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Apologies from a racist
April 5, 2009 3:25 PM   Subscribe

Elwin Wilson burned crosses. He threw jack handles at kids. He hung black dolls in nooses. He threw eggs at men. He beat people up at bus stations - people who would one day become United States Congressmen. He lay in wait for the Freedom Riders in Rock Hill, SC ( more Freedom Rides video 1, 2). And now Elwin Wilson is apologizing for what he did.
posted by Addlepated (247 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is the first time I've posted something to the blue, even though I've been a member here for nearly 7 years. Hopefully it's worth it.
posted by Addlepated at 3:26 PM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


In the final chapter of his life, Wilson is seeking forgiveness. The burly clock collector wants to be saved before he hears his last chime.
My eyes, my eyes!
posted by etaoin at 3:27 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the writing is a little schlocky, eh?
posted by Addlepated at 3:29 PM on April 5, 2009


That story was in my local paper this morning. It brought tears to my eyes. I wonder how many of you really truly understand what a miracle his change of heart was and how even more incredible it is that he's put feet to his repentance.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:39 PM on April 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


And I found out there is no way I could be saved and get to heaven and still not like blacks

Hmm. I'm glad he finally came to realize the error of his ways, and I'm glad he's been reaching out. I read about half way down and then read the end. Remarkable story, and I think the generational divide between some of us is that while I would smirk at him getting to 'heaven' like the criminal in that one episode of the Twilight Zone, I know folks older than me would welcome him into their homes for Sunday dinner. They'd serve him right along with everybody else at the table, cornbread and greens, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, chicken, maybe ribs, beans and cole slaw. And the oldest ladies would simultaneously admonish yet welcome him and assure him that everybody has done bad in those same timeless sayings that get passed around at many of our family gatherings.

I don't know how they do it, but it's heartwarming. My heart wants to warm to accept him as a human being who has done bad things, much as I have, but I find it hard to get past the contempt and hatred for his actions, no matter how many years ago they were.
posted by cashman at 3:43 PM on April 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


"All I can say is that it has bothered me for years, all the bad stuff I've done," Wilson says, speaking slowly and deliberately. "And I found out there is no way I could be saved and get to heaven and still not like blacks."

Noted without comment.
posted by ColdChef at 3:43 PM on April 5, 2009 [27 favorites]


Deathbed conversion.
posted by R. Mutt at 3:46 PM on April 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


+1 for doing the right thing
-1000 for doing it for selfish reasons
posted by tommasz at 4:01 PM on April 5, 2009 [15 favorites]


Somebody should still kick the shit out of him.
posted by 2sheets at 4:03 PM on April 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


god, this is such a whatever thing to me.

where i grew up, ohio, mississippi,missouri, oklahoma, michigan, white folks called us all kinds of names. beat the hell out of me and my few black friends. threatened us with murder more than a few times and occasionally things got uglier than that.

and you know what? i'm at peace with it and with all those ignorant fucks who trespassed against me. on the other hand, and i've thought about this a lot, i could care less if they came and wanted to apologize to me.

to be truthful, i'd be a lot happier if they just stopped being asshooles, repented, got over their ugly pasts and didn't try to drag the rest of us back into soiled memory land with them. it's painful enough having to think about some of that shit every now and again, but to actually have some of these perpetrators arrive on your doorstep and want to apologize? there is really no need.

forgive yourself. get over it. go and do something positive. and leave us alone.
posted by artof.mulata at 4:04 PM on April 5, 2009 [49 favorites]


I have less respect for a deathbed confession that I do for a complete racist who sticks to his beliefs to the end. What a pathetic, sad man.
posted by GuyZero at 4:08 PM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wait 'til he sees how many gay people there are in heaven.
posted by Optamystic at 4:10 PM on April 5, 2009 [33 favorites]


Jesus did say "grudgingly stop terrorizing thy neighbor," after all.
posted by adipocere at 4:23 PM on April 5, 2009 [29 favorites]


If Jesus were reading this thread I suspect He'd be kneeling down and drawing on the ground with His finger.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:32 PM on April 5, 2009 [9 favorites]


His apology, offered in the restaurant in January, was facilitated by the local newspaper, The Herald, which Wilson called after reading an article about the Friendship Nine.

Not all the men agreed to meet with him. Privately, some questioned his motives, his timing, his sincerity.


[snip]

As late as 1999, when his Baptist pastor began encouraging more black participation, Wilson got so upset he left the church.

Wilson says now he is ashamed of his behavior. He has since apologized to his grandson and to the neighbor he threatened. And he has been surprised by how liberated the apologies have made him feel. People don't understand the burden of carrying all that hate, he says.


This is a great post, but put me in the column of people who is a tiny bit underwhelmed. Its fine to make peace with yourself and your god, but its rather unseemly to go on a publicity tour asking for forgiveness so that you can feel "liberated" from the terrible "burden" of your hate, and reassured that sixty years of violence and bigotry won't count against you in the afterlife tally.
posted by googly at 4:34 PM on April 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


Fuck that guy.
posted by dead cousin ted at 4:38 PM on April 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


If Jesus were reading this thread, I suspect it would be on a mac b/c he's kind of a hippy.
posted by found missing at 4:45 PM on April 5, 2009 [22 favorites]


If Jesus were reading this thread I suspect He'd be kneeling down and drawing on the ground with His finger.

If Jesus were reading this thread, I suspect he'd be telling everyone who claims to speak for him to SHUT THE FUCK UP, just as he did with the scribes and Pharisees.

As for this guy, kudos to him for realizing that racism is absolutely not compatible with being a good person, and for going public with that realization. Kind of late to the party, though, so he's not going on my own Heroes List.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:47 PM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


St. Alia of the Bunnies> If Jesus were reading this thread I suspect He'd be kneeling down and drawing on the ground with His finger.

Right -- the reference to "let he who is without sin cast the first stone". Because, really, who among us here at Metafilter hasn't thrown eggs at people on account of their race, or threatened them by hanging them in effigy, or beat up more than one of them?
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 4:50 PM on April 5, 2009 [11 favorites]


Morality is no such thing if it requires a gun to your head.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:51 PM on April 5, 2009 [17 favorites]


I think Kenneth Koch said it all on the topic of self-dramatizing apology (link courtesy of MeFi's own languagehat!)
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:52 PM on April 5, 2009


If America was still the same place as it was when Mr. Wilson was young, then his apologies would mean a lot more to me. As it is, I'm OK with his apology but not very impressed.
posted by rdr at 4:52 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Right -- the reference to "let he who is without sin cast the first stone". Because, really, who among us here at Metafilter hasn't thrown eggs at people on account of their race, or threatened them by hanging them in effigy, or beat up more than one of them?

No, no, no, see, we've all done at least one thing wrong, which means we have no right to hold people accountable when they do wrong.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:53 PM on April 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


what if this guy is jesus and it's allah trick to get us to deny him?

see you in hell, fuckers.
posted by artof.mulata at 4:55 PM on April 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


Why even the assumption that Jesus isn't reading the thread? Or do I misunderstand omniscience?
posted by birdie birdington at 4:59 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, no, no, see, we've all done at least one thing wrong, which means we have no right to hold people accountable when they do wrong.

I'm a little bit embarrassed that I misunderstood the point of that bit of scripture. But on the plus side, I now know exactly what I'm going to say the next time I am called for jury duty.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 5:02 PM on April 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


Good for him. Better late than never.
posted by jayder at 5:05 PM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Something is bugging me about the yahoo article. I think it's that there's an implicit assumption guiding the question of forgiving racists that racial struggles and conflict are the stuff of history. Is it time to forgive past transgressions? I realize the author mentions that Wilson has received threats from others not so, uhm, enlightened as he (or facing their imminent demise), but still the perspective of the article is geared towards the past. Some commentary about the continuing existence of these problems would be nice.

Oh wait, we elected a black president. Everything is fine, just fine. Nobody roil the melting pot.
posted by signalandnoise at 5:06 PM on April 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Must not judge. Must not judge. Must not judge.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 5:10 PM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hope it hurts.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 5:11 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


stupidsexycompassionateFlanders!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 5:11 PM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


My grandma calls this "cramming for finals."
posted by Silentgoldfish at 5:12 PM on April 5, 2009 [35 favorites]


Good for him. Maybe his apologies to the people he injured helps them or makes them feel better in some small way. And yeah, late repentance does count.
posted by txvtchick at 5:12 PM on April 5, 2009


artof.mulata at 4:04 PM on April 5 [4 favorites +] [!]

Man, can I favorite this comment about 1000 times?

Just like there's no atheism in foxholes, there's no lack of wanting forgiveness on deathbeds. His want of forgiveness means very little to me. (And forgive ME, I don't enjoy making negative comments.)
posted by snsranch at 5:13 PM on April 5, 2009


It's fine that this guy (possibly) realizes what a fucking tool he has been and regrets it and wants to apologize. But national or even local news coverage? Strangers praising his "courage" as a "hero"?

Jesus, realizing that you're unbelievably wrong and admitting it and (possibly) taking responsibility for it and (improbably) learning from it aren't courageous or heroic. They're supposed to be normal, run-of-the-mill human behaviors, except, I suppose, in a culture where anybody taking responsibility for anyfuckingthing is as rare as hen's teeth.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:17 PM on April 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


To those who have a problem with the public apologies-this is exactly what he is SUPPOSED to do. It's one thing to think to yourself, I screwed up, I'm sorry, won't do it any more-but to look into the faces of those you have wronged and tell them in person-that MEANS something.

To those of you who scorn this because of his age-that is part of what I am so amazed by. Normally people get to this age and their hate and bitterness solidify and their mindset is so ingrained that only God Himself could break thru and effect change.......hmmm.....


(I have racist family members who are around this age who altho a little softer around the edges are still convinced of their own superiority and at the very least don't seem concerned this would affect their position with the Almighty. Speaking of being convinced of one's own superiority, some of those who are criticizing this article could probably benefit from a little introspection. Just sayin'.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:19 PM on April 5, 2009 [8 favorites]


If there was a Jesus and he was around, he'd be out in the streets rather than reading the internet.
posted by edgeways at 5:21 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


To those who have a problem with the public apologies-this is exactly what he is SUPPOSED to do.

According to what, the Twelve-Step Drama Queen Guide to Life?
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:23 PM on April 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


what if this guy is jesus and it's allah trick to get us to deny him?


Why'd you drag the Muslims into this?
posted by etaoin at 5:23 PM on April 5, 2009


Edgeways, He's God. He can be out in the streets and reading the internet at the same time without breaking a sweat.

Besides, I submit that the Internet is the modern equivalent of the highways and byways. If His Incarnation was today instead of back then, He'd have a Mefi account.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:23 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


To those of you who scorn this because of his age-that is part of what I am so amazed by.

Don't sweat it, I'll repent on my deathbed.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 5:23 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


My Name Is Earl.
posted by bwg at 5:24 PM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


a fucking coward. afraid to live. afraid to die.
posted by kitchenrat at 5:27 PM on April 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


Yeah, this guy is pretty lame to be apologizing practically right before he dies, but maybe he'll inspire some other shitheads to turn things around earlier.
posted by orme at 5:31 PM on April 5, 2009


If Jesus was still around, I'd been his agent and we'd make a killing selling wine.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:31 PM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


To those who have a problem with the public apologies-this is exactly what he is SUPPOSED to do. It's one thing to think to yourself, I screwed up, I'm sorry, won't do it any more-but to look into the faces of those you have wronged and tell them in person-that MEANS something.

I disagree, and think that you're being naively generous in your interpretation. No one is "SUPPOSED" to make a huge public display of their alleged repentance. This guy has chosen to do so.

Its incredibly difficult thing to privately recognize that you screwed up, and take responsibility for the fact that some of the things that you did are unforgivable. It is incredibly painful to realize that you have done something wrong, you are not going to be forgiven, and you will have to live with it for the rest of your life, however short.

Its something else entirely to ring up a newspaper and ask them to conduct a big publicity stunt in which you place the very same people that you tormented and assaulted for 60 years in the unenviable position of having to listen to your apology, forgive you for your actions, and proclaim you a courageous man, thus absolving you of the hatred and violence of the past.
posted by googly at 5:34 PM on April 5, 2009 [8 favorites]


a fucking coward. afraid to live. afraid to die.

A good description of the general run of humanity, from what I've seen so far. Remember Lee Atwater? Let's keep an eye on Karl Rove. It'll probably play itself similarly. I'd bet on it.
posted by metagnathous at 5:35 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


play itself OUT similarly, that is.
posted by metagnathous at 5:38 PM on April 5, 2009


If he were a humble, sincere, contrite person I'm certain that he'd go to his heaven and not have had articles written about him.
posted by birdie birdington at 5:42 PM on April 5, 2009


Nothing is unforgivable if you take it to the Cross.

But if you want forgiveness the first thing you must do is forgive.

And the one thing many on this thread are forgetting is this: we may never have thrown anything or done anything against anyone else because of their race-but any unkindness we have ever shown to others....well, in the eyes of God we are no better than that man at his worst. So we don't have a lot of room to talk.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:43 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sport was drunkenly releasing flying squirrels in the bedroom where his young wife slept. Or dragging her to a black speakeasy after a day of catfishing, to show off his skills dancing shag.

I felt like I was reading a James Lee Burke novel for a bit there. It's hard to believe that people like that exist. Stupid motherfucker.
posted by zinfandel at 5:48 PM on April 5, 2009


I disagree, and think that you're being naively generous in your interpretation.

I think that people who want to believe that Christianity (or religion in general) is necessary to morality love this story, because this guy claims to have been moved by God to recant his previously morally reprehensible behavior.

Those of us, even those of us who are observant religious folks (me!) who don't think that religion is necessary to morality find the idea of a guy being frightened by the Avenging Skydaddy into meeting the absolute rock-bottom basic standard of human decency--and, to boot, playing it up for his own personal publicity--don't love this story.

Note that this fellow was a regular churchgoer throughout the time when he was an outrageous, violent racist. I know we don't play Biblical verse-capping here on MeFi, but since we're tossing Jesus' name around, I would suggest that he had quite a few things to say about people making public shows out of their faith, and none of them were positive.

I hope he runs into someone who says, to paraphrase Chris Rock, "What do you want, a cookie? You're not supposed to burn crosses, you low-expectation-having cracker."
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:49 PM on April 5, 2009 [23 favorites]


I keep trying to be cynical about this, but I'm afraid I can only take this guy at his word.

He was an agent of terrible pain and, yes, evil in this world; for whatever reason, he's now attempting to atone. Now, I do know that between him and John Lewis I have no problem picking out the real hero, but I also know that the measure of one's self is not always cast in stone, and that even if I don't believe in god, I do believe that the human heart can move in mysterious ways. People can change, even in small ways, for imperfect reasons. If it was fear of his maker that finally prompted him abandon a lifetime of ugliness and start fumbling towards embracing his shared humanity, then so be it.
posted by scody at 5:49 PM on April 5, 2009 [10 favorites]


in the eyes of God we are no better than that man at his worst

I don't know what flavor of Christianity you practice, but in my church this kind of statement would be called out as destructive nonsense. In the eyes of God, according to my religious tradition, people who hate and despise others for the color of their skin are, indeed, sinning against God and their fellow man.

I don't think that MetaFilter is the place for sectarian debate, but if you're going to continue this kind of "witnessing" I'm happy to keep countering you as long as the mods allow it, because I hate that the only exposure some people get to Christianity here is of one particular variety.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:52 PM on April 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


lolxtianfight
posted by found missing at 5:56 PM on April 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


I have less respect for a deathbed confession that I do for a complete racist who sticks to his beliefs to the end. What a pathetic, sad man.

Why?! Fewer virulent racists in the world is a good thing. Sticking to repugnant principles out of stubbornness is a bad thing.

I don't think the guy deserves a medal. It's a damn shame that it took him so long. Yes, he's pathetic. But I think that reducing hate is a good example of "better late than never." There are a hell of a lot of bitter, old, angry white dudes who are still bitching about the niggers -- I am totally okay with any of them deciding to stop doing that at any time.
posted by desuetude at 5:57 PM on April 5, 2009 [8 favorites]



Way too little, way too late.
posted by notreally at 6:02 PM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


ring up a newspaper and ask them to conduct a big publicity stunt

Perhaps he was worried that St. Peter might require some documentation?
posted by finite at 6:12 PM on April 5, 2009


I want to know why he has a pinko-commie machine gun instead of a made-in-the-god-blessed-USA Colt.

(Color me unimpressed with the whole story. I feel there is a LOT more he can do in his remaining time here to try and undo 70 years of hatred than to merely apologize to people he wronged in front of reporters.)
posted by maxwelton at 6:14 PM on April 5, 2009


Do those of you grumbling about the selfishness of a deathbed conversion actually even literally believe in heaven? My reaction to that line of thought is, eh, t's not like he's ACTUALLY cheating his way into paradise, because it doesn't exist.

But whether it was the fear of god, the fear of death, or just a sad, sick realization that a lifetime of hate was pointless, he did the right thing -- he contacted the people he wronged and asked them for forgiveness. Some met with him, some didn't. He's not getting off scot free with everyone singing a hallelujah that the scales have fallen from his eyes -- he lives the last of his life knowing that some could not accept his apology, and that others find him, well, pathetic. I don't have much sympathy for the racist rebukes he's getting, either.

