This past Friday 50 people were killed and dozens more were injured in a mass killing in New Zealand. I want to take a look at the event and reactions to it in order to see if we can, as Christians, learn more about the world and ourselves. There are a range of subjects to touch on which stem from Friday’s event so this episode will be mostly single issue.
This is only episode number three of the Reasonable podcast and we already have very heavy things to think about, but I’m ready and I hope you are to. Let’s get started - I’m Don, and this is Reasonable.
One of the things I should mention at the start of this episode is the fact that I will be using the name of the man who is charged with Friday’s killings. I’ll be talking more about why I’m doing that in just a bit. My aim here is to stare at the event as closely as I can without flinching, commenting on the moral implications of it in order that we might come out of this episode better understanding how what happened Friday fits into our complicated situation here at the beginning of 2019.
In case you don’t already know, I’ll give a brief and general outline of what happened on Friday. You can get more information from an online search but in the case you don’t know anything about it - Brenton Tarrant, a 28 year old man went into a couple of mosque’s on Friday in New Zealand and killed a total of 50 people. He also injured about 40 others. What makes this mass killing unique is not only that it was a heavily planned attack, but also that it was live streamed to Facebook and recorded from a first-person view. There is also said to have been an unsigned manifesto released right before the attack which most attribute to be the work of Tarrant.
The manifesto reported to be written by Tarrant is lengthy and goes eventually into a question and answer portion in which he details why he carried out the attack. I did not read the entire manifesto, but one thing he stresses over and over again is overpopulation and immigration. Tarrant saw himself as fighting on behalf of the white race against those he calls “invaders”. Calling himself an “eco-fascist”, he seems to believe that the greatest dangers to the world and (most importantly to him) the white race are climate change and overpopulation. He expresses that he believes violence is needed in order to prevent those things from coming to be.
Popular media, quickly after the attack, took to the airwaves to try and brand Tarrant as a politically right-wing figure. It isn’t surprising that this happened, and I’d rather not spend time trying to engage in that debate. It’s clear that Tarrant is a believer in white supremacy and it is also clear that he thinks conservatism (which is not really the same thing as “right-wing”) is a failed experiment. Most folks will agree that Tarrant’s actions on Friday of last week were wrong and, if convicted, he should be given capital punishment for the massacre.
Capital Punishment and Human Value
That actually leads us into the first tangent issue coming out of Friday’s events. What will actually happen with Tarrant if he is found guilty of the murder of 50 and injuring another 40 or so? In his manifesto, Tarrant noted that one of the outcomes he planned to take advantage of if he survived the attack was that he’d live on in prison - his life and sustenance being paid for by the New Zealand government.
New Zealand abolished it’s usage of the death penalty in 1961 and, if he is tried and sentenced there, Tarrant’s wishes will be granted. But what does this say about the lives of those he took? What does it say that the New Zealand government, charged by God and it’s governed to maintain order and security in the nation, cannot even put to death someone who intentionally killed 40 people and planned to live on in prison off of the taxpayer’s dime after doing it?
Recently, California governor Gavin Newsom signed an order banning the carrying out of the death penalty in his state. The news of this broke maybe a few days to a week before the New Zealand attack and it is one of the news stories that stuck out to me the most when thinking about the implications of this massacre.
It’s very difficult and becoming even more difficult for opponents of the death penalty to defend their position due to mass killings like the one that just happened on Friday. It’s impossible to hold a proper view of the dignity of the lives that were taken in the massacre and then withhold proper justice to the one convicted of murdering those lives. Newsom announced his decision to ban capital punishment in his state because he says that black and brown people make up a disproportionate number of those who would be executed were the state to actually carry out the sentences. He tries to make the case that, in the past, there have been individuals wrongfully convicted because of their color or economic status - not being able to hire strong enough defenses to prove their innocence or at least keep them out of death row. This, however, is more of a critique on the mechanics of the justice system rather than the death penalty itself.
One thing we need to keep in mind here is the lengthy process of trying someone for murder as well as the very very lengthy appeals process. Most people, today, who find their way to the lethal injection table or the electric chair have been on death row for years and years. In most cases, especially for high profile cases, the trail doesn’t even take place until long after the news cycle surrounding it is over and done with.
For example, we can look into the case of another killer white supremacist, Dylan Roof. Roof was sentenced to death for murdering nine members of a Charleston South Carolina church, having confessed to the crime explaining why he did it and that he was of a sound mind. Roof was not sentenced until a year and a half after committing the murders. He was sentenced to death at the beginning of 2017 but as of the date of this podcast, he still has not been executed for his actions. It isn’t even predicted that he’ll face the actual death penalty any time soon as he is being held in an Indiana prison which already houses numerous other inmates awaiting their execution dates.
This means that for a murderer who was easily caught and identified, who confessed to the crime and demonstrated his sanity as well as his lack of guilt, it has taken over three years to merely transfer him to a prison to await an execution which might not even take place for years to come…if it ever does.
We have to look at this an recognize it as a miscarriage of justice. This is an outright subverting of the charge the state has by God to do carry out justice according to the laws by which it’s citizens are governed.
