You say the whole thing’s a fairytale, you say the whole thing’s make believe?

Charles Manson: Look here: I’ll explain something to you. It’s a different world. I love the world I live in –

Interviewer: You love the world you live in?

Charles Manson: Most assuredly; it’s me.

Interviewer: You love all the pain you’ve caused people, all the anguish –

Charles Manson: Oh, I don’t know pain! I don’t know pain, I have no depth of pain! I have no depth of suffering! I haven’t been punished by you all my life since I was ten years old. I’ve been in every reform school you’ve got across the country, and used to lay down and have to get my ass whipped till I couldn’t walk. Tell me about pain.

Interviewer: And that’s our fault, that’s all those people’s fault?

Charles Manson: No, make strong, good pain, understand pain. Not bad, pain’s not bad, it’s good. It teaches you things, like when you put your hand in fire – ow – you know not to do that again.

Interviewer: You learn by pain not to experience again – don’t put your hand back in the fire?

Charles Manson: Yeah.

Interviewer: Why have you been in and out of prisons for thirty-four of your forty-seven years? You call that normal behaviour, Charles? Is that something that you’re proud of?

Charles Manson: No, no, I never thought I was normal, never tried to be normal. Normal runs in that little rut down there, I don’t know nothing about being normal. I been in jail all my life, man, I lived on the handball court. This guy raised me up, all the men in the joint raised me up, told me what to do, what was right and wrong, told me when to sit down, stand up, I just did everything I was told. You know, and when I got to the end of it, I just turned around and said “wow”. And then I went outside, and all these little kids got a hold of me, and said “we want to stop the Vietnam War, we want to do this”….what? I don’t know what’s happening.

I been in jail all my life, man, I never went to vocational training. You ever see me in vocational training? Rehabilitation? I never played no rehabilitation. I sweep the floor in the kitchen, go out and play handball. I’m still ten years old in your world.


David Rutledge: Charles Manson, heard there in a sound collage from the early 1980s by the band 400 Blows. The figure of the killer emerged during the 80s as a recurrent subject in underground art, with the music world in particular developing an affinity for such dark luminaries as Manson, Peter Sutcliffe the Yorkshire Ripper, and child killers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. The idea that art should shock and offend has been with us for many years now. But as the 80s turned into the 90s, and the dashing serial killer became the standard anti-hero of such mainstream productions as the film The Silence of the Lambs, it seemed a characteristically late-20th-century phenomenon that the Mark of Cain should confer something approaching celebrity status.

Simon Longstaff: I worry that people who commit vicious crimes, who are destructive of community, are rewarded in some sense for what they do, by being given celebrity status, and sometimes a status that allows them to trade on that – in particular the terrible human suffering they’ve caused – for psychic and material profit.

David Rutledge: That’s Simon Longstaff, Director of the St James Ethics Centre in Sydney.

Simon Longstaff: While I understand that a kind of counter-cultural urge can take people from the dark side and make them iconic, the fact that we stand by and allow that to happen, without interrogating the process and saying “well, do they deserve what looks like positive recognition for what reasonable people would accept to be vicious conduct?” – on that basis I’m concerned about it. Not because it’ll make people want to be like Charles Manson or anybody else, I don’t think that’s likely to happen – it’s this other issue that concerns me: should we honour or reward people for the things they do of that kind?

If you’re holding them up for serious contemplation, then that’s a serious purpose, and I can understand the artist doing that. But more often than not, the purpose is to cash in on the notoriety of that person – sometimes just in purely commercial terms: to take them as an icon, to reproduce the image, to normalise it and make a buck.

David Rutledge: Do you think it’s necessary that with the contemplation should come some sort of assessment or judgement of what these people have done?

Simon Longstaff: Is it necessary for the contemplation also to label it as bad? No, I don’t think that the artist has to do that. I think the artist is quite at liberty to put before us, as a community, things that disturb and shock, and ask us to question what we think about it. And they don’t have to label it one way or another, they do enough if they really get us to think and to talk and discuss and to engage – those are important things in and of themselves.

That said, I would much rather see us, as a society, providing alternative opportunities for people to be accepted for what they are now, rather than people – including those who market them, tell their stories, basically because they want to trade also on their notoriety – for everybody to want to cash in.


Elle McFeast: I’ve also had an RSVP from someone who – well you probably haven’t met him because he’s been away on holidays for a while – you know, in jail – but you might have read some of his books. He’s the Enid Blyton of the underworld. He’s a man whose life makes a Quentin Tarantino movie look like a Walt Disney cartoon. He’s here tonight live – well, hopefully he’s still alive. He could have been knocked off on the way to the studio. Because that it always a possibility, when your very first guest is none other than self-confessed killer and best-selling author, Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read. Make him welcome.