As for the public proclamation, er...I don't think that contacting the local newspaper in Rock Hill, SC is like clamoring to get on Leno. He seems to have kept it in the community. But that other newspapers and media outlets are running with the story is no surprise.
posted by desuetude at 7:03 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


it seems to me that a lot of people are going to find the forgiveness and compassion of christians a lot more persuasive than the snark and namecalling of the political secularists

which is why, of course, religion is still an influence in our world - they offer him a way out - all some of you are offering is the back of your hand
posted by pyramid termite at 7:06 PM on April 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


If Jesus were reading this thread, I'd like to say Hi Jesus!
posted by stinkycheese at 7:07 PM on April 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


Clowns like this have shaped American history. Their selfishness has and still has a lasting effect on everyone's daily life.

GO FUCKING DIE, and shut the fuck up about it.

The sooner the better.
posted by Max Power at 7:19 PM on April 5, 2009


This is his fucking legacy.

Without sanctuary
posted by Max Power at 7:24 PM on April 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm just curious if the majority in this thread think it would have been better for him NOT to apologize?

I mean, since he didn't do it at the right time or in the right manner for any of you, then I can only assume you would be happier if he continued to be a hateful bigot right up till his last breath.

Given his past, is there any way he COULD apologize and any of you be willing to accept it?

I think the article is kind of slow news-dayish, but still, I'm not sure I can condemn a man who is trying to make amends, and I have no reason to believe he is not being sincere.

We have entire governments who are just now apologizing for atrocities during WWII.

Personally, I'm glad he apologized, as I think EVERYONE involved in such activities as he should/should have, and I hope it gives him a bit of comfort, and I hope it gives some of his victims a bit of comfort.

Wishing for anything else just makes for a pretty lousy human being, IMO.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:25 PM on April 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


If Jesus were reading this thread I suspect He'd be kneeling down and drawing on the ground with His finger.

Sort of. The Scripture wasn't translated very well. I am really snacking on finger foods, when I'm browsing Metafilter.
posted by Zombie Jesus at 7:26 PM on April 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


If Jesus were reading this thread he'd be tired from hitting [!].
posted by subbes at 7:27 PM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


A week later, Wilson spent the day watching the inauguration of the nation's first black president. He saw the local newspaper article about the Friendship Nine as they watched too. He knew exactly what to do.

Call me cynical, but the article reads like this good ol' boy saw the ultimate racial barrier fall, at last acknowledged to himself the death of overt racial discrimination, and decided to perform an act of public contrition in front of his community. (I suppose, for him, that it was like purchasing a sort of psychological indulgence.) Win-win scenario: remain a member of the town in mostly good standing; at home, believe what you like in peace.

Suddenly it's a sensation, and his grumpy old self got splashed over the human-interest pages as a symbol of America's "reformed ways." Now he grudgingly grants these interviews, hoping they will move on so he can resume his life watching sensational cable news programs, surrounded by his beloved "mementos from the 1950s" and (of course) a Coloreds Only sign hanging on the wall.

Again, call me cynical. But I am never very impressed by those, especially those in their old age, who suddenly renounce their long-standing--and in this case relatively recently acted upon--prejudices to embrace a more tolerant philosophy. Clearly the out-group, for this guy, remained the out-group long past the period the author suggests he "viewed them as equals." The author mentions a "hardness in his heart...especially when it came to race." This is not hardness in "the heart." It's a fundamental intolerance of "the other" in this judgmental and often violent dude's head.

"And I found out there is no way I could be saved and get to heaven and still not like blacks."

"I found out that I will not go to the Good Place when I die if I still do not 'like' the blacks."

Once again, call me cynical. But I just don't think this holds water. It's a feel-good story about a man who isn't particularly remorseful about his past, but wishes to live out the rest of his life without being ostracized.
posted by MimeticHaHa at 7:42 PM on April 5, 2009


I'm just curious if the majority in this thread think it would have been better for him NOT to apologize?

I mean, since he didn't do it at the right time or in the right manner for any of you, then I can only assume you would be happier if he continued to be a hateful bigot right up till his last breath.


Well, the two aren't mutually exclusive. He could have repented for being a bigot without marching into black churches and asking his former victims to help him "unburden" himself.

Let's not forget: Wilson didn't just call someone bad names. He was part of a group that brutally assaulted a 21 year old, punching him in the face and kicking him when he fell to the ground. That happens to be a crime, which he has escaped prosecution from. He threw a jack handle at a kid playing with a soda machine. We don't know if it hit him or not, but that is another crime, which he has escaped prosecution from. He was a proud member of the KKK, an organization that systematically harassed, assaulted, and murdered blacks. We don't know exactly what he participated in, and probably never will. But he may well have participated in or known about some other heinous crimes, which he has escaped prosecution from. And now he wants to apologize.

So yes, perhaps it would have been better for him not to apologize. Apologizing is not the same thing as taking full responsibility for one's actions; sometimes it is the furthest thing from it.
posted by googly at 7:52 PM on April 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


We humans are a puzzle. You remember when you got socks for your birthday for the first time when you were 12 or 13? Do you remember wishing you'd been given anything else, even a puzzle?
posted by nola at 8:08 PM on April 5, 2009


THis is where I have a gripe with Christianity. If this man's reason for change is "And I found out there is no way I could be saved and get to heaven and still not like blacks."
then he really is just acting in his own self interest.
It's like when I was a little kid in Catholic School and figured out that if I made a Perfect Act of Contrition on my deathbed I didn't have to worry about sin, just as long as I had a chance to get right with God at the end. People need to get beyond the concept of heaven or hell. But I'm afraid assholes like this would act even worse if the chance of eternal damnation wasn't a risk factor.
So I'm glad that assholes are afraid of a vengeful god, but I wish they also took the Golden Rule seriously every day of their lives instead of this end around attempt at getting into the pearly gates.

All said and done, I have no problem with this being newsworthy. It is better that he come forward and admit the error of his ways if it makes anyone he wronged feel better or gives any other racist added incentive to change themselves.
posted by readery at 8:15 PM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


So can I take it as read that those of you who approve of this guy's apology would also believe to be sincere things uttered at gunpoint?

I don't see actual repentence here. I don't see any understanding of why what he did was wrong. He's been convinced that Jesus doesn't appreciate what he did, and afraid he'll go to hell. Every Christian who believes in hell believes in a gun to his or her own head; this guy is staring full on into the barrel, and is saying whatever he thinks will get the person holding it not to fire. He's not sorry. He's terrified.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:17 PM on April 5, 2009 [16 favorites]


That's how I read it also Pope Guilty. that and I don't really care what he has to say. He did real things when he was young, to real people. Now he's just talking, words are cheap.
posted by nola at 8:40 PM on April 5, 2009


He was an agent of terrible pain and, yes, evil in this world; for whatever reason, he's now attempting to atone.

I agree. Sometimes people siezed by terrible ideologies and destructive belief systems are victims just like the people they harmed.

I don't find it hard to believe that he is apologizing because he sincerely sees the error of his actions.
posted by jayder at 8:46 PM on April 5, 2009


He did real things when he was young, to real people. Now he's just talking, words are cheap.
posted by nola at 10:40 PM on April 5


So I ask again, what could he do that would make it a legitimate act?

Or is repentance and atonement simply out of reach for some due to past transgressions? Once you commit some offenses, you should just never seek redemption? (And I'm speaking in purely secular terms.)

I'm not trying to be snarky, I'm actually quite serious. I have been rather taken aback at the tone in this thread. I expected more "well, it took long enough, but at least he's made a first step".

All the "suck it old man! die die die!" stuff seems rather out of place on this board, until I remember we're talking about a racist old man from the Old South.

If this were some German professor at Boston U. who wanted to apologize for helping design the concentration camps, everyone would be falling all over themselves trying to name a library after him.

Pope Guilty: I understand precisely what you are saying, but most people would consider that a feature, not a bug. If fear of hell motivates him to do the right thing, then is that still not better than him continuing to do the wrong thing???

I no longer hold any religious beliefs, but even when I did I felt Hell was allegory. But, if visions of fire and brimstone legitimately changed this man's mind, why does it matter?

It seems petty and juvenile to say that the reason for this man's transformation is not acceptable. Who gives a fuck if he wants his magic unicorn in the afterlife?
posted by Ynoxas at 9:27 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Unlike Lee Atwater, Rove is an atheist. Too smart for ancient mythologies, and too evil for last minute apologies.
posted by whatgorilla at 9:31 PM on April 5, 2009


Did anyone else find this line:

"By the time I went to college I had dropped all that jumping on them," he says. "I still didn't want to marry one or anything like that."

As tasteless as I did? "One" seems to indicate not thinking of blacks as human beings. Maybe I'm looking for smoke where there's no fire.
posted by maxwelton at 9:33 PM on April 5, 2009


Words are cheap in that saying you're sorry isn't enough when you've punched a guy in the face for being black. You're going to have to get off your fat old ass and do something positive. If I spend my life bringing misery to others I think I'll need more than, 'oops, sorry about being a dick' to make up for it. If you had someone in your life that wronged you, and you'd writen them off and then the showed up one day and said they were sorry would you trust that, or would you need to see some proof? That's what I'm saying, I can't speak for anyone else in this thread.

Like I said I really don't care what an old racist shit bag has to say, call me when he is doing something in his community to make up for his ill deads.
posted by nola at 9:38 PM on April 5, 2009


Compare and contrast:

"And I found out there is no way I could be saved and get to heaven and still not like blacks."


and:

So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:

Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. Huck Finn.

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn't do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking - thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time...

and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he's got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

"All right, then, I'll go to hell" - and tore it up.

posted by Bookhouse at 9:45 PM on April 5, 2009 [20 favorites]


I don't see actual repentence here.

so what would actual repentance consist of? - of course, not being one of the people he had wronged, i'm not sure it's your place to say what it would be ...
posted by pyramid termite at 9:53 PM on April 5, 2009


Ynoxas said:

"If fear of hell motivates him to do the right thing, then is that still not better than him continuing to do the wrong thing???"

That really is the crux of the issue, and why you see such a divide in responses to this post, and why the cliche "Do the ends justify the means?" exists. What is curious is that I think you'll find people answering this question differently from both theistic and atheistic viewpoints.
posted by wildilocks at 9:53 PM on April 5, 2009


Pope Guilty wrote: I don't see actual repentence here. I don't see any understanding of why what he did was wrong. He's been convinced that Jesus doesn't appreciate what he did, and afraid he'll go to hell.

I don't know what Church he belongs to, but if he's a Protestant he is almost certainly not motivated by a fear of hell: his Church probably believes that Hell is for people who aren't baptised. And if he's "convinced that "Jesus doesn't appreciate what he did" then he is definitively convinced that what he did was wrong.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:03 PM on April 5, 2009


desuetude: Why?! Fewer virulent racists in the world is a good thing. Sticking to repugnant principles out of stubbornness is a bad thing.

Because there are only two likely reasons for someone to confess on their deathbed:

A. You knew what you was doing was wrong at the time, but didn't care because you weren't staring down hell right then at the moment.
B. You don't really think what you did was wrong, but you're confessing now in case your behavior happens to be on the afterlife's hate list.

In the end, deathbed confessions/conversions are popular because they're cheap. If you cared while you were alive, you'd have done it in a more expensive manner, when you could actually do something material to address your wrongs. Maybe this guy did a lot of soul-searching and actually understands why what he did was wrong, but it is the king of convenient timing - so many of us are skeptical.

On the other hand, someone who went to their grave racist was racist presumably because he really, honestly believed racism was accurate. In this case, they may be the victim of a poisonous ideology, probably one pressed on them when they were a child. People like that can do terrible things, and you might have to fight or oppose them, but that sort of thing inspires more pity and sadness in me than it does hate.

Personally, I think it is better than nothing if he really honestly feels that way and didn't before, but I suspect one or the other of those conditions is false.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:14 PM on April 5, 2009


The apologies have won headlines and praise. Letters have poured in, lauding Wilson's courage. Strangers, black and white, have hailed him as a hero.

But Wilson doesn't feel like a hero. He feels confused. He cannot fully answer the lingering questions, the doubts. Where did all the hate come from? And where did it go?

And the question he gets asked most often: Why now?

"All I can say is that it has bothered me for years, all the bad stuff I've done," Wilson says, speaking slowly and deliberately. "And I found out there is no way I could be saved and get to heaven and still not like blacks."


Good grief you folks are hard to please. The man says it's bothered him for years, and acknowledges that he's no hero. He's doing what he can to express some contrition, and I'm blown away that you guys have a problem with that. I have no idea to what extent he has asked for this kind of publicity, and I don't care. It's good that he's taking these steps. I can't see into his heart, and I can't judge his internal motivations. Neither can you. But that's not stopping you from being really hateful to an old man who is trying to overcome his legacy of hatefulness. I think I'll side with Wilson on this one.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:39 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I mean, since he didn't do it at the right time or in the right manner for any of you, then I can only assume you would be happier if he continued to be a hateful bigot right up till his last breath.

This was my thought, too. I think of the prejudice I've seen, especially in older people, and how happy I would be to see someone finally come to a glimmer of understanding, no matter how late, that...well, hate is wrong. And un-Christian, if you roll that way.

Look, nothing the guy can do as an elderly, sickly man can make up for punching a guy in the face. Hell, nothing he could do as a vigorous young man could've made up for that. ALL he can do is truly apologize. Apologizing to the aggrieved party when you do something wrong is the right thing to do. Anyway, he can ask for God's forgiveness as well, but it is not guaranteed either.

Call me cynical, but the article reads like this good ol' boy saw the ultimate racial barrier fall, at last acknowledged to himself the death of overt racial discrimination, and decided to perform an act of public contrition in front of his community.

The ultimate racial barrier? Ohh, I don't know if you're the truly cynical one, then. The election of a black president in the United States is, yes, a monumental marker of how far race relations have come. But there are a lot of racial barriers to be broken, and I think that the disgusting rhetoric burbling out of the worst of the neocons is a terrifying reminder of this. Edwin Wilson wasn't being punished for his racism anyway. He has no material reward.

Mitrovarr: he's not literally on his deathbed. And I don't know this racist old coot personally, but I do think that there's quite a bit of ground to cover between:

A. You knew what you was doing was wrong at the time, but didn't care because you weren't staring down hell right then at the moment.
B. You don't really think what you did was wrong, but you're confessing now in case your behavior happens to be on the afterlife's hate list.


For the love of...whoever...has no-one here radically changed their views on a subject over time, or known anyone who has? I can't imagine I'm the only person who has seen people start thinking shit through more thoroughly when their mortality starts staring at them a little more pointedly.

but if he's a Protestant he is almost certainly not motivated by a fear of hell: his Church probably believes that Hell is for people who aren't baptised.


Protestants also believe that bad people are punished in hell. So sez many years of Sunday School.
posted by desuetude at 10:46 PM on April 5, 2009


I'm glad the guy feels bad. I'm also shocked that he apparently knows the true evil of his actions and still thinks he has a shot of getting into the magic kingdom for good dead people.
posted by kcalder at 11:24 PM on April 5, 2009


I'm also shocked that he apparently knows the true evil of his actions and still thinks he has a shot of getting into the magic kingdom for good dead people.


Uh, have you read the New Testament?
posted by availablelight at 11:34 PM on April 5, 2009


Ya know, I wonder if it's possible that his previous behaviour (and subsequent self-revelation) were more than commonplace ignorance and actually the result of a chemical imbalance or some mental defect. Indeed, where does hate like that come from?

While his apology is nice and all, what would really impress me (and elevate it to more than a death-bed conversion) is if he did more than the utter words and actually do something. Something to earn his forgiveness. Going around and apologizing is a start.

Putting down the phone, Wilson complains about being worn out by all the demands. He never thought one man's apology could trigger so much interest, so many invitations and calls. He has been asked to attend several events with Lewis, including one in Selma, Ala., but he is not sure if he will go. He has to consider his safety.

Okay, see...perfect example: no - he does not have to consider his safety. Boo-fucking-hoo he's worn out.
posted by RockCorpse at 12:45 AM on April 6, 2009


Truth be told, I'm in the "fuck that guy" camp. When in life you spread any sort of evil, pain or suffering upon anyone, you spread it so much further than you could ever imagine. Simply being tolerant of hatred spreads its existence, let alone being a fucking ringleader of hate-violence. It's not that I don't think people can't make good on past trespasses, but rather that the conversion rate for good to evil is nowhere near 1:1.
posted by JimmyJames at 1:02 AM on April 6, 2009


Protestants also believe that bad people are punished in hell. So sez many years of Sunday School.

Ye-es, but did you actually ask who is a "good" person? Because as I understand it, standard Christian doctrine is that all people are inherently sinful and that the only way to be "good" is to be forgiven. And the only way to be forgiven is to be baptised. And that baptism is sufficient for forgiveness. Being nice to people and apologising and all that stuff are "works" which are the fruit of a saved state - that is, they are what you would expect from someone who has been saved - but it is the naivest heresy to suppose that they can save you from damnation.

Now, if Mr Wilson were Jewish it would be the other way around. But not many Jews made it into the Klan.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:15 AM on April 6, 2009


By reflex I was in the "screw him" category. Deathbed confessions are the last refuge of the coward. And then I read the article and saw how he had spent months personally apologising for his behaviour and wondered if, however late, his actions didn't mean something.

But do you know what? Just as this guy wore his bigotry on his sleeve for years, so he wears his repentance. The morality may have changed, but it's still me, me, me.

He knew his behaviour was out of order. He knew the damage it caused. This isn't just that times have changed and beating up on a nigger isn't quite the social sport it once was. The guy was still berating his grandson for having black friends, and still embarrassing his son with the way he treated people with a different skin colour.

