Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Unfathomable Crime

In Austria, Josef Fritzl kept his daughter in his basement for 24 years and fathered seven children by her. From the time she was eighteen, for 24 years, he kept her locked in the basement with three of the children. One child died in infancy, and he and his unsuspecting wife, Rosemarie, adopted the other three as "foundlings."

Austria's interior minister, G√ľnther Platter, said: "We are being confronted with an unfathomable crime."

Next week, I will be in Albania helping to lead a student group from The King's College in New York debate Albanian students on political, economic and spiritual liberty. These horrors will be fresh in everyone's minds.

It is fashionable for the sophisticates among us to say casually and liberally that there are no moral absolutes. Morality is at best culturally relative (we cannot make judgments). The closer to home you get, however, the more they revert to a more thoroughly nihilistic standard: every person is free to determine his or her own morality...provided of course that you respect the rights of others. (Don't ask them where they get that moral absolute. They pull it out of the air. They get it from their culture. But their culture got it from the natural right teachings of early modern political theory, which they don't accept. But never mind.)

You can live more or less comfortably with that moral theory. It's self-flattering and it protects one's vices from neighborly criticism and even from conscientious self-examination. It also requires a very selective application to life as lived and observed. But what does one do with Josef Fritzl and his unnatural family, or rather the domestic victims of his unnatural and monstrous deeds?

"Unfathomable crime." Oh? What is the crime? Simply that he violated someone's rights? Or her autonomy? Is that what makes the "crime" unfathomable? Anyone who does not share in the horror--yes horror--that a human being properly feels upon learning of this situation in a sense participates in the man's monstrosity. The modern doctrine of rights and the post-modern notions of self-realization are inadequate to account for the revulsion that is a healthy response to learning about Josef Fritzl, to say nothing of Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler and on and on.

The Austrian newspaper Der Standard said in an editorial: "The whole country must ask itself just what is really, fundamentally going wrong." Horror and unfathomable iniquity point to a natural standard of morality, a moral order that is part of a created order. They point to an intuitive grasp of teleology and transcendent reality. To deny these things in the face of this report can only be explained by blindness resulting from the filtering effects of ideological spectacles. Perhaps that is what is "fundamentally going wrong."

1 comment:

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