David Rutledge: The notorious appearance of Chopper Read on Elle McFeast’s ill-fated chat show in 1998. Chopper was drunk, the studio audience was wildly diverted, but the episode sparked a serious debate over whether or not convicted killers ought to be invited to parade their infamy for the purposes of light entertainment.

Miroslav Volf.

Miroslav Volf: I think it depends on what they do with it. It can have a positive impact, depending on whether they celebrate themselves as killers – and precisely by celebrating themselves as killers, sell themselves. Then you’ve got something absolutely perverse going on – not just unethical, it’s perverse. And there’s something perverse going on not simply in the minds of the folks who do that; there’s something perverse in the minds of people who watch, who buy. And I think it’s something perverse because we’re fascinated with violence, we’re voyeurs of violence – and like all voyeurs, we’re projecting ourselves there, it’s our violent streak that latches onto this. That’s why I think it’s so deeply problematic.

But you can also imagine how somebody who has committed a serious crime could become a spokesperson: spokesperson for repentance, spokesperson for reconciliation, who speaks about what has transpired in their soul, how they have found transformation and change. If something like that happens, I think it can have healing effects. And my hope would be that these people take seriously what they have done, and tell their story in such a way that it’s transformative in a positive sense for the community – rather than simply playing on the community’s base instincts.

David Rutledge: What about the public contemplation of the killer as a subject in art – I have in mind the exhibition at the Royal Academy in London in 1997 which featured a huge portrait of Myra Hindley, the child killer, and it caused widespread outrage – and grief, in one case, from the parents of one of her victims who pleaded for the image to be taken down. Under what circumstances do you think it’s OK for an image like that to be held up for public contemplation?

Miroslav Volf: It’s a very interesting and a delicate case; I think it depends on many things. Because my sense is also that it can be the object of serious art. Artists may want to make a statement, and that statement may be a fascinating and challenging one – but at the same time, one needs to attend to individual stories of the people who are involved.

It’s the same thing as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – it’s a strange comparison but I’ll come to the point – where on one hand you had demands of the state, which were legitimate and right. But you had also the pace of healing of individuals – and these two things don’t always mesh together. The state may want to go faster than individuals are able to. And the same thing might happen in art too: art may want to make a particular kind of statement with a story –as in the case you describe – and yet the person who is being used in this way may not be ready at all. And I think in these cases, you have to adjust the kinds of actions on the part of the artist. I think it would be great for artists to collaborate with the people whose stories he or she is trying to thematise. Otherwise one might have a sense of exploitation, of misunderstanding, of being used for purposes that are extraneous to their own lives.

David Rutledge: Miroslav Volf.

British author Gitta Sereny has attracted controversy in the past for writing books that explore in great detail the lives of perpetrators. In 1998 she published the story of Mary Bell, who as a child in the 1960s had killed two small boys. The families of Mary Bell’s victims were outraged at what they felt was an overly sympathetic (or insufficiently judgemental) public portrayal of the killer.

Gitta Sereny: Families of victims are always hurt in these terrible stories. Every family of victims was hurt when I did various books. One simply has to be sorry, behave as well as one can. I used to write to these people and explain why I thought it was important – which may help or not, I don’t know.

David Rutledge: What did the families of Mary Bell’s victims have to say when you contacted them and explained about the book that you were writing?

Gitta Sereny: Well they were very angry, they were very very angry. They wrote to the papers – and of course the papers in Newcastle loved this, and they ran it for days, the anger of the parents. And then finally I wrote – and finally I also went to visit one of the mothers. And I got on with her really very, very well. Once you confront people, and you sit with them and you have a cup of tea, and they see you are not a monster, and you explain person to person, woman to woman, why things are done and how things are done – it changes a lot, their attitude changes. But their attitude is perfectly understandable, I mean – God, I think we would all feel like this.

However, you can’t do what happens to be one of the things I do, which is to try to find out and explain why these things happen – and how, perhaps, their having happened could serve as sufficient of an example to stop other people – you can’t do this unless you write. Or, I suppose, do something else – but write. You know, words on paper are, in the end – in my opinion – still the best way to bring us further.


David Rutledge: On ABC Radio National, you’ve been listening to Encounter.

Guests this week were Miroslav Volf, Peter Norden, Gitta Sereny, Gregory Kable and Simon Longstaff – reading from the book of Genesis was by Noel Debien, and studio production by Mark Don. Thanks to them – thanks also to Kate Evans, Florence Spurling and Gary Bryson at ABC Radio, to Sabrina Lipovic at ABC Radio Archives, David Ransen at the Catholic Institute of Sydney, to Brett Collins at Justice Action, and to Ted Large.

I’m David Rutledge – bye for now.