So screw you, Mr Wilson. You spent years making other people's lives a misery because by indulging your own selfish whims. By luck, more than judgment, your crimes against society have not incurred a penalty more harsh than the voices of your own cowardly conscience. And just as your family and others have had to indulge you, now you ask for the greatest indulgence of all - the forgiveness of others - as you sit worrying about how your God will judge your life.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:28 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


The overall feeling I'm getting from this thread is that it's wrong to even try to atone.

I was half kidding before when I said "My Name Is Earl". Maybe the world wouldn't be such a mess if everyone went around making amends for their wrongs.

I'd like to be able to right my mistakes, and I'm nowhere near my deathbed (at least I hope I'm not).
posted by bwg at 2:28 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


The overall feeling I'm getting from this thread is that it's wrong to even try to atone.

Never - but if you make your atonement public, and call in the newspapers, then people will feel entitled to assess the level and sincerity of your atonement, to see if they think it's worth the inches devoted to it in the news.

Personally, I think it's great that there's one less person in the world going around saying or doing bigoted stuff (although it sounds like he reserves the right to be rude to his family and friends).

But if you've been a member of the Klan, then a written or in-person apology can't make up for the terror and harm you've inflicted on individuals and a community. Atonement might involve making some kind of personal sacrifice before people will think it's worth hearing about or praising.
posted by harriet vane at 3:03 AM on April 6, 2009




Remind me not to beg you people for forgiveness!
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 3:15 AM on April 6, 2009


Remind me not to beg you people for forgiveness!

If you change your mind but decide to make/let a media frenzy ensue over it, be prepared to have your sincerity questioned.

That's the real crux of it to me. Had he sent letters of apology to his victims, for them to react and reply to in their own time (or not at all, if they chose), instead of making it a public spectacle and as someone said above, 'me! me! me!', i'd be far less inclined to be skeptical about this apparent change of heart.

As it is, it seems equally likely that, as when he was young, he wants something from these people and has decided to take it. That he's demanding forgiveness instead of submission/humiliation is the only difference.
posted by pseudonymph at 4:25 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Remind me not to beg you people for forgiveness!

I haven't read the thread's comments all the way through, so I'm probably repeating what others have written countless times, but nonetheless:

One problem here is that the person asking for forgiveness is not really doing it to fix past wrongs, but to square away the heavenly reward he feels he deserves.

As bad as he feels about the wrongs he did others, ultimately, his asking forgiveness is an act of selfishness, an act of narcissism. The starting premise is that he wants to gain himself entrance to heaven. He wants to soothe his conscience. His apology is not primarily about the people he wronged, but about how bad he feels. As such, it isn't about making peace with others, but making peace with himself.

In that context, I'm not sure that others necessarily owe him reprieve, though if his surviving victims wish to grant him that, that's certainly between them and him.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:51 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Protestants also believe that bad people are punished in hell. So sez many years of Sunday School.

Ye-es, but did you actually ask who is a "good" person? Because as I understand it, standard Christian doctrine is that all people are inherently sinful and that the only way to be "good" is to be forgiven. And the only way to be forgiven is to be baptised. And that baptism is sufficient for forgiveness. Being nice to people and apologising and all that stuff are "works" which are the fruit of a saved state - that is, they are what you would expect from someone who has been saved - but it is the naivest heresy to suppose that they can save you from damnation.

I'm starting to see the problem with trying to discuss Christianity on Metafilter. It appears people have absolutely no idea what they're talking about, and are very confident in their ignorance. If you want to learn things, read up on the conception of salvation through grace alone, infant baptism, Arminianism, and Calvinism.

I'm with Pater Alethias here (as I find myself being increasingly on these threads). It appears there is absolutely nothing this guy could have done that would not have invited snark.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:54 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


What exactly would you have him "do" as opposed to what he's doing now? Donate to the UNCF? What's done is done, but that doesn't negate the value of sincere regret and apology. In fact, given the nature of his wrongs, I think it's the only valid action he can take -- he dehumanized his victims with his prejudice; now he's actually approaching them as human beings, trying to empathize and communicate with them as human beings.

Oh, and if he feels that these actions made him an unhappy and scared old man, he could try to educate those like him about the poison of their ways. Like maybe... going public with his story.

All this "he should just realize what he did was bad and shut the fuck up" is bullshit. Yeah, talk is cheap, but thoughts are cheaper. It's a lot harder to look someone in the eye and repent than it is to think "yeah, that was kind of fucked up." And it means a lot more.

And furthermore, when are we ever not motivated by selfishness, even in altruism? Do you want to help people? Why? Because it makes your soul sick and your heart hurt to see other humans suffering? Guess it's all me, me, me and your achy breaky heart then, huh? No one feels anyone else's pain. Helping people out of empathy is just as much about helping yourself. It's a fact of life that the only empathetic tool available to us is mapping other people's emotions onto our own. And that's totally fine. And good deeds done out of the pain of guilt are good deeds nonetheless.
posted by DLWM at 4:55 AM on April 6, 2009


And the one thing many on this thread are forgetting is this: we may never have thrown anything or done anything against anyone else because of their race-but any unkindness we have ever shown to others....well, in the eyes of God we are no better than that man at his worst. So we don't have a lot of room to talk.
One of the amusing horrors of Christianity is the belief that "Lying to the panhandler about whether you have any money on you" and "Strangling the panhandler in an alley and raping his corpse" are equally immoral. There is a very strong emphasis on the "God thinks you're no better than Hitler" line of thought.

That's not how you mean it, of course. And you're not going around raping hobos for fun, so to you it's a very sobering thought! Your unkind word to your wife is no different than the guys who beat Matthew Sheppard to death. Unfortunately -- and this is the part that Christians never seem to get -- the same statement is freeing for a dangerous sociopath. You are telling them that their actions are no worse than a parking ticket.
posted by verb at 4:56 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm starting to see the problem with trying to discuss Christianity on Metafilter. It appears people have absolutely no idea what they're talking about, and are very confident in their ignorance.
It's kind of funny how, no matter how much a poster knows about the Church, if they do not like the church it means they do not understand it. Your Scotsmen are the real ones, after all.
I'm with Pater Alethias here (as I find myself being increasingly on these threads). It appears there is absolutely nothing this guy could have done that would not have invited snark.
Yes. That is correct. He fucked up a lot of people, then became a powerful man and continued to fuck people up. Now he is about to die and is scared he will face consequences. So he is turning to the people he fucked and asking to forgive him. That is ground fucking zero of snark. He is walking snark bait. No matter how sincere he feels he is, the fact is that his realization is just frightened, last minute cramming.

He is the schoolyard bully who "realizes" how mean he's been when his victim's older brother appears.
posted by verb at 5:06 AM on April 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


So how many of you have actually read the parable of the Prodigal Son?

Go read it. Particularly the part with the elder brother.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:09 AM on April 6, 2009


I think "fucking coward" upthread about sums it up. The man is deeply religious, and is afraid that he won't get into heaven unless he apologizes to all them black folks. Nothing but selfish ass-covering, and for the most ignorant of reasons.
posted by tehloki at 5:12 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


So how many of you have actually read the parable of the Prodigal Son? Go read it. Particularly the part with the elder brother.
Spoiler: It's the story of a rich kid who cashes in his inheritance, spends it on hookers and blow, lives in the gutter for a while, then comes home and asks his dad for a job. His "responsible" older brother is outraged when dad welcomes the screw-up back into the family (not "gives him a job," mind you -- welcomes him back into the family with all the prestige and riches that entails) and throws a giant feast in his honor.

In Scripture, the older brother is scolded.

Has it occurred to you that disgust at Elwin Wilson's story and the religious undercurrents is based on understanding the perverse incentives of the story of the Prodigal Son, rather than ignorance?
posted by verb at 5:22 AM on April 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: HOW DARE HE APOLOGIZE!!!!
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:42 AM on April 6, 2009


Around 70% of the people in our prison industrial complex are from 14% of the population as a whole.

Why? Because of the attitude this moron has embraced his entire life.

Lives ruined, families destroyed because of skin color.

Now as he approaches death he's sorry? Cry me a river.

His actions had consequences far beyond a simple punch in the face and are still being felt and dealt with.

About the only good thing you can say about this whole sorry story is at least his children didn't seem to adopt his views.
posted by Max Power at 5:42 AM on April 6, 2009


So how many of you have actually read the parable of the Prodigal Son?

Many people have, it's not an obscure story, so there's not much point in taking a poll. Personally, I think it's just a story about one opinion on forgiveness, not a prescription for how to live. I always thought the father was unnecessarily harsh towards the older brother's feeling of being unloved.

And if religious people could try to remember that whatever your beliefs on the subject are, they're just one of 357 different flavours of Christianity, let alone the myriad non-Christian religions out there. No-one has time to memorise the theology of them all. If someone non-religious gets the rules wrong, consider that it might be that they're thinking of flavour 132, not your flavour 289. You could explain which flavour you're talking about, or ask them which one they're referring to, before you 'correct' them.
posted by harriet vane at 5:42 AM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Seriously though, however stupid or crazy his motivations for it, a sincere apology is a good thing. Not that it makes up for being a racist asshole in the first place.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:43 AM on April 6, 2009


Gee, if only konolia could be here, she'd love this thread.
posted by RussHy at 6:02 AM on April 6, 2009


I don't have a problem with people apologizing or seeking forgiveness for their actions; I have a bigger problem with people who do so without realizing that acceptance of that apology and forgiveness are not guaranteed.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:03 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


As I recall, Martin Luther said (and ultimately the Catholic Church agreed) that the only thing necessary for forgiveness from God was a perfect Act of Contrition. I don't know if you have to use the exact words or not, but I think the key is that God forgives, it doesn't matter at all if your victims forgive or if MetaFilter approves.
posted by RussHy at 6:10 AM on April 6, 2009


I also have some problems with this man's last-minute apologies. I suppose I have more of a problem with the way he did it. He seems, as some others have already mentioned, to have made it all about him, with little regard for how his victims would be affected. artof.mulata's comment says it much better than I can.

It reminds me of a friend of mine who belongs to Alcoholics Anonymous. I remember when he got to the step where you are supposed to ask for forgiveness for past wrongs how he agonized over whether or not some of his apologies would just be opening up old wounds and pouring salt on them. He told me he had long talks with his sponsor during which he tried to tease out when it was appropriate to open up those wounds. Would it really make things better? Would it just pile on more hurt? Was he doing it because he wanted to make amends or was he doing it because HE wanted to make HIMSELF feel better? He really struggled with it. I don't get the sense that this man went through the same sort of struggle. It seems to me like he wants to feel better about himself so he's going to do what he has to do to acheive that and screw whether or not his actions will bring more pain to the people he hurt.

I'm glad he feels bad about what he did. I feel kind of shitty for piling on a sick old man trying to make amends. But the reason IS important. The MOTIVE is important. If it's between you and god then that's where it should stay. No need for press and papers and barging in on black churches. If it's between you and the people you hurt then THEIR feelings should be what counts, not yours.
posted by lysistrata at 6:14 AM on April 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


in the eyes of God we are no better than that man at his worst

How do you know this?
posted by fullerine at 6:26 AM on April 6, 2009


Well, I find the reaction in this thread as interesting as the article itself.

Especially since this is a community that normally does better than most on the internet with struggling with complexity and nuance.

I see this asking for forgiveness thing and really feeling repentant as a gradual path, a knob like a volume control, where sometimes the changes and the realization of the depth and reach of what you've done unfolds pretty slowly. The more times he looks into the eyes of those he has wronged, hears their stories, listens to their memories and how that time in history affected them? It's like a slow drip water torture of sorts. He isn't being celebrated when he stands up in those churches. He is facing people he wronged again and again and again. I think the expressions of his discomfort with the attention in his story is interesting.

When atonement and repentance is described to happen like a light switch? Especially after decades of inflicting pain on others? Okay, maybe that can happen. But I would have a harder time believing that change can happen that quickly.
posted by jeanmari at 6:40 AM on April 6, 2009


Nothing is unforgivable if you take it to the Cross.

This is pretty much why you are so terrible, "St. Alia." You can stomp a little girl's teeth out because she's black, you can burn kittens alive, you can rape your mother and feed her to a dog, but as long as you take it to the Cross, you can enter Heaven and God's Glory and live in his guest house of gold and virgins for ever and ever.

When is Earth so hellish? Because you and your kind spend all goddamn day telling people that it doesn't matter who you hurt here, it doesn't matter whose lives you destroy, you can rape and murder with no fear of consequence as long as you repent when you're 80 years old. You encourage selfishness, you encourage hatred, you encourage violence and death and ruin because you are so mindlessly fixated on the reward of Heaven that you ignore everything your Messiah said about love and compassion and kindness in favor of the shiny reward at the end. You live in and encourage a world without consequences. And that terrifies me.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:09 AM on April 6, 2009 [7 favorites]


He is facing people he wronged again and again and again. I think the expressions of his discomfort with the attention in his story is interesting.

Yes, but it isn't just about him facing them again and again. They have to face him again and again too. And I don't see any indication that he has considered how they might be feeling about it.

The more times he looks into the eyes of those he has wronged, hears their stories, listens to their memories and how that time in history affected them? It's like a slow drip water torture of sorts.

I have a problem with this argument and I hope you don't take this as an attack because it isn't meant as one and I think your post overall is a thoughtful one (aside from the jab about the complexity and nuance of the story being missed--I think most of us are trying, here.)

The problem I have is that this sort of attitude is sort of similar to the attitude that says that people of color or other oppressed groups are supposed to educate the privileged. That they are somehow responsible for making their oppressors see that they're human after all. It puts the burden of ending oppression on to the oppressed themselves and relieves the oppressors of their responsibility. "It's not my fault that I'm a little bit racist. It's their fault for not educating me about it." Well, no. Bigotry and racism are wrong and it's your responsibility to deal with your own bigotry. Do we need dialogue? Yes, of course. But some people don't want dialogue. They want to remain comfortably free of examining their own prejudices unless a person of color confronts them with it (or unless they're staring down their own passage to a place that might not be as forgiving as they once thought.)

It's not the job of the people he hurt to tell him their stories, to make him see what he did wrong. And I think it's an unfair position to put them in and I do think he sort of strongarmed people into it in a way by taking it so public. Were the men he apologized to gracious about it? Of course they were. They had to be. Fair or not there are going to be people out there who will look to the black people he hurt and expect them to accept his apologies and forgive him. It's not right that they should have to deal with that under public scrutiny. The article makes clear that he used the press to make his initial apologies. I just feel that this should have been a private thing.

As I said, I am glad he is seeking forgiveness. I hope it is coming from a true and real place and that he makes peace with himself and those he hurt. But he could have gone about it in a better way--a way that was more sensitive to the feelings of his victims. He should be congratulated for trying but that doesn't mean that no one can criticise the way he went about it.
posted by lysistrata at 7:24 AM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


From "the Rake", by Townes Van Zandt:
I was takin' my pride in the pleasures I'd known
I laughed and thought I'd be forgiven
but my laughter turned 'round eyes blazing and
said my friend, we're holdin' a wedding
I buried my face but it spoke once again
the night to the day we're a bindin'
and now the dark air is like fire on my skin
and even the moonlight is blinding
posted by notsnot at 7:28 AM on April 6, 2009


who could have a problem with the fact that there is one less racist in the world. surley that's a good thing. but, i think that lysistrata nailed it.

this guy announcing what he did is scratching the scab off a fresh wound. if he's sorry he should get right with himself and his god and just stfu. he's one of recent histories bad guys - if he's sincere, great, but ultimately it's a case of too little, too late, too public, too soon
posted by askmehow at 7:37 AM on April 6, 2009


wow, lysistrata you are now officially talking for both of us. i agree with you completely and you are saying it so much better than i can.

cheers!
posted by askmehow at 7:42 AM on April 6, 2009


I think one of the interesting things about his story is that it's not some sort of "Dark past" catching up with him. Less than a decade ago he left his own church because they encouraged participation by blacks. He was still shouting racial epithets at his son's black friend. He was still trying to block the local cemetery from burying blacks so his parents wouldn't have to share ground with negros, and trying to prevent black families from buying houses in his neighborhood.

Then he got sick and realized he was dying. Then he started thinking about the afterlife and told a friend he was afraid of going to hell. So he started apologizing to people.
"I wasn't ever scared of no one, or nothing," says Wilson, still a tall, strapping man despite his illness.

"You were scared of the ghost of that black man you saw rocking in the chair," his wife reminds him, describing the nightmare several years ago when he furiously beat his fists into thin air.

Wilson narrows his eyes and scowls at her.

...

Wilson finishes his liver and okra and turns on his flat-screen television. He says he's tired of talking about the past. He just wants to watch his favorite true-crime show, "Nancy Grace," and catch the latest on the Florida toddler whose mother has been charged with her murder.

Wilson says he feels like crying when he thinks about the little girl and her terrible fate. "There's just so much bad in the world," he says, shaking his head. "Makes you wonder where it all comes from."
posted by verb at 7:46 AM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Umm. There is a lot of anger in this thread, and most of it is directed at christianity and the way people who were brought up as christians look at the world. The poor guy just seems to be in the crossfire.

What happened isn't that he's afraid of the invisible sky-god. What happened is that he had a crisis of conscience, and the only way he could make sense of it was to put it in terms of his religion.

He's haunted (literally!), by the things he's done, and he wants to die at peace. His faith acted as his guide... which is what it's supposed to do. Going to church gave him what he needed to understand what he was going through, and the guidance to understand what he needed to do next.

While some are insulted at the notion he should apologize and seek forgiveness, it seems like more than a few of his victims are pleased to receive the apologies, and happy to forgive. He also serves as an example that it's never too late to change for the better.