Looking evil in the face
One could make the case that one of the reasons many shy away from the idea of capital punishment is because, even if someone did actually commit a murder or multiple murders, there must be some reason, perhaps psychological, (albeit unjust) for them committing that act. Opponents of the death penalty often describe it as antiquated or backward thinking or unjust in itself. Case in point, Gavin Newsom’s recent banning of the death penalty in California.
If we take a look, however, below the surface of most secular arguments against the death penalty, we’ll see that what really is shaping the opinion is an unwillingness to ascribe evil it’s proper title and an inability to do anything because of that.
Realize this, Newsom is not freeing those who are on death row in California. As a matter of fact, the California death row count is the largest of any state in the country. He isn’t making the case that these inmates were imprisoned unjustly and thus need to be set free - he’s saying that carrying out their sentences would be an injustice…because killing it self is unjust. At the same time, he and many secularist want to single killing out as a sort of capital crime without actually delivering appropriate, or biblical, justice in response to it.
This is where Christians need to realize that the secular worldview comes up very short when it comes to a response to crimes like this. The secularist worldview turns immediately to knee-jerk changes to policy and government control and regulation in order to stop things like this from happening again - but it never really addresses why this act was so horrible in the first place.
We can’t Forget
One thing that stood out very much to me was the almost immediate calls by media outlets and cultural elites for the hiding of the killer’s name, manifesto, and the video of the killings. If you search online, you’ll have to do some digging or know where to look in order to find the manifesto or the actual video of the horrific incident.
We have to ask ourselves the question though, should we be so quick to try and forget what happened? What is the proper way to handle the materials surrounding and names associated with an event like this, and who is responsible for doing that?
As I said at the beginning of this episode, I’ve chosen to use the name of the accused in this incident as well as references to his manifesto. There are many who will refuse to look into what happened and who even want for there to be punishments brought against those who share materials surrounding the incident. For example, according to an article posted at Gizmodo on March 19th, an 18 year old was arrested and charged with distributing the video of the New Zealand mosque attack as well as inciting violence. The 18 year old has not been named, but he was charged after posting a picture of one of the mosques with the caption “target acquired.”
One does not need to defend the actual posting of such a thing to realize that a government so concerned with anonymous online postings has some significant philosophical problems to deal with. Again, the 18 year old was charged with two offenses
- Sharing the banned video
- Inciting violence
This means, it was illegal to even share or host the captured video of the incident. You don’t have to think very long or hard before you realize that blanket censorship such as we see here is a very bad idea. With the way that news travels and with the knee-jerk overstated nature of our reactions to such events in terms of our policy making, the question of who gets to filter what becomes known and remains hidden is extremely important.
The incident will not go away, it happened - and the fact that some are unwilling to face it head on should not be reason enough to make possessing the footage a chargeable offense. Some try to make the argument that sharing or having materials surrounding events like these out on the internet opens us up to the danger of copycat offenders. Their logic is that some might be inspired to carry out similar attacks after becoming emboldened or inspired by the ones that have happened and that have been documented or recorded.
It would be extremely unfortunate if that were to happen, but I’m afraid the nature of digital communication is such that the prohibition of the distributing of materials like this is virtually impossible. Trying to do so is a non-winnable mission and actually results in an unjust usurpation of control when it comes to digital freedom and particularly the freedom of speech on the part of those in the intellectual minority on the internet.
One of the reasons I started this podcast was to offer a sober-minded commentary on such incidents as these. That is impossible without proper coverage of the incident and the materials surrounding it which
- Verify that the incident happened - and happened the way it is reported to have happened
- Provide insight into the breakdown in worldview on the part of the offender
It’s extremely concerning to see the direction things are headed when it comes to coverage and analysis of events like these. It seems this trending towards censorship is more a result of an inability to accurately deal with the reality of evil than for the protection of others against possible copycat offenders.
Most of modern history’s most impactful moments were recorded in some way. We are able to travel to museums in order to watch black and white videos of the unfortunate events that occurred in Germany during the Second World War. We’re able to go to libraries and find first hand written accounts complete with battlefield photos surrounding the civil war. We’re also very familiar with videos and photos of violence and killings surrounding the civil rights era here in America. These images and accounts mean something. These images and accounts are a part of our history - and yes all parties should be included. We cannot correctly understand the courage of the marchers without understanding the intimidation of Bull Connor and the police force that served as an opposition. We can’t fully appreciate the actions of the American liberators in Germany following the war without really understanding what and who it was the Jewish people there were being liberated from.
There really are so many more things to look at regarding this story and the issues surrounding it, but I can’t think of a way to fit them all into one episode. Maybe I’ll talk more about it in future episodes, but I felt particularly pressed to address the issues I visited here in this episode.
I hope you’re able to take in the events of last week without looking away on account of an inability to place it into a category. Christians can navigate even times like these because we have been given the moral framework with which to speak and think - but most importantly - we have a future hope that God will soon correct all that has been done and carry out perfect justice and extend grace as only He can.
Thanks for listening. If you benefitted from this podcast, consider subscribing. You can contact me online at twitter.com/imdonaldjohn or at my website www.donaldjohn.com where you can find my email address as well as links to my other social media accounts. I look forward to hearing from you.
I’m Don and this is Reasonable.