Guests on this program:
Miroslav Volf
Professor of Theology, Yale Divinity School
Peter Norden SJ
Policy Director, Jesuit Social Services
Gitta Sereny
Author and journalist
Gregory Kable
Case worker, Justice Action
Simon Longstaff
Director, St James Ethics Centre, Sydney
Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation
Author: Miroslav Volf
Publisher: Abingdon Press (Nashville 1996)
Cries Unheard: The Story of Mary Bell
Author: Gitta Sereny
Publisher: Papermac (London 1998)
Further information:
Justice Action Australia
Legal and social reform organisation
Greg's Kables
Community news network maintained by Gregory Kable
Crime Victims Support Association
Jesuit Social Services
Musical Items:
Zocharti Loch
CD Title: Jewish Sacred Songs
Artist: Singers of Amsterdam Synagogue (Chorus master Antoon Krelage)
Label/CD No: Philips Classics 462 061-2 (2001)
CD Title: Gesture Signal Threat
Artist: :zoviet-france:
Label/CD No: Charrm CD9 (1995)
Our Very Own Impossible Number
CD Title: One Side Mona Lisa (The Front Side Only)
Artist: Stilluppsteypa
Label/CD No: Fire Inc. CD f-8 (1997)
Victime pascali
CD Title: Antoine Busnoys: In Hydraulis & Other Works
Artist: Pomerium (dir. Alexander Blachly)
Label/CD No: Dorian Recordings DOR-90184 (1993)
Karen byr til engil
CD Title: Englabörn
Artist: Jóhann Jóhannsson
Label/CD No: Touch TO:52 (2002)
Eg sleppi per aldrei
CD Title: Englabörn
Artist: Jóhann Jóhannsson
Label/CD No: Touch TO:52 (2002)
CD Title: Englabörn
Artist: Jóhann Jóhannsson
Label/CD No: Touch TO:52
For Jackie M
CD Title: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, Forever
Artist: 400 Blows
Label/CD No: Concrete Productions Inc. CPROD CD006 (1989)
Kol Nidrei
CD Title: Jewish Sacred Songs
Artist: Singers of Amsterdam Synagogue (Chorus master Antoon Krelage)
Label/CD No: Philips Classics 462 061-2 (2001)
Producer:David Rutledge

Ed: Also.... should the environment and the community carry any stigma? People are supposed to be raised and nurtured not kicked, punched and slapped into submission, until they do what they're told. Violence on TV and in sport. Violence from the police, prisons, military and armed forces, wars etc, all lethal memes. 

Family Court proceedings, restrictions, and unfairness etc. All these environmental factors also have a roll in domestic violence and how people react to retribution and how they end up making a mistake.

Religious Bondage: Why marriage? Until Death do us part? Only Satan could think of that!!! 

To prevent domestic violence and violence, society has to lead by some form of example and also has to deal with the 'root causes' for it and look into the offenders history to find what can be changed.


Money will save relationship services, welfare group says?
Catholic, [? religious bondage], Welfare Australia says the immediate injection of $15 million into family relationships programs will prevent planned cuts to services.

Labor says divorce plan not good enough
The Federal Opposition says the Government is doing too little, and taking too long, to overhaul arrangements for divorcing parents.

Custody overhaul to improve men's access to children
The Federal Government has announced an overhaul of family law arrangements, with plans to give men involved in marriage break-ups greater access to their children.

80-20 Family Court rule irrational: Martian
A Martian came down from Mars and he noticed that children were the products of a father and a mother. When the family split up the children were still the products of a father and a mother.

Fatherless Society "80-20 rule Vs 50-50 rule" family law
A Federal Parliamentary inquiry has heard that more children will grow up without fathers unless changes are made to family law. The committee is considering whether separated parents should share equal custody of their children.

Zero Tolerance for Families
A three-strikes plan, which uses the threat of fines and jail to (force) parents to meet their parental obligations after divorce, could be introduced under a draft proposal from the parliamentary committee charged with reviewing the Family Law Act.

Spanking-ban critics offer compromise?
London: An unlikely alliance of lawyers, child professionals and politicians is condemning as unworkable plans to "jail" parents in Britain who administer anything stronger than a light smack to their children.

Valuing children now!
Partial ban on smacking condones other physical punishment, says experts!

Three slaps? Three bad lessons!
A MOTHER became a convicted criminal yesterday, for smacking her three-year-old son at a supermarket. She lost control after her son threw a tantrum in the middle of Coles at Dee Why. As a Coles employee and a shopper watched, the mother hit the kicking and screaming child about the head two or three times. She then dragged him to where his father was waiting at the checkout.

International No-Smacking Day April 30 2004
If it's a crime to punish children or adults for that matter then the "punishment is the crime". Punishment, threats and smacking only get short-term results if any result at all.