So, this is one instance where christianity actually puts its money where its mouth is, and allows a suffering soul to ease himself - everyone's a sinner in some way at some point, and everyone can atone for their sins.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:04 AM on April 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


He's haunted (literally!), by the things he's done, and he wants to die at peace. His faith acted as his guide... which is what it's supposed to do.

yeah his faith really guided him when he was kicking the shit out of a kid; great job, faith

So, this is one instance where christianity actually puts its money where its mouth is, and allows a suffering soul to ease himself - everyone's a sinner in some way at some point, and everyone can atone for their sins.

sometimes people touch themselves at night which when you think about it is just as bad as kicking the shit out of a kid

all sins are equally bad

this guy is a goddamn hero
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:09 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


They have to face him again and again too. And I don't see any indication that he has considered how they might be feeling about it.

Because the article didn't cover this angle at all, as well as being somewhat histronically and quite clumsily written. I feel like a lot of people are seizing gaps in information and the very leading tone in this article as evidence that this man should be burned at the stake for offering an apology.

The article says "he was scheduled to speak at a black church." It doesn't say that he has been barging in demanding to tell his story. It is possible, in fact, that THEY asked HIM to speak. This is in fact implied in the next paragraph with "all the demands."

And I think it's an unfair position to put them in and I do think he sort of strongarmed people into it in a way by taking it so public. Were the men he apologized to gracious about it? Of course they were. They had to be. Fair or not there are going to be people out there who will look to the black people he hurt and expect them to accept his apologies and forgive him. It's not right that they should have to deal with that under public scrutiny. The article makes clear that he used the press to make his initial apologies. I just feel that this should have been a private thing.


The article also notes that not all of the men have agreed to graciously accept his apology. And it's not clear that he took it public. We know that he read the article about the Freedom Nine and contacted the paper, who "facilitated" him meeting with the nine in the restaurant. That's not necessarily publishing a full-page ad then sat back and waiting for the kudos to flow in. We don't know exactly what that means, actually. As for his later "well-publicized" apology to Lewis...what, you think the old man called the local teevee station and asked for it to be broadcast?

lysistrata, I used your quotes because they're more thoughtful and less inflammatory explanations than some of the comments upthread. Don't want you to think I'm singling you out for argument.

As for how salvation works...well, it's a little more complicated than contrition being a magic get out of hell card. That some Christians simplistically frame it this way does not make it a correct interpretation.
posted by desuetude at 8:09 AM on April 6, 2009


Because the article didn't cover this angle at all, as well as being somewhat histronically and quite clumsily written. I feel like a lot of people are seizing gaps in information and the very leading tone in this article as evidence that this man should be burned at the stake for offering an apology.

That's true. I might be projecting my own issues into those gaps. Something doesn't sit right with me about it though, is all.

lysistrata, I used your quotes because they're more thoughtful and less inflammatory explanations than some of the comments upthread. Don't want you to think I'm singling you out for argument.

No worries. I knew when I posted that someone might take issue with what I wrote. I appreciate your thoughtful comments.
posted by lysistrata at 8:15 AM on April 6, 2009


And I think it's an unfair position to put them in and I do think he sort of strongarmed people into it in a way by taking it so public.

I think you make good points, lysistrata, and I agree with you overall. I'm not trying to be an apologist for this guy. He's not a good guy. He's someone I find it easy to really be disgusted with.

I don't know if I've read that he's strongarmed anyone in that article. The congressman and the men from the lunch counter could have declined meeting with him. Some did. The churches could have declined to invite him. He's not showing up there uninvited.

Did he start out on this atonement thing because he was scared? The article seems to imply that he did. And that he is admitting to his fear in public? That seems like a pretty big deal, especially when you read the parts that verb has quoted above. When he listened to his wife talking about his fear, he's angry at her for saying it aloud.

Does it matter that it was kicked off because he was scared?

Does all of our remorse start off with a hint of fear (social shunning, etc.) and progress to true empathy and remorse?

Will it eventually progress over time beyond fear to understanding WHY what he did was reprehensible and hurt his victims beyond a bruised face or a soiled coat? Maybe. Maybe not. But now there is an opportunity for that which wasn't there before when he was defensively brandishing an AK-47 at his neighbor. I don't think I would buy his apology until he did progress all the way to empathy and action. But I think we are seeing an unfolding story (at least I hope so) versus the end of the story.
posted by jeanmari at 8:16 AM on April 6, 2009


Umm. There is a lot of anger in this thread, and most of it is directed at christianity and the way people who were brought up as christians look at the world. The poor guy just seems to be in the crossfire.
No. It's directed at the idea that this man is admirable because he got a case of the nerves when face-to-face with the afterlife. He's not "a poor guy caught in the crossfire" -- he beat civil rights protesters. He tried to get black families kicked out of their homes. His own wife was frightened of him. Then he realized he was dying and decided that he didn't want the burden of hate weighing him down.
While some are insulted at the notion he should apologize and seek forgiveness, it seems like more than a few of his victims are pleased to receive the apologies, and happy to forgive. He also serves as an example that it's never too late to change for the better.
I am not offended that he has sought forgiveness. I disagree, though, that he can serve as an example of anything save Occam's Razor. Is what he's doing bad? No. It's a nice Touched By An Angel kind of story, but under all the fluff it's the story of an old, dying, powerless man who wants to be escape the choices he made when he did have the power to hurt others. His comments are not about the harm he did to others -- they're about the terrible burden he carried as someone who was so hateful.
So, this is one instance where christianity actually puts its money where its mouth is, and allows a suffering soul to ease himself - everyone's a sinner in some way at some point, and everyone can atone for their sins.
Christianity allows violent sociopaths to ease their consciences after a lifetime hurting people. Got it.
posted by verb at 8:28 AM on April 6, 2009 [9 favorites]


I don't know if I've read that he's strongarmed anyone in that article. The congressman and the men from the lunch counter could have declined meeting with him. Some did. The churches could have declined to invite him. He's not showing up there uninvited

I think it's a fine line. I agree that no one was forced but the fact that it all occurred so publicly did place a burden on the men he asked to meet with. Is someone out there judging their reactions in a harsh light? Maybe, maybe not. But I still think it put them in an awkward position. I don't know. I might be splitting hairs here. I think both you and desuetude make good points and I agree that I might be reading more into this than I should. I just got an uncomfortable feeling when reading the story and I'm trying to work out why.

I think we are seeing an unfolding story (at least I hope so) versus the end of the story.

I hope so, too. I really do.
posted by lysistrata at 8:32 AM on April 6, 2009


The poor guy just seems to be in the crossfire.

That's pretty much the most loathsome example of MeFi moral relativity I've ever seen. A+.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:32 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


It seems what bothers people the most is the media coverage.

Setting aside the sincerity question, maybe the reporting is a good thing. Maybe a few other racist dicks will read about it and likewise make a change.

Crazier things have happened.
posted by bwg at 8:43 AM on April 6, 2009


MetaFilter: loathsome moral relativity
posted by bwg at 8:46 AM on April 6, 2009


Oh, I agree that something doesn't sit right,lysistrata. I just feel like this article is really manipulative and selective in quoting to attempt a sort of mood.

Why do we only hear about his terrible burden? Well, we don't know if he was asked, or if he was capable of explaining, any further insight. His ignorance (nicely illuminated by verb's highlighted quoting) is stunning. More damming is that he wasn't even raised racist, but apparently fell into it too boost his toughguy act? He's not particularly smart or articulate, as far as I can tell from this limited material.

He serves as a example that offering an apology is the right thing to do. He serves as an example to other casually brutal racists that their smugness about their place in heaven may be incorrect.

I can tell ignorant elderly white racist Baptist that their views are not right with God until I'm blue in the face, but i doubt that the opinion of a stridently liberal agnostic is going to have much impact. Wilson floundering about trying to atone for his sins is one more little crack in the wall. That's why he's getting hate mail from the KKK, and that's why strangers are thanking him.
posted by desuetude at 8:48 AM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wilson floundering about trying to atone for his sins is one more little crack in the wall.

This is what I'd like to believe. Also, while not all his past victims accepted his apologies (which is understandable), for those that did, I hope they got some peace from it. While nothing approaching what Wilson's victims went through has ever happened to me, I do know that it feels good to forgive--and for that, what actually happens to Wilson (God forgives him or doesn't, he goes to heaven or hell, Wilson himself gets some peace) doesn't really matter. I care less about whether he gets peace than if at least some of his victims do. For that--as long as it's not outweighed by extra pain for any victims that would rather he kept his trap shut and left them alone--his apologies are worth something, at least, and to me is more important than what Wilson does or doesn't get out of it.
posted by Pax at 9:16 AM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


When is Earth so hellish? Because you and your kind spend all goddamn day telling people that it doesn't matter who you hurt here, it doesn't matter whose lives you destroy, you can rape and murder with no fear of consequence as long as you repent when you're 80 years old.

that's not what they teach in china and india and they can be just as hellish - but never mind - what better alternative do you have to offer those who've done things that are wrong and want to repent? you speak of consequences so i assume you're in favor of some kind of punishment, even for those who repent when they're 80 years old - how does that make the earth less hellish?

why should anyone change their mind about what they've done if they're going to be offered hatred anyway?

what do you, optimus chyme, have to offer this man that is better than what the christians offer, and how do you expect to persuade others like him to change if all you can offer is your despising him because you feel he's earned your despite

where's your alternative?
posted by pyramid termite at 9:44 AM on April 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


Somehow I like that after 2000 years, the story of Jesus and the one robber crucified with him is still shocking.

I expect that hardly anybody here, me included, understands how painful and shaming it must be to go before people that you've wronged like that and acknowledge what you've done and how awful it was, to their faces, under their glares. Even if you know that they're not going to physically harm you.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:47 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


In case I need to add it, of course it should be shaming, and the shame or pain he feels is entirely appropriate.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:49 AM on April 6, 2009


what do you, optimus chyme, have to offer this man that is better than what the christians offer
Optimus Chyme never said he was in the business of comforting people who spent their lives abusing others.
posted by verb at 9:50 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Then he realized he was dying and decided that he didn't want the burden of hate weighing him down.

This is a good thing, for whatever the reason. It wouldn't be a burden if he hadn't come to realize he was wrong. Lots of racist thugs go to their grave without apology or regret. If he had a clear conscience, or flat out didn't care about the evil he did, he wouldn't have given a second thought about meeting his maker. He's not the most enlightened guy, so he needed the framework of religion to realize his regret and the new understanding of the evil that he did. Lots of people look to the heavens to see what's inside themselves - and it is in no way uniquely christian, and it does not diminish the authenticity of someone's change in convictions.

Christianity allows violent sociopaths to ease their consciences after a lifetime hurting people. Got it.

That's a pretty hateful thing to say.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:02 AM on April 6, 2009


Optimus Chyme never said he was in the business of comforting people who spent their lives abusing others.

he's complaining about it - as far as i'm concerned, if he's going to complain, he needs to offer a better idea
posted by pyramid termite at 10:13 AM on April 6, 2009


That's a pretty hateful thing to say.

Maybe, maybe not. But it's not inaccurate.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:20 AM on April 6, 2009


Christianity allows violent sociopaths to ease their consciences after a lifetime hurting people. Got it.

That's a pretty hateful thing to say.
No, it's a sad, regretful thing. It's something that I've watched happen several times in the lives of people I cared for.

Sociopaths find ways to exploit and hurt others. They find ways to justify it. And when they see consequences coming, they scramble for ways to avoid them. There are, of course, many ways for violent sociopaths to justify their actions and escape the consequences of their behavior. This is only one of them.

His faith and/or the faith of those around him did not stop him from abusing and attacking those he despised. It was insufficient to protect anyone from him. Now, when the abuser needs comfort, Christianity has something to offer. That's the story you're telling me. That is not all that Christianity is, of course, but it strikes me as staggering naivete to call the observation "hateful."
posted by verb at 10:28 AM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


That's the story you're telling me.

Now, while I was raised Episcopalian, which isn't the most high-and-mighty bunch of Holy Rollers out there, and I didn't really pay all that much attention in Sunday School, and haven't been a churchgoer since I was 16 or so, but I'm pretty sure that it's absolutely not the story I'm telling you.

And insisting that it is a very hateful thing utterly lacking in perspective or respect for your fellow human beings.

If you're an evangelistic atheist, then I suppose it's OK. Lord knows there are Christian and Muslim and What-have-you fundies that take great pleasure in throwing their belief system in other's faces, and make big shows of sneering disdain for anyone who believes differently. Why shouldn't atheists get in on the fun?

(Sweet Zombie Christ, what has it come to that I have to stick up for people who believe in a Sky God that helps Tom Brady score touchdowns?)
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:47 AM on April 6, 2009


what do you, optimus chyme, have to offer this man that is better than what the christians offer

He has done nothing good; his life has been a waste and a crime; I offer him nothing except my hope that his pain is unbearable, indescribable.

how do you expect to persuade others like him to change

Extinction, prison, exile, the knowledge that they are universally hated: it does us no good to have another generation of backwards subhuman trash living their immoral, worthless lives for 80 years only to repent and be held up as heroes by the likes of you.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:47 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have never once heard any religious instructor or minister or priest say anything even remotely like, "Go out and sin all you want, because it doesn't matter as long as you say, 'I'm sorry' before you die." In fact they usually go to pains to explain that that interpretation is wrong; it totally misrepresents the concept of atonement and forgiveness.

Maybe religion was not the cause of his repugnant behavior. Maybe religion allowed him to finally see that it was repugnant.

The best line of the article: "McCleod went too, saying it was not for him to judge another man's heart." What a class act.
posted by txvtchick at 10:58 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bookhouse, that is my favorite passage of all time and a reason why "nigger" should never be redacted from Huckleberry Finn.

i understand the comments about this guy not being serious, especially those from artof.mulate and Pope Guilty; but St. Alia of the Bunnies made a good point about our cynicism.

yeah, the guy is a sociopath, but most religions use sociopathy as a means to controlling their herd and exacting Power. it's why you can have churches proclaiming whiteness as the symbol of the true divine or why some guys would blast themselves to pieces hope for all those heavenly virgins.

it is a sad statement that it is exactly this kind of theater of the repented that allows for so many so-called christians to get away with their sinning, some literally even with murder. there's only the consequence of going to heaven or hell. all those years of suffering wrought? just a bump on the way to divinity.

it's not just the sinner we have to blame --it is the very foundation of our culture and "civilization", along with all of us, that needs to change.
posted by liza at 10:58 AM on April 6, 2009


Now, while I was raised Episcopalian, which isn't the most high-and-mighty bunch of Holy Rollers out there, and I didn't really pay all that much attention in Sunday School, and haven't been a churchgoer since I was 16 or so, but I'm pretty sure that it's absolutely not the story I'm telling you.
Perhaps you should listen to your own story, then. We have here a man who spent his entire adult life abusing those around him, and even seeking out people to abuse because of their skin color. He takes great pride in this, and his family lived in fear of him. Now, when he's an old man, he realizes he's dying and he's afraid that he's been a bad person and will go to hell. He talks to a friend.

The friend says, "Say you're sorry and God will forgive you."

And he says, "OK." And apologizes.

That is profound and touching. And it is also a big, blinking sign to a sociopath that says, "Sweet, I'm filing THAT one away for later." If you do not understand that you have either never lived with, worked with, or known a sociopath. And chances are, you've never worked in a church. they are capable of profound cruelty and malice, as well as profound sorrow -- the moment they face consequences. You can clarify all you want that doing evil with the intent of repenting later is gaming the system. But it works! Here's a guy who fucked up people for decades. And then he got scared and said, "My bad!" and now he's an inspiration to us all, apparently. An inspiration whose friends tell him he's going to Heaven. That's the story of the Gospel.

I have no problem with him apologizing, but the statements I hear in this thread are staggering. He's an innocent old man caught in the middle. He's a hero. He's an inspiration.

He is none of those things, and the heroes in this story are the people who endured his attacks and abuse and went on to change the world for the better. On the balance, yes, it is better that he apologized than not. But even a Christian must face the fact that his apologies did nothing to atone for his sins; it took an innocent man being tortured and killed in his place.
If you're an evangelistic atheist, then I suppose it's OK. Lord knows there are Christian and Muslim and What-have-you fundies that take great pleasure in throwing their belief system in other's faces, and make big shows of sneering disdain for anyone who believes differently. Why shouldn't atheists get in on the fun?
I spent decades of my life spreading the gospel of Christ. It is one of my single greatest regrets. This is not sneering disdain. This is outrage that an abuser is being called a hero.
posted by verb at 11:19 AM on April 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


He has done nothing good; his life has been a waste and a crime; I offer him nothing except my hope that his pain is unbearable, indescribable.

then you're being just being mean and spiteful

Extinction, prison, exile, the knowledge that they are universally hated: it does us no good to have another generation of backwards subhuman trash living their immoral, worthless lives for 80 years only to repent and be held up as heroes by the likes of you.

i don't hold him up as a hero at all - just someone who made the great mistake of seeing other people as "backwards subhuman trash living their immoral, worthless lives" before he realized how wrong that was

you have more in common with him than you think you do
posted by pyramid termite at 11:24 AM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sport was drunkenly releasing flying squirrels in the bedroom where his young wife slept. Or dragging her to a black speakeasy after a day of catfishing, to show off his skills dancing shag.

I felt like I was reading a James Lee Burke novel for a bit there. It's hard to believe that people like that exist. Stupid motherfucker.


Eh, remind me to tell you the story sometime of when "two-pockets" came squealing into my brother's used car lot, slammed on the brakes, and leapt out of the car with a rabid squirrel firmly attached to his arm by the teeth.

