A friend of mine posted this article on her facebook profile with the comment “Sad proof that people will look anywhere for answers to life’s questions…” The article is a NYT piece about David Berkowitz, a.k.a the Son of sam, and his transformation over the years from a crazed serial killer to someone that is almost completely different.
I’m not sure what Jen’s issue was with the article, but I found it quite compelling. He found Jesus a while back and has since tried to reach out and share some of what he has found. He is also trying to act as a cautionary tale to younger folks. There are some skeptics out there, the article got some statements from some of the folks that tracked him down and helped prosecute him. They are having a hard time believing that someone that was like that could be anything else. In Berkowitz’s defense, he has written to the governor and expressed his opinion that he should never get parole and he doesn’t make any money from his appearances or writings. He also spends his days as a mobility guide and as an assistant to mentally ill prisoners. It certainly looks like he’s on the up and up. If he’s not, he has managed to fool a lot of people without any obvious gain for himself.
I find this story interesting on several levels. First off, this is a perfect example of why capital punishment just is not a good thing. Even serial killers are redeemable. Those of you that say, “Sure, he’s a nice guy now, but he should PAY for what he did!” I hope you can hear the vengeance speaking. Does killing him make up for 7 lives? Does it change anything? No and no. Locking him up, protecting everyone else from him was the right thing to do. In the meantime he has changed considerably.
The idea of redemption is a tough one for both atheists and Christians. On the one hand, many people that don’t believe in God do believe in people’s ability to change and get better… unless of course the guy is a monster, then he should probably die. Similarly, Christians hold life sacred, unless of course you do something really bad, then “God’s laws” say that you should die. It is people like David Berkowitz that really show us where we stand when it comes to the value of a human life. I have a binary view on that, in my mind you either value life, or don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I would be sorely tempted to kneecap Stalin or Pol Pot but I like to think that I would manage to not kill them if I had the chance.
I am heartened to see evangelicals paying attention to Berkowitz, there are too many of them that scream “An eye for an eye” instead of “Turn the other cheek.” I’m going to do another post on the religious aspects of this but suffice it to say that I think this is the kind of effect Christianity should have on people. Some may sneer at his evangelical beliefs, I myself refer to that type of Christianity as “comic book religion” in my less charitable moments. But as my friend Dana pointed out, “Anything that makes someone not a serial killer is a good thing.” Simplistic or not, Berkowitz’s beliefs have changed him, and they have the potential to change others. Does that forgive him for what he did? Well, no. Forgiveness can’t be earned, it can only be asked for. I will leave it up to you as to whether he should be forgiven, I am happy to see him asking at all.