...what's that? Why is he called "two pockets"? Oh, because of the 2nd pair of pants he secretly wears until his outer pair of pants, so he can hide spending money from his wife.

Yeah, there's people like that all over the place.

As for the fellow in the article, all I can say is: it doesn't seem very relevant how anyone reading the story here feels about this guy. But I know what it's like to be confronted by someone who's done you a terrible wrong, and have them implore you, sincerely, for forgiveness. It's a powerful thing, and your reaction to it may surprise you one day.
posted by the bricabrac man at 11:28 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


i don't hold him up as a hero at all - just someone who made the great mistake of seeing other people as "backwards subhuman trash living their immoral, worthless lives" before he realized how wrong that was

you have more in common with him than you think you do
posted by pyramid termite at 11:24 AM on April 6


"Intolerance of intolerance is the worst intolerance of all."
- pyramid termite, John's Big Bathroom Reader of the Dumbest Goddamn Things You Ever Heard
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:32 AM on April 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


Extinction, prison, exile, the knowledge that they are universally hated: it does us no good to have another generation of backwards subhuman trash living their immoral, worthless lives for 80 years only to repent and be held up as heroes by the likes of you.

You sound kind like a racist spewing hate.
posted by RussHy at 11:53 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


yeah I'm exactly like a racist except that i hate people for what they do - stomping a kid's face because he happens to be black, for instance - instead of hating them for the color of their skin

but other than that yeah exactly like a racist; brilliant observation
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:57 AM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well you got the hate down, keep working on it and you'll get the rest.
posted by RussHy at 12:11 PM on April 6, 2009


He's an innocent old man caught in the middle. He's a hero. He's an inspiration.

I want to be clear I hold none of these opinions.

I believe he is a man who did some terrible things, and now (finally?) realizes he did those terrible things, and that it is simply better for him to apologize and try to atone to a tiny, tiny degree than to not.

It's better to apologize, than not apologize.

That's it. Nothing more.

How anyone can quarrel with that single point is just perplexing to me. Not stupid, not hateful, just perplexing.

And really, we need to save the guessing about whether he is being sincere or not, because there is obviously no way any of us can know, and it is just further obscuring the issue.

Like I said, if his promise of a magic unicorn in heaven makes him try to do the right thing here on earth, isn't that is a net benefit to everyone involved?
posted by Ynoxas at 12:13 PM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


"I'm sorry doesn't put fingers back on the hand Marge!" - Homer Simpson
posted by Max Power at 12:27 PM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's better to apologize, than not apologize.

That's it. Nothing more.

How anyone can quarrel with that single point is just perplexing to me. Not stupid, not hateful, just perplexing.
AFAIK, no one has quarreled with that single point. I concur that it is better!
posted by verb at 12:35 PM on April 6, 2009


Man, I can't believe his wife stayed married to him for 49 years! He took her to that black speakeasy and scared her silly, and then he was a violent racist who made his son uncomfortable for the friends that he had. I know it's a different generation and all (divorce probably wasn't ok), but she must have had some life. Either she agreed with some of his beliefs, or she must have had an incredibly hard time living with him.
posted by bluefly at 1:20 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm unclear on how permitting somebody who devoted their life to brutality, injustice, and hate to feel good about himself is a selling point for Christianity.

"God" cannot offer forgiveness. Only his victims may. If that's painful for him, well, tough.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:45 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I offer him nothing except my hope that his pain is unbearable, indescribable.
What a brilliant use of hope. An eye for an eye, right? And since there's no eyes around, we'll take a tooth.

Seriously? Better that someone be punished than be enlightened about the error of their ways? Isn't the latter the whole point of the former?
I have no problem with him apologizing, but the statements I hear in this thread are staggering. He's an innocent old man caught in the middle. He's a hero. He's an inspiration.
Innocent? No. Hero? Absolutely fucking not. Inspiration? Only in that even racist fuckwads have the capacity to see the evil of their deeds and attempt to change their ways.

No one here is saying that he's made up for his heinous acts. These things don't get made up for. Just that it's better that he apologized than went to his grave convinced of the permissibility of his actions. Or, what Ynoxas said.
AFAIK, no one has quarreled with that single point.
1 2 3 4 5
posted by DLWM at 1:53 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't care if he's "enlightened" or not. He caused massive suffering in this world and thinks there shouldn't be any consequences. Fuck. That.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:59 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't care if he's "enlightened" or not. He caused massive suffering in this world and thinks there shouldn't be any consequences. Fuck. That.

But there wouldn't be any consequences. No temporal ones (apparently), perhaps because of a Statute of Limitations, perhaps because of the limitations of justice where he lives. So it's only spiritual consequences that are at issue. You seem to think he ought to go to Hell. Which is all very well, but I suspect you don't actually believe in Hell. So you're upset because why exactly?
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:54 PM on April 6, 2009


I don't think he or anyone "ought" to go to Hell; there is nothing that any person could ever do to deserve an eternity of suffering. I think he ought to feel the pain of remorse and regret and guilt over the pain and suffering he's caused, and I'm upset that his religion is giving him a way to feel good about his moral state despite his having spent his entire life causing suffering and pain. If one can deserve to feel anything, he deserves to feel remorse and psychological pain, and I find it repulsive that religion is giving him a way out of it by letting briefly feel fear- until he feels that he's done enough to alleviate that fear. Religion is, here, giving him an out when I feel that he doesn't deserve one.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:14 PM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


But there wouldn't be any consequences. No temporal ones (apparently), perhaps because of a Statute of Limitations, perhaps because of the limitations of justice where he lives. So it's only spiritual consequences that are at issue. You seem to think he ought to go to Hell. Which is all very well, but I suspect you don't actually believe in Hell. So you're upset because why exactly?
posted by Joe in Australia 17 minutes ago


Because some otherwise intelligent people are falling all over themselves to suck this guy's cock for some half-assed apology he doesn't actually mean. He was a monster for fifty years and now he's an inspiration? He should still be shunned, vilified, ignored. He doesn't deserve forgiveness.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:16 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Repentance is one thing. Forgiveness is another. Both of them are extremely complex issues, and both are SEPERATE issues.

St. Alia: you invoked Jesus writing on the ground with his finger in here. The difference, though, is that we were not preparing to stone this man, we were grumbling about him. All Jesus did with that act is keep people from stoning the adulteress. He probaby wasn't able to stop them from grumbing as they walked away, "okay, fine, but I don't have to LIKE her." It takes a LOT for a human being to really come to the point of forgiving another human being for what they did.

At least, it SHOULD. Because real forgiveness is VERY, VERY hard. It also does not dismiss what the other person did in any way -- you can forgive someone an ill turn, but still be very aware of what they did and let that affect your dealings with them. In forgiving someone, you as a person also need to be truly done with the emotions about the event that were caused in you -- you need to be well and truly done being angry or sad or offended, you need to really feel like your position has been heard and understood. You need to make peace with what that person did, and the truth of what that person did.

Personally, that is why I tend to distrust instant forgiveness -- "oh, he said he's sorry, whee! That's okay, then!" Reacting in that fashion doesn't even truly acknowledge the depth of the confessor's repentance. Treating his apology for his racism that lightly makes it sound like you're equating his sins with something as trivial as having stepped on your toe. And I think that is what people are reacting to in here.

Not all forgiveness is going to be joyful -- not all of us can do that. And not all forgiveness completely gets you off the hook in the eyes of your fellow man.

To wit: it took me a couple months, but I can truly say that, after having lived through a front-row seat to 9/11 here in New York, I forgave Osama Bin Laden. I don't mean that if he came up to me and said he was sorry for what he'd done, I'd just chuck him under the chin and say, "d'awwww, that's okay!" By "forgiveness", I mean that I came to a place where I realized that spending my energy hating him and raging at him was costing me, and I just let go. I do still think that, if caught, he should be held accountable for his actions, but I no longer want to flay him alive or mount his head on the top of the Empire State Building the way I did in those first few days. That, too, is forgiveness -- letting go of the need for vengeance.

But that is a difficult place for people to come to. It's easy to blithely say you're sorry and easy to blithely say someone is forgiven. It's easy to say you're sorry, it's easy to say you're forgiven, just because you think that's what you're supposed to say.

And that, I think, is why so many here are skeptical of the man's repentance. He's not really repenting because he has had a change of heart about another race. He is repenting because "God said I'm supposed to like them, so I'd better start." That's...a little simplistic. About as simplistic as "Jesus said we should forgive each other, so I'd better forgive you." I'd be a little skeptical of the sincerity of such an apology, myself.

...I feel like I should again recommend to everyone the book I recommend when discussing apologies and forgiveness: The Sunflower, by Simon Wiesenthal. It is a profoundly thought-provoking book with a number of different ideas about apology and forgiveness. It starts with an essay by Wiesenthal, relating a story from when he was in Auschwitz, and had been on a work crew at a hospital when a nurse pulled him aside; a mortally wounded Nazi soldier had asked her to bring him "one of the Jews outside." She led him to a room where this soldier lay, and he told Wiesenthal that he wanted to confess for his actions -- but rather than confessing to a priest, the soldier had wanted to confess to a Jew, and asked Wiesenthal if, as a Jew, he could forgive him. Wiesenthal listened to his story and then, not knowing what he should do, left silently. In the camp that night he discussed the incident with some of the other men; some thought he should have forgiven him, as a last act of charity to a dying man, while others thought he should not have done so, as only a priest could have offered the kind of forgiveness the soldier had been looking for. Wiesenthal ends the essay by asking the reader "what would you have done?"

...And the rest of the book is a series of essays from different thinkers weighing in from a wide range of perspectives, informed by different religions, political schools of thought, and human perspective. Some in the book would have forgiven that Nazi, and would have forgiven Wilson. Others would not. What the book proves, to me, is that forgiveness, GENUINE forgiveness, is a much deeper, personal thing than I think most of us realize.

And I think genuine repentance is the same thing. I'll forgive Wilson, but more out of a realization that my condemning an old man and wasting rage on him isn't going to accomplish anything. But that doesn't mean I'm going to embrace him as a brother, either. I am skeptical about the sincerity of his repentance, but I'm leaving that to God to decide; in the meantime, though, I have my own mind about the matter, and I'll be acting accordingly, by just avoiding him. ...That, too, is forgiveness.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:23 PM on April 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's better to apologize, than not apologize.

That's it. Nothing more.

How anyone can quarrel with that single point is just perplexing to me. Not stupid, not hateful, just perplexing.


I understand your puzzlement, so here's an explanation. You're right that, in most cases, its better to apologize than to not apologize. Apologizing is a sign of a number of things: that someone recognizes that they have done something wrong, that they have caused harm to others, and/or that they take responsibility for their actions and the consequences of their actions. Usually, the apologizer feels some one or a combination of these things. But in some cases the apologizer does not, or is apologizing for some other reason. And it is in these cases that I think it is better not to apologize than to apologize. For example:

- When someone is apologizing in order to avoid taking responsibility for their actions ("I feel really sorry about running that red light. Please don't give me a ticket.")

- When someone is apologizing because they have been convinced that it is the "right thing to do" but don't believe that they have done anything wrong ("I'm sorry that you were upset by what I said [even though I still don't think it was hurtful]").

- When it is a transparent attempt to extract forgiveness and make the apologizer feel better, without making any restitution or bringing the apologizer to justice ("I feel really bad about hitting you, honey. I'm just torn up about it. Please tell me you forgive me so that we can just forget about the whole thing").

There are plenty more examples that I haven't enumerated. The point is that apologies that are self-serving, manipulative, or offered to convince someone to let the apologizer off the hook are no better - and may be worse, because their goal is to manipulate the apologizee [if that's actually a word] - than no apology at all.
posted by googly at 3:58 PM on April 6, 2009


It's kind of funny how, no matter how much a poster knows about the Church, if they do not like the church it means they do not understand it. Your Scotsmen are the real ones, after all.

I was responding to a caricature of Christianity that said that (implicitly all) Christians believe that all one has to do is be baptized and then one goes to heaven. As far as I know, there is no sect of Christianity that teaches that. I suppose it is possible that you can find the website of some obscure little denomination that does, but none of the big ones do: not Catholics, none of the mainlines like Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, UCC, or even, despite what you might think of their name, the Baptists, whether Southern, American, or some other denomination, and not, as far as I know, any of the increasingly mainstream Evangelical groups.

My response to that caricature was that one could do some reading and learn why it was wrong, that there are established doctrines about that question that are followed by the various groups that might help one understand why it was a pretty ridiculous thing to say. That is in no way a No True Scotsman argument. It is perhaps a No Scotsman or Irishman or Even Any Guy From Any Other Country argument.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:03 PM on April 6, 2009


You live in and encourage a world without consequences.

Not at all, we have to live with the consequences of what we do, here. (See the story of King David after his adultery with Bathsheba...his sin had consequenses that affected not only him but his children in terrible ways, on and on.)

You focus on someone escaping Hell who doesn't deserve it.

But you fail to realize that NO ONE HAS EVER OR WILL EVER DESERVE ANYTHING BUT HELL.

That is why what Jesus did was so astoundingly incredible. That is how powerful the Grace of God is. And that is why it is such a damnedable thing when someone rejects that Grace.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:29 PM on April 6, 2009


The Bible also teaches that the merciful will obtain mercy. I'm sure the opposite is true; which is why I don't envy certain posters on this thread.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:37 PM on April 6, 2009


Because some otherwise intelligent people are falling all over themselves to suck this guy's cock for some half-assed apology he doesn't actually mean. He was a monster for fifty years and now he's an inspiration?

Could you point me to the cock-sucking? Unless you have a more more ambivalent view of the goodness of cock-sucking, I'm not seeing anything that would qualify. Maybe some chaste cheek-kisses from a few responses. But no fellatio.

I think that we're not all using inspiration in the same way. I'm not humming schlocky 80s pop ballads here, I'm saying that he can inspire people to consider the possibility of rethinking their hate. You don't have to be a good person to be an inspiration. In fact, despicable people work pretty fucking well as forces of inspiration.
posted by desuetude at 6:20 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


St. Bunny et alia, what rankles this non-christian a bit is how important this man's deathbed apology seems to you. He has said the magic words, and is now warmly embraced into the narrative of forgiveness and absolution. It doesn't bother me that he could be "playing" you, as others have suggested, since I do not believe in the afterlife, and I do not begrudge where anyone else places their affections. What bothers me is the suggestion that his apology has any meaning in the public, non-religious space. He is a very bad man. Is apologizing better than not apologizing? To you, I understand, yes. But you are blending your private, religious beliefs and broader morality.
posted by ~ at 6:33 PM on April 6, 2009


Well, I also come at this as being a Southerner descended from people almost this hate filled, and knowing that even if you want to put this down to a simple pure fear of hell fire, this turnaround is pretty amazing. Even if it isn't one hundred percent "bona fide" .

Because there ain't much more ingrained and stubborn as a good old fashioned southern racist old white man.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:17 PM on April 6, 2009


What bothers me is the suggestion that his apology has any meaning in the public non-religious space.

You are being presumptuous in assuming that you set the standard for what has meaning and what doesn't in the "public, non-religious space".

...what rankles this non-christian a bit is how important this man's deathbed apology seems to you...You are blending your private, religious beliefs and broader morality.


People apologize, and are judged on the basis of those apologies, every day in situations that have nothing to do with religion. In judicial matters, business errors, political speech blunders, relationships, etc. If his apology has no meaning to you, no problem. But it shouldn't be a problem if it holds meaning for someone else, either, whether that meaning stems from religion or anything else.
posted by txvtchick at 7:22 PM on April 6, 2009


NO ONE HAS EVER OR WILL EVER DESERVE ANYTHING BUT HELL.

That's pretty jacked up. I create something faulty then make it feel bad for being faulty, then scare the shit out of it and make it revere me for giving it the chance to not be crushed by me.

I take something and put it in a world of hurt and pain. I tell it it is faulty and bad and evil. I make it worship me for fear I will kill it, rape it, destroy it. And if it loves me hard enough, maybe I'll let it come inside and work in the kitchen instead of out back out there picking cotton in the blazing noon day sun, the fiery heat making sweat drip into the lines of whipcracked skin.

But for now, fear me. Fear me, you ungrateful, faulty piece of shit. You will never deserve anything but hell.

Sorry lady. My ancestors already saw where that road went. So if you'll pardon me, let me convey a message they told me in their eyes as they died, in their spirits as they sung, and in their hearts as they slaved away. It's something I try to be thankful for each day as I walk freely upon this earth and travel with rights from city to city.

Fuck that.
posted by cashman at 7:37 PM on April 6, 2009 [6 favorites]


People apologize, and are judged on the basis of those apologies, every day in situations that have nothing to do with religion. ... If his apology has no meaning to you, no problem. But it shouldn't be a problem if it holds meaning for someone else, either.

This apology has gotten the religious treatment in this thread. It is galling that this bigot should get to turn his feeble apology into a religious narrative because some christians get so durned excited about deathbed contrition.
posted by ~ at 7:56 PM on April 6, 2009


Why is it galling?
posted by txvtchick at 8:10 PM on April 6, 2009


Why is it galling?

because the people who find it galling have nothing more to offer than hate and spite and they know that's an inadequate response - they know that they can be right as rain about their social and political beliefs and yet they will not be able to persuade their enemies, because they have nothing to give to them - they rail against the idea of someone fearing eternal punishment enough to repent of what he's done and then turn around and say there's nothing he can do to ever reduce their loathing - which sounds like an eternal punishment to me

what hypocrisy

---

"Intolerance of intolerance is the worst intolerance of all."
- pyramid termite, John's Big Bathroom Reader of the Dumbest Goddamn Things You Ever Heard


i wasn't talking about "intolerance" - you can be as intolerant of it as you like

i was talking about a human being - one that you repeatedly are compelled to dehumanize, first as subhuman, then as the embodiment of an abstract idea you loathe

i thought humanists were supposed to deal with each other as humans, which would mean not making me into a sock puppet to say things i didn't say, and not treating others as mere concepts you don't like

or aren't you a practicing humanist?

---
"God" cannot offer forgiveness.

you do not get to speak for beings you consider imaginary

this has been a revealing and educational thread - in spite of all your self-proclaimed righteousness and your political correctness and your social consciences, some of you have no hope to offer those who might change their minds and admit they were wrong

it ain't going to work that way

change it or change nothing

bye
posted by pyramid termite at 8:45 PM on April 6, 2009


But you fail to realize that NO ONE HAS EVER OR WILL EVER DESERVE ANYTHING BUT HELL.

You are a monster and so is anyone who believes this. You sincerely and literally believe that human beings deserve to be tortured for eternity simply for the crime of existing. There is nothing I nor anyone could say that could possibly be worse than this. You are not in any sense a decent person.


because the people who find it galling have nothing more to offer than hate and spite and they know that's an inadequate response - they know that they can be right as rain about their social and political beliefs and yet they will not be able to persuade their enemies, because they have nothing to give to them

You have nothing to give either, but unlike me you're a goddamned liar about it. You have nothing but smoke, mirrors, and fairytales, and that you treat your fantasies as unimpeachable and certain- and that presume these fantasies to make you a better person is infuriating. You're one of the smuggest assholes I've ever met, and I've been on the internet over a decade.

you do not get to speak for beings you consider imaginary

I'm not "speaking" for anyone. I'm saying God's imaginary and cannot do anything, including offer forgiveness.

this has been a revealing and educational thread - in spite of all your self-proclaimed righteousness and your political correctness and your social consciences, some of you have no hope to offer those who might change their minds and admit they were wrong

Dude, you're not offering anything either. All you have is the fantasy of an afterlife to make death less frightening. You have nothing.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:57 PM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


You focus on someone escaping Hell who doesn't deserve it.

That's patently absurd - unless he's one of those incredibly rare Catholic supporters of the KKK, he is most definitely still going to hell. An empty apology born out of a belated realization that heaven doesn't have segregated water fountains simply isn't enough.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:12 PM on April 6, 2009


Dude, you're not offering anything either. All you have is the fantasy of an afterlife to make death less frightening. You have nothing.

wrong - i have forgiveness - i have the belief that people can change and the idea that we need to accept people when they tell us they want to change

you do not have to believe in a god or an afterlife to participate in the real world benefits of that

unfortunately, you are far too blinded by your irrational hatred of religion to see the message that is being given here - you are unable to see the potential for good here - you are unable to see that the transgressors are in as dire need of liberation as the victims are - and you are unable to separate the reality of human compassion and psychology that is expressed in this spirituality from the things you find unbelievable

it's your loss, not mine - it's your impotence and anger that is choking you, not mine

and i've YET to hear ANY of you offer an alternative to how a man like this might repent, apologize and attempt to square himself with society

it's not enough to complain and say this way is no good - either you have a better solution or you admit your ineffectiveness in comparison to the christian idea of forgiveness and redemption

if your philosophy and outlook on life are so superior, it shouldn't be any trouble to work out some kind of better way, right?

where's your solution?
posted by pyramid termite at 11:23 PM on April 6, 2009


where's your solution?

I just said it - while people who are unaware of God and/or the Catholic Church have a shot at getting in if they live a good and clean life and express a desire to rectify their ignorance, the dudes in the little red hats and the guy in the big white one make it pretty clear that people who are aware of the True Faith yet eschew it don't have a snowball's chance in you know where. Papism, popery, mackerel snapping - any which way you want to call it, it's the winning team.
Here's hoping Mr. Wilson makes the Hail Mary pass and goes for the conversion before it's too late.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:36 PM on April 6, 2009


optimus chyme, I wonder if you have any idea how SCARY you are coming off.

Has anyone in this thread actually called the guy a hero, or inspirational? All I see is folks saying: he apologized; he seems to have some idea that his actions were wrong; that's a good thing. Take it with a grain of salt if you like (I certainly do). But there's really no reason to call the guy "backward subhuman trash" or his life "worthless"--for all you know, his eleventh-hour apology could bring real value to the lives of the people he hurt. What are the implications of your comments, for example, with regard to John Lewis's acceptance of Wilson's apology? That Lewis is stupid? A dupe? Perhaps that you have a better understanding of the damage done to Lewis, and Wilson's just desserts, than Lewis does himself? I guess what I'm saying is, back off. Wilson isn't asking for your forgiveness; he's dealing with the people he actually attacked.

Christianity, btw, does not suggest that verbal repentance is a get-out-of-jail-free card. The repentant sinner is told, "Go, and sin no more." Whether a person's heart is truly changed, I don't think any of us can know. On the question of a final judgment of some kind, I'm agnostic. But the fact is that the change called for by Christianity is one of the heart, and that if it's genuine, it will become apparent in a person's future actions. True Christianity doesn't naively assume that a person's "sorry!" will make everything okay. But it does hold out hope--always hope--that a person's heart can truly change.

verb: related to that--I don't think you should throw around words like "sociopath." Antisocial personality disorder is a condition with real psychiatric implications for whether a person is able to change (and, by extension, how morally culpable he is for his actions). Some people do get off criminal charges by way of the insanity plea, you know. But actually, Wilson does not fit the profile, as he evidently has the ability to empathize and to recognize the harm he has done (maybe?). In that sense, he's a person for whom we can hope for a genuine transformation of his outlook.
posted by torticat at 12:18 AM on April 7, 2009


Dude, you're not offering anything either. All you have is the fantasy of an afterlife to make death less frightening. You have nothing.

Pope Guilty, has pyramid termite even mentioned the afterlife? Do you think the potential for change--with all the implications that has for the aggressor and his victims--is nothing?

What about the affirmation, for those who were attacked, that now even their attacker acknowledges his actions were wrong?
posted by torticat at 12:42 AM on April 7, 2009


Why galling?

I think it gives his deathbed apology a false importance. To give a personal example, I've dealt with several academics who late in their life develop strange (and sometimes icky) beliefs about the world. I'm used to gently discounting this sort of thing, not letting it greatly affect my respect for the person I'm dealing with. To be clear, it doesn't rankle that he apologizes! I'm just put off by the fact that he becomes so easily insinuated in the christian story of sinning and forgiveness, somewhat diminishing other important narratives of this guy's life.

Certainly, I recognize that this narrative is really important to lots of really good people. I'd just like them to be sensitive to the fact that this bigoted individual and others like him have had an important impact on American history, and to be careful not to too preempt society's judgement in their (rather wonderful) desire to forgive the sinner.

the people who find it galling have nothing more to offer than hate and spite .. they rail against the idea of someone fearing eternal punishment enough to repent of what he's done and then turn around and say there's nothing he can do to ever reduce their loathing - which sounds like an eternal punishment to me

I'm railing? You're absolutely nuts.
posted by ~ at 5:23 AM on April 7, 2009


optimus chyme, I wonder if you have any idea how SCARY you are coming off.

If you think I'm scary, have a gander at the grandmother upthread who looks at her grandchild and thinks "NO ONE HAS EVER OR WILL EVER DESERVE ANYTHING BUT HELL."

That is fucked up.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:43 AM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you think I'm scary, have a gander at the grandmother upthread who looks at her grandchild and thinks "NO ONE HAS EVER OR WILL EVER DESERVE ANYTHING BUT HELL."

Personally, I was subscribing to the view that this thread is perhaps not only about what Ms. St. Alia believes.
posted by desuetude at 6:21 AM on April 7, 2009


because the people who find it galling have nothing more to offer than hate and spite and they know that's an inadequate response - they know that they can be right as rain about their social and political beliefs and yet they will not be able to persuade their enemies, because they have nothing to give to them
I think you might be projecting Optimus Chyme's anger at this man on all of us who find him less than inspirational. I don't hate this man, and I don't believe that I've said anything to indicate that. I see him as a brutal abuser who is hedging his bets as death approaches -- a pattern that anyone who's dealt with abusers can say is a familiar one. Could I be wrong? Obviously. It's just a freakin' article. But I'm not going to apologize for seeing the story that way based on what we know.

The two perspectives that are galling are found in the article, and here in-thread. From the article: The apologies have won headlines and praise. Letters have poured in, lauding Wilson's courage. Strangers, black and white, have hailed him as a hero. I'll reiterate that I don't believe he is heroic.

In the thread, I'll quote Slap*Happy: This is one instance where christianity actually puts its money where its mouth is, and allows a suffering soul to ease himself. That perspective, the one that focuses on this man unloading a burden and experiencing relief, is the one that I regard as profoundly callous. his man should be carrying a burden. Even inside the context of the Christian faith, Christ's death is supposed to atone for one's sins against God. It does not remove the temporal consequences of one's actions. Those consequences -- imprisonment, cancer, the regret and remorse that come with realizing you spent your entire life abusing fellow humans -- are not Christianity's to remove.

The emphasis on that aspect of the story, and the discussion of it as a positive outcome, is what disturbs me the most in the thread.
verb: related to that--I don't think you should throw around words like "sociopath." Antisocial personality disorder is a condition with real psychiatric implications for whether a person is able to change (and, by extension, how morally culpable he is for his actions).
I'm aware. Obviously I'm not a psychologist, and obviously we have nothing but a newspaper to go on -- I wouldn't pretend to know the man's inner workings. From what we do know, however, the pattern -- callous disregard for people that he sees as unnecessary, remorseless abuse, and a quick change of heart when consequences appear on the horizon -- is very familiar. The question of 'moral culpability' in the Christian faith is a complex one and the default answer in most branches of the faith is, as St. Alia has pointed out, "Everyone deserves hell and is going to go there, period, end of story."
Some people do get off criminal charges by way of the insanity plea, you know. But actually, Wilson does not fit the profile, as he evidently has the ability to empathize and to recognize the harm he has done (maybe?). In that sense, he's a person for whom we can hope for a genuine transformation of his outlook.
Recognition of the harm that one has done is not incompatible with sociopathy. Disempathetic socipaths in particular are perfectly capable of relating emotionally to spouses, friends, and others they consider worth their attention, while others are objects to be treated with profound cruelty. Obviously, we have very little to go on and his relatively inability to explain complex motivations doesn't help us much. But from the story I see little to indicate that he has fundamentally changed -- he just became worried that someone that has power over him (God) would punish him, and he made a pragmatic decision to treat a swath of previously objectified people differently.
Christianity, btw, does not suggest that verbal repentance is a get-out-of-jail-free card. The repentant sinner is told, "Go, and sin no more." Whether a person's heart is truly changed, I don't think any of us can know. On the question of a final judgment of some kind, I'm agnostic. But the fact is that the change called for by Christianity is one of the heart, and that if it's genuine, it will become apparent in a person's future actions. True Christianity doesn't naively assume that a person's "sorry!" will make everything okay. But it does hold out hope--always hope--that a person's heart can truly change.
The reason deathbed confessions and their variants are inherently suspicious is that there's little chance to see whether there will be a "genuinely transformation" and little chance for change -- those doing the confessing or apologizing are, you know... dying. For the purposes of the Christian faith, that's fine -- God can decide if they were sincere or not and they will either be saved or not saved depending on that judgement. Those of us on Earth sift through the temporal consequences.

My experiences and beliefs in this regard are certainly shaped by my past experiences in the context of Christianity. I have close friends who were sexually abused for years by a respected member of the local church, for example. When he was eventually arrested, it became clear that he had been abusing dozens of children over decades.

Eventually, while dying of stomach cancer, the abuser was overcome with remorse and repented. Other members of the church felt hat his remorse was sincere. Perhaps it was. What I do know is that his victims -- people I know -- have spent the better part of their lives sifting through the real, tangible consequences of his actions. They have lived with the aftermath, and have also had to live with being told that their abuser was going to Heaven while they -- if they did not forgive him -- would go to Hell.

I understand that most Christians would not express it that way, but this is what I meant when I said earlier that Christianity offers sociopaths a way to soothe their consciences while everyone else has to sort through the rubble of their abuse. In the real world, this happens. It is not the online bleating of amateur theologians. And when I see people lauding the power of deathbed confessions to soothe the consciences of abusers, I am troubled.
posted by verb at 9:16 AM on April 7, 2009


Meh. Botched the blockquotes on that; apologies for the funky formatting.
posted by verb at 9:16 AM on April 7, 2009


I think this thread is a great example of how very smart people can fail to communicate in even a very basic manner.

I would say the collective IQ of participants in this thread would probably rival any other like-sized grouping you could possibly imagine, save for "former and future Nobel Prize winners".

But, it is clear, especially here at the tail end, that at some point even the smartest among us just talk past each other.

You have 2 groups who are both saying TRUE THINGS, but yet the rah-rah spirit of internet debate demands that each side looks ridiculous trying to make the other side out to be composed solely of lunatics.

Being able to discount a supernatural afterlife, while at the same time being able to have a framework for acceptable humanistic repentance, are not mutually exclusive.

Pope Guilty, you're a very smart guy, if you can put your anger away for just a moment, I think it would be abundantly clear to you what pyramid is saying. He's saying that in the absence of a promise of an afterlife, what does society offer this man for trying to repent and trying to make amends? If this thread is any indicator, all that society has to offer is more anger, hate, and spite towards this person.

I agree that no one in the thread has offered any sort of solution for what WOULD be an acceptable apology from this man. Would building a black church at his own expense work? What about an endowment for black scholarships at the local university? What about if he spent his last days speaking publicly about racism and bigotry and his experience and renouncement of those ideas?

I expect none of those things, or even all of them together, would sway the most vehement on here one whit. He has been so bad that any sort of redemption is simply unattainable for him.

So, in the absence of that, if he seeks consolation from his religion... again, I don't see any harm, and I only see a net good, if anyone else is even willing to see it.

Most of the participants here are saying... I offer you nothing, society offers you nothing, and your religion is imaginary. Therefore, we could care less if you "do the right thing" or not.

Is that really true? Do we truly no longer care if people do the right thing or not? We don't want people to even try to make amends for any offense from now on?

If that is the case, we should have only life sentences in prison for any crime. I mean, if no one can truly make amends, and if any attempt to make amends can only be a hollow gesture... then why would you ever let anyone out of prison, ever?
posted by Ynoxas at 9:29 AM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I agree that no one in the thread has offered any sort of solution for what WOULD be an acceptable apology from this man.

There is no redemption for this man. That's the point. You only get to live life once. You fuck it up as bad as this guy did and you die being hated and reviled. There are no do-overs. There are no second chances. To forgive this man sets a precedent for everyone else that they can be sociopaths and get away with it. That's why there's no forgiveness for this man. Because he had his chance and he fucked it up. So he can die, righteously hated by all. He has reaped what he has sown.
posted by GuyZero at 9:48 AM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and...

why would you ever let anyone out of prison, ever

because almost everyone in prison is a nicer, more decent human being than this man. Theft isn't cool, but it's not the relentless pattern of hate this man laid down his entire life. There's a lot that can be forgiven, but not this man.
posted by GuyZero at 9:51 AM on April 7, 2009


why would you ever let anyone out of prison, ever

because almost everyone in prison is a nicer, more decent human being than this man. Theft isn't cool, but it's not the relentless pattern of hate this man laid down his entire life. There's a lot that can be forgiven, but not this man.
For all my statements in this thread, I disagree. I think that forgiveness is definitely possible, for anyone. I think that there are far worse and more dangerous people in prison. And I think that if we view prison as a place where people work off a debt to society or are punished for a crime, we would of course release someone from prison.

That doesn't mean that the issue of deathbed conversions and confessions by people with a lifetime of hatred and violence gets any simpler, however. You'll note that until he thought he might go to hell, he'd never done any of those 'pay for your debt to society' kinds of things. Are people angry about that? That he is "getting off" without paying his debt? Yeah, I think that may be part of it. And the religious angle clouds the fact that in Christianity, getting off without paying your spiritual debt is what everyone is supposed to do.
posted by verb at 10:05 AM on April 7, 2009


Personally, I was subscribing to the view that this thread is perhaps not only about what Ms. St. Alia believes.

Yes. Yes, it is.

However, what St. Alia believes seems to be what everyone else wants to talk about, for whatever reason -- largely because that is the view of Christianity which most people have, largely because it is the St. Alias in Christianity who do all the speaking up.

But others in the thread are also finally speaking up and saying, "you know, this is NOT what all Christians believe, I'm a Christian and I don't believe this." and I think that a lot of that is being hashed out here -- and I think that's a good thing, actually.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:07 AM on April 7, 2009


Saxony, this wasn't pointed at me, but:

[Pyramid's] saying that in the absence of a promise of an afterlife, what does society offer this man for trying to repent and trying to make amends?

Obviously, most individuals around the world do not believe in the Christian afterlife, so this is a bit silly? Surely the answer is complicated and depends on psychological and social pressures. But I think you should consider the inverse of your question: why is it in society's interest to induce his apology? His belief in the afterlife didn't stop him from hurting anyone when he was younger. What good is served by his apology as a feeble old man?

Would building a black church at his own expense work? What about an endowment for black scholarships at the local university?

If he wishes to mitigate some of the actual damage he's done, then he should attempt to do so. I for one would find that a better gesture. But doing so doesn't depend one whit on belief in heaven or forgiveness. To me, if such gestures were simply an attempt to make sufficient amends to be "forgiven", it would only cheapen them.
posted by ~ at 10:09 AM on April 7, 2009


(Eh, sorry for flipping your name, Ynoxas.) No you do not need to accept this apology.
posted by ~ at 10:11 AM on April 7, 2009


That's why there's no forgiveness for this man. Because he had his chance and he fucked it up. So he can die, righteously hated by all.

I don't think we get to decide this, though--and I'm not talking about God. Some of his victims have forgiven him, and that's their choice. Some murder victims' families forgive those murderers. There is something very peaceful about being able to forgive--and why should we say that those victims aren't entitled to that? True that one can forgive someone who doesn't ask for it (Bin Laden e.g. above), but is there not something more to having an actual apology, even if one isn't sure of its sincerity?

Maybe not for some people in this thread, but it might be valuable for these victims.
posted by Pax at 10:19 AM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Some of his victims have forgiven him, and that's their choice.

Sure, absolutely. Not everyone wants to live their life filled with hate and bitterness like this man.

but is there not something more to having an actual apology, even if one isn't sure of its sincerity?

Normally I'd say yes, but this one man is pushing the boundaries. But I suppose one shouldn't live ones life by rules designed around freaks like this.
posted by GuyZero at 10:27 AM on April 7, 2009


wrong - i have forgiveness - i have the belief that people can change and the idea that we need to accept people when they tell us they want to change

you do not have to believe in a god or an afterlife to participate in the real world benefits of that


This is incredibly dishonest. He's not looking for peace, he's not "changing", he's not becoming a better person. He's a frightened old man trying desperately to escape what he sees as the consequences of his actions. His apologies are exactly and only because of the afterlife that Christianity promises. Without the promise of Heaven and the threat of Hell, he wouldn't be seeking forgiveness from those around him.

you are unable to see that the transgressors are in as dire need of liberation as the victims are

And so Christianity continues, with ever a soft word and a kind glance for the oppressor, the tyrant, the genocide, the murderer.



He's saying that in the absence of a promise of an afterlife, what does society offer this man for trying to repent and trying to make amends?

And I'm saying nothing. He shouldn't be offered that balm. He's done nothing to deserve it. The closest he's come to suffering for what he's done is being afraid of what his pastor tells him is gonna happen after he dies.

I agree that no one in the thread has offered any sort of solution for what WOULD be an acceptable apology from this man. Would building a black church at his own expense work? What about an endowment for black scholarships at the local university? What about if he spent his last days speaking publicly about racism and bigotry and his experience and renouncement of those ideas?

You know what, those would be pretty good signs of repentence. Guess what he's not doing?
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:37 AM on April 7, 2009


GuyZero: Thank you for answering directly. So you believe there can be no redemption for this man, due to what he did.

Maybe this was obvious to everyone except me, but I read GuyZero's comments again, and it suddenly dawned on me that this man isn't necessarily expecting society's forgiveness.

It would appear he is only trying to meet his religion's mandate by apologizing for past transgressions and trying to live better going forward. He is trying to meet the criteria he believes is mandatory.

So, in that regard, I guess it doesn't even matter what any of us think. And it certainly doesn't matter if we "accept" his apology or not.

He can be ridiculed for trying to appeal to a pretend man in the sky by non-believers, but I would hope those non-believers would ridicule other religious pursuits just as strongly. What it gets down to is that the particular flavor of Christianity that he subscribes to has offered him a pathway for salvation. He is trying to follow that pathway.

Holy shit. I finally get it. A bunch of the posters in this thread are simply pissed off that this man subscribes to a religious belief that would allow him to mitigate some of his guilt at the end of his life. You WANT him to suffer till the end. And you're upset that he found a "loophole" and may feel some sense of relief before he passes on. You are not willing to grant any quarter, so you want to deny him the ability to seek solace in any arena.

Jesus Christ, talk about your sociopaths. Do you want to kill his bloodline too, and sow his fields with salt while you are at it?

I've not really voiced my personal opinion on this yet, but my opinion is that the man is a criminal, and that he has committed serious enough crimes that he should be in prison.

But, I have no opinion about what he does before he goes to the light. If he wants to seek a bargain with his creator for the here-after, by all means.

It sounds like most of you here would deny a man on death row access to clergy. How dare he be allowed to repent?

This really, truly is just monstrous.

I always say at this stage of my life I can no longer be shocked... but this reaction has surprised me to the extent I may be wrong.
posted by Ynoxas at 10:38 AM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


It sounds like most of you here would deny a man on death row access to clergy. How dare he be allowed to repent?
I think there's a lot of "Someone said X, Everyone who disagrees with me says that too" going on. I'm as guilty of it as the next guy -- projecting the "He's a hero! He's an inspiration" bits recounted in the article to some of the people in this thread. That was incorrect, just as your statement above is incorrect.

I have no problem with people repenting on death row. I have no problem with people experiencing remorse before they die. Christianity offers people recourse and reconciliation with God if they repent, and no one should be denied that if they decide to pursue that path.
Holy shit. I finally get it. A bunch of the posters in this thread are simply pissed off that this man subscribes to a religious belief that would allow him to mitigate some of his guilt at the end of his life. You WANT him to suffer till the end. And you're upset that he found a "loophole" and may feel some sense of relief before he passes on. You are not willing to grant any quarter, so you want to deny him the ability to seek solace in any arena.
No. I simply object to the idea that his pursuit of it is anything other than his own attempt to mitigate his own feelings of guilt as death approaches. If you fuck up peoples' lives, God can forgive you. People can forgive you. But what you did doesn't go away, at least not here on Earth.
posted by verb at 10:49 AM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is no redemption for this man. That's the point. You only get to live life once. You fuck it up as bad as this guy did and you die being hated and reviled. There are no do-overs. There are no second chances. To forgive this man sets a precedent for everyone else that they can be sociopaths and get away with it. That's why there's no forgiveness for this man. Because he had his chance and he fucked it up. So he can die, righteously hated by all. He has reaped what he has sown.

Apology does not equal redemption. And you seem to be mandating hatred against him? You don't get to tell "all" who they should hate, or who they should or should not forgive, or why. And besides, forgiveness doesn't wipe the slate clean and make his crimes not matter.
posted by desuetude at 10:51 AM on April 7, 2009


I tend to write over-dramatically but I'm not really telling anyone what to think or do. It's rhetorical excess on my part. I tend to come off as bossy but while I might not like this guy, really, I respect that everyone else has their own POV on the matter.
posted by GuyZero at 10:57 AM on April 7, 2009


You are not willing to grant any quarter, so you want to deny him the ability to seek solace in any arena.

Jesus Christ, talk about your sociopaths. Do you want to kill his bloodline too, and sow his fields with salt while you are at it?


He can has as much sympathy and forgiveness as he himself has given in his life. Which, as far as I can tell, is none.
posted by GuyZero at 10:59 AM on April 7, 2009


So, in that regard, I guess it doesn't even matter what any of us think. And it certainly doesn't matter if we "accept" his apology or not.

This is what I've said in both my comments--also that it doesn't matter what we think about whether his god accepts it.
posted by Pax at 11:23 AM on April 7, 2009


Holy shit. I finally get it. A bunch of the posters in this thread are simply pissed off that this man subscribes to a religious belief that would allow him to mitigate some of his guilt at the end of his life.

Your sympathy is more with monsters than their victims. How proud your parents must be.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:49 AM on April 7, 2009


Your sympathy is more with monsters than their victims. How proud your parents must be.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:49 PM on April 7


Oh come on. Really? That's the way you're going to go?

Yes, because I think it is a good thing that he is trying to make amends, I obviously care more for him than I do his victims. How incredibly perceptive of you.

Did you miss the part above where I said he was a criminal and belonged in prison?

Honestly dude. Over the line. WAY over.
posted by Ynoxas at 12:30 PM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Your sympathy is more with monsters than their victims. How proud your parents must be.

Ynoxas didn't acknowledge any personal sympathy for Wilson whatsoever. Did you completely and utterly misunderstand his comment?
posted by desuetude at 12:36 PM on April 7, 2009


You continue to insist that he is trying to make amends, as if he has seen the light and repented, like it means anything to him except getting God to put down the gun. Nothing in the articles linked demonstrates any actual remorse or contrition. Any sympathy directed at him is sympathy denied someone who deserves it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:19 PM on April 7, 2009


consistent with the law of conservation of sympathy
posted by found missing at 1:52 PM on April 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


You're mocking me for thinking this guy is unforgivable? For forgiveness to have meaning it has to end somewhere. Otherwise it has all the moral gravitas of "meh".
posted by GuyZero at 1:58 PM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


consistent with the law of conservation of sympathy

Like my mom says, the more love you give, the more there is to go around.
posted by Pax at 2:41 PM on April 7, 2009


You're mocking me for thinking this guy is unforgivable?

No, I think it was for the idea that there is a finite amount of sympathy to go around.

Also for assuming that his trying to apologize doesn't mean anything to anyone but him (or God), where, really, that is up to the people to whom he apologized. And some of them welcomed it.
posted by Pax at 2:43 PM on April 7, 2009


A bunch of the posters in this thread are simply pissed off that this man subscribes to a religious belief that would allow him to mitigate some of his guilt at the end of his life. You WANT him to suffer till the end. And you're upset that he found a "loophole" and may feel some sense of relief before he passes on. You are not willing to grant any quarter, so you want to deny him the ability to seek solace in any arena.


I'm not sure this is a proper characterization, Ynoxas. I think the people who are skeptical of his "late confession" are more skeptical about his own sincerity.

I see it as the difference between a child's understanding of regret and an adult's. A child who says "i'm sorry" for something isn't experiencing regret the way an adult would - really, the biggest thing that motivates a child's apology is, "uh-oh, if I don't say I'm sorry I may get a spanking -- quick, maybe I'll get out of trouble if I say 'sorry'!" It's entirely motivated by self-interest and by trying to "get out of trouble". And as I'm sure you know, often the child who says "I'm sorry" to dodge trouble is actually not all that "sorry" at all.

It's not until one has gained more of a sense of compassion and empathy that one experiences REAL regret for one's actions. You don't apologize because you're trying to "get out of trouble" -- you apologize because you genuinely and sincerely regret having done what you did.

I believe the people who are critical of Wilson's apology are critical because they believe that it is indeed a child's understanding of apologies -- Wilson says quite clearly in his statement that "I understand that I won't get to heaven unless I do this." That's very, very different from "I understand that what I did was horrible." He's showing the level of understanding of his own actions that a child would -- "I'm going to get spanked unless I say I'm sorry, so I'm saying that I'm sorry."

The posters in here are saying that this man's understanding of his religious faith is that of a child's understanding of morality -- "unless you say 'sorry', you'll get into trouble." If a child doesn't have this threat of "getting into trouble" before them, they often actually are not sorry at all. And this is why people are critical of Wilson -- they believe that if there WERE no such teaching in his faith, that he wouldn't have ever made his apology in the first place, because what would be the reason to do so? If the child doesn't get into trouble for stealing cookies from the cookie jar, what would stop them from continuing to do it?

...It's not that they're critical of his faith. It's that posters in here are critical of his understanding OF his faith, and his attempts to hide BEHIND his faith, and BEND his faith to justify his actions. His entire reason for issuing his apology is that "I'll get in trouble if I don't." Which to others in here -- and I'm inclined to agree with them -- sounds much less sincere than "I have realized that what I did was wrong, and THAT is why I am sorry."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:03 PM on April 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


verb, I agree with much that you've said in your later comments. I agree that deathbed repentance is problematic, and that it's hard to judge the sincerity of a person who may be only trying to escape the anticipation of eternal damnation. I agree that the horrible consequences of abuse don't go away, even if or when forgiveness is offered to an abuser.

I also think that some abused people are capable of genuine concern for their abusers...not that they should be concerned, or that they owe forgiveness, or anything like that, but just that some do have pity. Pity that recognizes the horrible burden of living with bitterness and hatred and the knowledge of one's capacity for cruelty. Watching this and this, I get the impression that John Lewis was okay with setting Wilson free from that burden--was happy to see him escape it. I'm just not sure that's something that any of us can second-guess.
posted by torticat at 5:23 PM on April 7, 2009


I find it heartening to see that good Christians are speaking up. It is important that the twisted thinking of vulgar Christians is challenged.

I think a lot of people in this thread are mistakenly confusing God's forgiveness with human forgiveness. If there was a God, and it were to forgive this violent, racist creep, well, so be it. Nothing can be done about that, and it's quite irrelevent to what happens here on present-day Earth. Let us worry about what we humans do.

This man created a local climate of fear and violence throughout his life. Dozens, possibly hundreds, of people have been harmed by his actions. His impact on society was almost entirely destructive. He caused real, measurable harm.

He should be removed from society, not forgiven by society. One does not forgive a cancer, one excises it. I agree with what verb, OptimusChyme, Pope Guilty, and EmpressCallipygos have said, more or less.

I think that when his consciousness ceases, he'll have died without comprehending his destructive role in our society. It's a bit of a bummer, but also pretty much irrelevent: nothing is going to undo the damage he did. The only real shame of it all is that he isn't dying in jail, removed from the society he harmed. At least then we could say that we did the right thing. Instead, we allowed him to get away with it. Shame on us.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:53 PM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you don't forgive you don't get forgiven.

That goes for all of you who want to condemn this man. Only God can see his heart,and see how sincere he is-and to my mind only God could have gotten him to see his error to begin with-

But his actions started with his heart, and his hate. Many of you feel justified in YOUR hate because you believe he deserves it. Maybe he does-but God won't give you a pass for your hate because of it.


We all should be mindful of the beams in our eyes. We all have them.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:04 PM on April 7, 2009


If you don't forgive you don't get forgiven.
It is not my place to forgive him. He did nothing to me, and he has not asked for my forgiveness. Also, you've overgeneralized: if one doesn't forgive, God will not forgive them. Don't worry, I'm familiar with the maxim. My friend, the one whose pastor molested her for a decade, had that explained to her quite a few times as she tried to work through the repercussions of it in her life. Human relationships are, by definition, far messier things than the rigorous world of theology.

That, to some extent, is the problem that I believe myself and some of the others here grapple with. It is not that I believe I compare favorably to this man in the Christian moral framework. It is not that I have been wronged and refuse to forgive. It's that there are profoundly troubling perverse incentives: imagine the concern conservatives have about welfare (encouraging people to exploit the system rather than working to better themselves) and imagine how this man's story looks to someone outside your own assumptions. It's the very definition of moral hazard, and that's what is worrisome about such near-death-apologies.
That goes for all of you who want to condemn this man. Only God can see his heart,and see how sincere he is-and to my mind only God could have gotten him to see his error to begin with
Curiously enough, I know people of many faiths and no faiths at all who have recognized things they've done to hurt others, decided to change, and done their best to make amends. "Seeing the error of one's ways" is not an implicitly Christian activity; one can argue that if fear of hell was the motivating factor, and thus the only way this man would have stopped his hatin'. That, however, just brings us back to the sincerity thing.

As he said in the article, he just wants to stop talking about it and go back to watching Nancy Grace.
But his actions started with his heart, and his hate. Many of you feel justified in YOUR hate because you believe he deserves it. Maybe he does-but God won't give you a pass for your hate because of it.
I don't hate him. But I think that the attitude of some religious believers towards his story is indicative of unhealthy fundamental attitudes. After decades in the church I came to the conclusion that I would, if I was honest and faithful to my beliefs, spend eternity in hell. If Christianity as we (and you) understand it in our culture is true, I will die and endure timeless, unending torment beyond imagining. I've accepted that and I do what I do because I believe it is good. If I am wrong, I will work to correct it where I can and live with the consequences where I can't. That, to me, is what being whole and human is about.
posted by verb at 6:34 PM on April 7, 2009


Hating him and not forgiving him are two different things.

Besides, the reductio ad absurdum of the view that "If you don't forgive you don't get forgiven" is that everything must be forgiven, therefore there's no repercussion to doing wrong. So morality is really only sort of a loose guideline for those who care enough about it. If everyone is going to forgive me anyway, why bother being moral? Earthly actions demand earthly consequences. Render unto Caesar, etc.
posted by GuyZero at 6:37 PM on April 7, 2009


By the way, I missed some of the middle of the thread. Sorry if I'm repeating earlier trite, simplistic arguments on this topic.
posted by GuyZero at 6:41 PM on April 7, 2009


I think that when his consciousness ceases, he'll have died without comprehending his destructive role in our society. It's a bit of a bummer, but also pretty much irrelevent: nothing is going to undo the damage he did. The only real shame of it all is that he isn't dying in jail, removed from the society he harmed. At least then we could say that we did the right thing. Instead, we allowed him to get away with it. Shame on us.
One of the things that I've contemplated a lot is the portion of Scripture where it talks about everyone being judged after the world ends, and all hidden things being revealed. In many circles this is treated as a case where hidden sins will be revealed to all onlookers: the moment when secret wrongs will finally be made public.

When I hear stories like this man's, though, and contemplate the troubling implications of a brutally destructive life wiped clean by a last-minute mea culpa, I think there is another possibility. What if the moment of judgment, when all hidden things are revealed, is about those who never grasped the nature of their own evil being forced to confront it, to understand its totality without the benefit of denial, defense mechanisms, or the support of a confused culture?

What if the horrible consequence is being made to understand, and never being able to forget? I suppose that this is veering heavily into theologyfilter, now. Alas.
posted by verb at 6:44 PM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I like your thinking, verb, though of course once his brain activity ceases, there is no "Elwin Wilson" available to participate in the mechanism you describe.

I think "hate" is the wrong word to be using in describing people's emotions in this thread. I think "contempt" is probably a lot more accurate. One can despise all that this despicable man did in his life, without the requirement that one "hate" him.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:19 PM on April 7, 2009


Why galling?

I think it gives his deathbed apology a false importance. To give a personal example, I've dealt with several academics who late in their life develop strange (and sometimes icky) beliefs about the world. I'm used to gently discounting this sort of thing, not letting it greatly affect my respect for the person I'm dealing with. To be clear, it doesn't rankle that he apologizes! I'm just put off by the fact that he becomes so easily insinuated in the christian story of sinning and forgiveness, somewhat diminishing other important narratives of this guy's life.


Well, redemption is kind of the whole point of Christianity. I don't speak for anyone besides myself, but I think some of the Hurrah! posts you're seeing here are not celebrating or diminishing his horrible acts but celebrating that he may be redeemed - the same way you would be happy if, for example, a brother who suffered from alcoholism went on the wagon and started getting treatment. I think deathbed conversions are somewhat similar; people often don't bounce back until they hit rock bottom. Getting annoyed that people are happy about Wilson's apology in a religious sense is...well I'm having a hard time thinking of an appropriate analogy, but it seems a bit unreasonable.

That said - I appreciate your thoughtful response. Thanks.
posted by txvtchick at 8:07 PM on April 7, 2009


Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?
posted by nola at 8:33 PM on April 7, 2009


Only God can see his heart,and see how sincere he is...

I wonder how many of you really truly understand what a miracle his change of heart was and how even more incredible it is that he's put feet to his repentance...

Your sanctimony is, unsurprisingly, leading you into blasphemy. See Jeremiah 49:16.
While sorta cliche, Proverbs 16:18 would work too.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:13 PM on April 7, 2009


I think some of the Hurrah! posts you're seeing here are not celebrating or diminishing his horrible acts but celebrating that he may be redeemed - the same way you would be happy if, for example, a brother who suffered from alcoholism went on the wagon and started getting treatment.
I can definitely understand that; as I've mentioned before it was how I saw things for a long time.

The issue being raised by many here is, I suppose, "What does it mean to be redeemed?" For Christians, the meaning of that word is very different than what others mean. It is about changing state from "One destined for hell" to "One destined for heaven." Angels rejoice at one sinner being saved, etc etc. -- even if that sinner is Jeffery Dahmer.

Dahmer's example, in fact, provides an interesting point of comparison. An interview with the prison chaplain who visited Dahmer in the years before his death deals with some of the same questions that have come up here.
I became convinced of Jeff’s sincerity by one happening. On a certain visit we came to the end of our study time together. The prison guard had given us the signal, but right then, before I stood to leave, Jeff bared his soul.

“I feel very, very bad about the crimes I’ve committed. In fact, I think I should have been put to death by the state for what I did.”

“I agree with you,” I said. “You should have been put to death by the state for the crimes you committed.”

He replied, “If that is true, am I sinning against God by continuing to live?”
While the same questions of sincerity and intent apply in Dahmer's case -- it's even easier to come to the conclusion that he was a dangerous manipulative psychopath smart enough to play the system -- he seems to have at least grasped the enormity of his crimes and was thinking about the profoundness of the societal consequences (his own death).

It's likely that no one knows the truth of Dahmer's or Elwin Wilson's sincerity, whether they were motivated by empathy and a fundamental internal change, or whether they just decided to dig out of their karma-hole while the digging was good. Many had the same reaction (even more intensely) to news of Dahmer's conversion, after all; in the linked article, his chaplain says that he was indeed sincere. He was killed in prison and we'll never know how life would have turned out for him.

Why are Wilson's and Dahmer's cases different than the hypothetical alcoholic brother? They were fundamentally about damage deliberately done to other people, over a long consistent stretch of time. People tend to react positively to self-improvement, but when someone who's wronged a bunch of people starts talking about unburdening themselves of guilt...

Eh. I'll take it to my blog. Apologies for the long-running rambles.
posted by verb at 9:39 PM on April 7, 2009


This is incredibly dishonest. He's not looking for peace, he's not "changing", he's not becoming a better person.

you don't KNOW that - there's no way you could - and yet you call ME incredibly dishonest

perhaps it doesn't happen often - but sometimes truly horrible people have changes of heart

----

why is it in society's interest to induce his apology?

because those who may be like him may be more likely to repent in their turn instead of continuing as they have been

---

This man created a local climate of fear and violence throughout his life. Dozens, possibly hundreds, of people have been harmed by his actions. His impact on society was almost entirely destructive. He caused real, measurable harm.

He should be removed from society, not forgiven by society.


under what law? it seems as though people want some kind of life sentence to be dealt to the man and although i agree that he has done things that merited a couple of years in prison, the statute of limitations has run out and i'm not sure what purpose it would serve this much later - in fact, i find it really puzzling that some here find society's use of force and imprisonment to be questionable when it's over things like drugs and suspected terrorists - but once the suspect works against what they believe in, then the book should be thrown at him! - "extinction, prison, exile"

well, robespierre felt the same way, i'm sure ... it's all very well to talk about rehabilitation instead of punishment as a paradigm for our prison system until they put you in charge and you realize there's political and social scum you could get EVEN with

no, there's a certain responsibility in setting up such moral ideals as a state that is compassionate towards its enemies or towards those who have been misled into criminal acts by lack of opportunity or education or ... but then we are confronted with someone who was quite deliberately hateful and destructive and that is the real test of our character - to see whether we can treat him with the same kind of willingness to rehabilitate as the more common criminals we claim are salvagable

i'll admit it might be pretty difficult if the man's still spewing his hate and bile at us - but if the man's telling us he was wrong and wants to turn a new leaf? really? is the hope that a man like that could change perhaps too audacious for you?

----

It's that there are profoundly troubling perverse incentives: imagine the concern conservatives have about welfare (encouraging people to exploit the system rather than working to better themselves) and imagine how this man's story looks to someone outside your own assumptions. It's the very definition of moral hazard, and that's what is worrisome about such near-death-apologies.

"What shall we say, then? shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? " romans 6:1

it's not as if christians haven't been struggling with this issue for a good long time, you know - see also the parable of the workers in the vineyards - yes, people are going to come in at the 11th hour and get the kind of understanding that we've slaved for all day - but would we really be happier if they were tossed into the outer darkness to wail and gnash their teeth?

i wouldn't be - it's disturbing to me that some of you think you would be

----


Your sanctimony is, unsurprisingly, leading you into blasphemy. See Jeremiah 49:16.
While sorta cliche, Proverbs 16:18 would work too.


it shows a real lack of understanding that you think she's expressing a prideful viewpoint - the irony being that i could think of some on the other side of the argument that these passages would be better suited to
posted by pyramid termite at 9:41 PM on April 7, 2009


it's not as if christians haven't been struggling with this issue for a good long time, you know - see also the parable of the workers in the vineyards - yes, people are going to come in at the 11th hour and get the kind of understanding that we've slaved for all day - but would we really be happier if they were tossed into the outer darkness to wail and gnash their teeth?
This, I think, is one of those moments where those on opposite sides of the 'Christian conception of the afterlife' fence are talking different languages. It leads to interesting disconnects.

To someone who is not looking forward to eternal paradise, someone who sees the here and now as fundamentally important because it is where our actions have meaning, your question is like asking, "How much soup is seven?" They don't particularly care about what God decides that person deserves or doesn't deserve; if God does exist, and has a view of good and evil that makes stealing cigarettes the same as raping a baby, that's His problem. The here and now -- the way we treat people, the actions we choose, and the repercussions they have here in the world of living human beings -- matters. If belief in an afterlife causes someone to treat others with kindness, it's not quite as good as being an intrinsically kind person, but it'll do.

In that view, faith in the case of a deathbed repentance is utterly useless: it does not even have the positive effect of preventing a person from harming others. In fact it is worse than useless: it gives someone a last chance to feel they were 'OK' after passing up all other chances, an emergency eject lever that's tempting no matter how many 'Only Use In Emergencies' stickers you plaster it with. That's the moral hazard, the perverse incentive that's discussed.

For all of Christianity's grappling with the question, there is no good answer. The verse you quoted -- Romans 6:1 -- is not about deathbed conversions, but about the heretical doctrine of deliberately sinning more so that God could have an opportunity to forgive more, thus glorifying himself. Whenever Scripture discusses the issue of last-minute conversions (Jesus parables are heavy on it), it's very, very clear that everyone who gets a ticket gets on the Heaven plane, no matter what price they paid.

The only real solution is to impress on people that God will know if you're faking it, and that it's very, very gauche to game the system. But if, you know, you just don't give a shit until the day you die, then realize, "Uhoh! God's going to be pissed!" you're covered. As long as you sincerely realize that He's going to be pissed.
posted by verb at 10:10 PM on April 7, 2009


One of the things that I've contemplated a lot is the portion of Scripture where it talks about everyone being judged after the world ends, and all hidden things being revealed. In many circles this is treated as a case where hidden sins will be revealed to all onlookers: the moment when secret wrongs will finally be made public.

verb, this reminds me of something I read in passing in a book once -- a character was contemplating some wrongdoing he had done (for the record, he felt damned guilty) and the book stated what he thought God's judgement of unshriven sin actually was like.

As he thought -- it wasn't that when you died and came before God, God pointed a finger at you and said "Depart from Me, ye accursed." No, it was more like -- you died and were about to come before God, but then when you looked at Him and the weight of what you had done suddenly all came crashing in upon you, you suddenly were struck with such remorse that YOU were the one who chose to slip out the back and go hang out down in Hell because YOU were the one who decided you deserved that.

I don't know to what degree I believe that, but it's certainly something to ponder.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:39 PM on April 7, 2009


This, I think, is one of those moments where those on opposite sides of the 'Christian conception of the afterlife' fence are talking different languages. It leads to interesting disconnects.

but i'm not the one who used the phrase moral hazard to express discontent with the idea of people being forgiven for bad things - i don't see how one can use that phrase about an earth where bad people are often rewarded and good people are often burdened down - if you say the reward of a deathbed confession is imaginary, then it can't be an reward

the whole point of invoking moral hazard is to say that people get what they deserve because if they don't, things get out of balance - and i'm just not seeing that balance happen on this planet

i just don't see how you can claim a moral hazard without being sure of the result

The verse you quoted -- Romans 6:1 -- is not about deathbed conversions, but about the heretical doctrine of deliberately sinning more so that God could have an opportunity to forgive more, thus glorifying himself.

it's a related idea - i think a lot of people figure they'll be good later - when they're too old and sick to have much choice in the matter anyway

my impression of that article was that this was a man who had realized late in life that he was a vile and nasty person and had been dead wrong about a lot of things - people talk about him getting a free pass and an easy way out - but he's still got to live with that knowledge of himself - i think self-loathing's got more to do with it than fear of the consequences - and i don't think he's going "la, dee, da, i apologized and now everything ok and i feel fine"

he's miserable and he's probably going to stay that way
posted by pyramid termite at 10:50 PM on April 7, 2009


it shows a real lack of understanding that you think she's expressing a prideful viewpoint

pt - in St. Alia's first comment she states her belief that Wilson's remorse is sincere and then, as you did in the above comment, chides those who disagree by categorizing their opinions as unprovable assertions made by fallible creatures who do not know what is in the man's heart, and that only God truly knows- ignoring the fact that her first comment was an unprovable assertion made by a fallible creature.

When I, an atheist, say I don't believe Wilson is sincere, I'm stating my opinion.
If you dispute that without acknowledging your own ultimate ignorance, you're presuming to know what God thinks, which is a blasphemous presumption.

the irony being that i could think of some on the other side of the argument that these passages would be better suited to

That's not particularly ironic but it is a swell display of your arrogance and lack of self-awareness. "I'm rubber, you're glue!" isn't exactly the strongest response when a Christian is confronted by an atheist who says "Hey, isn't your behavior sort of out of whack with the Scriptures?"
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:51 PM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


pt - in St. Alia's first comment she states her belief that Wilson's remorse is sincere and then, as you did in the above comment, chides those who disagree by categorizing their opinions as unprovable assertions made by fallible creatures who do not know what is in the man's heart, and that only God truly knows- ignoring the fact that her first comment was an unprovable assertion made by a fallible creature.

it's called giving someone the benefit of the doubt - i fail to see the blasphemy in it - nor do i understand why your accusations of blasphemy shouldn't be as exactly imaginary in your beliefs as god is

what's your next accusation? my spanking your invisible pink unicorn?

"Hey, isn't your behavior sort of out of whack with the Scriptures?"

you've yet to explain why you believe her statements are prideful - nor have you explained why her giving this man the benefit of the doubt is out of whack with the scriptures

frankly, i think you're just being gratuitously nasty to people who disagree with your opinion
posted by pyramid termite at 11:13 PM on April 7, 2009


but i'm not the one who used the phrase moral hazard to express discontent with the idea of people being forgiven for bad things - i don't see how one can use that phrase about an earth where bad people are often rewarded and good people are often burdened down - if you say the reward of a deathbed confession is imaginary, then it can't be an reward
I have the feeling I'm going to need to use some charts. If Person A believes that they will be punished for eternity for hurting other people, they may decide they will not hurt other people in order to avoid that punishment. This sort of arrangement is most effective for individuals who do not have the capacity for empathy with others -- sociopaths and psychopaths respond primarily to threats of punishment, not concern for fellow human beings.

Even if the eternal punishment is imaginary, if its promise is sufficient to motivate this person to avoid harming others there is a net gain to society. The moral hazard comes when the punishment is also avoided by the deathbed apology. The abusive and dangerous personality types most likely to be motivated by the threat of punishment are also the ones that are most often skilled at 'gaming the system'; thus, the most likely to defer any "punishment avoidance" behaviors until the last possible moment. Thus, the moral hazard.
the whole point of invoking moral hazard is to say that people get what they deserve because if they don't, things get out of balance - and i'm just not seeing that balance happen on this planet
I think there's some confusion, then, about the meaning of 'moral hazard' -- it is not sour grapes about someone else not being punished. Quoth Wikipedia: "Moral hazard is the prospect that a party insulated from risk may behave differently from the way it would behave if it were fully exposed to the risk." A party that believes they can do wrong and apologize later, thus avoiding the consequences, is a party insulated from risk. I am not suggesting that this 'disproves Christianity' or 'proves that Christians are bad' or even that it suggests most Christians are doing that. The theological structure of it does create a moral hazard, however.

When the looking-death-in-the-face conversion of an abuser is celebrated as heroic (not necessarily by those in this thread, just by anyone) it is troublesome because it is promoting that moral hazard.
posted by verb at 11:31 PM on April 7, 2009


By the way, it has been my experience-and one borne out in Scripture-that typically people who are sinning and think they will repent later will actually be more likely to get more and more hardened in their sin. There is a biblical concept that talks about being hardened-that at a certain point God gives a person up into their sin and repentance is no longer possible. So, theologically speaking it is a pretty stupid and dangerous idea to think one can live like the devil and wait till one's deathbed to repent.

If this guy is genuine-and again I have no reason not to give him the benefit of the doubt-God has had real mercy on him, enabling him to repent. I suspect someone-possibly one of his victims-has been spending years praying for this man's soul.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:31 AM on April 8, 2009


By the way, it has been my experience-and one borne out in Scripture-that typically people who are sinning and think they will repent later will actually be more likely to get more and more hardened in their sin.
That's practically the definition of a moral hazard. I'm not discussing the theological implications -- whether someone will actually make it to Heaven or not. I'm talking about the impact on behavior in the here and now.
posted by verb at 7:00 AM on April 8, 2009


I think there's some confusion, then, about the meaning of 'moral hazard'

no, the confusion is between real world consequences and speculative ones - that, and i think you're trying to oversimplify a complicated subject

Quoth Wikipedia: "Moral hazard is the prospect that a party insulated from risk may behave differently from the way it would behave if it were fully exposed to the risk." A party that believes they can do wrong and apologize later, thus avoiding the consequences, is a party insulated from risk. I am not suggesting that this 'disproves Christianity'

actually, it's more likely to "prove" the notion that you can't have morality without religion and its threat of dire afterlife consequences for those who break rules - that's not a notion i like, but that's one conclusion the moral hazard argument could result in - it's a two edged sword
posted by pyramid termite at 7:27 AM on April 8, 2009


i find it really puzzling that some here find society's use of force and imprisonment to be questionable when it's over things like drugs and suspected terrorists - but once the suspect works against what they believe in, then the book should be thrown at him! - "extinction, prison, exile"

I find it puzzling that you confuse victimless crimes — drug use, not-actually-terrorizing — with crimes that have victims — beating the living shit out of a black kid because, hey, he's black.

Wilson should probably have spent his lifetime in jail. Because he did not, our society allowed him to continue to harm. That was a dumb mistake on our (society's) part.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:38 AM on April 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


I appreciate some of the thoughtful responses, especially verb. I detest some of the hateful and spiteful responses. You know who you are.

But for the vast majority of this thread, I still can't gather anything except "It's not fair! He shouldn't get to feel better!"

That's what this boils down to. Those of you can deny it all you want, but that is the root motivation for all of this. You are no more than a petulant child, stamping your feet and shaking your fists because someone else is getting to do something you don't want them to. You detest the fact that this man holds a religious framework in which he is allowed to petition for forgiveness, and feel like he receives it. It annoys you to no end. You are not only annoyed, but angered, offended, enraged. Wherever some of you got the notion that offering forgiveness somehow further injuries the victim is medieval.

You have a perverse thirst for vengeance.

And what I can't understand for the life of me is why do you fucking care? If you do not believe in a God, and certainly do not believe in a Messiah, and CERTAINLY don't believe in a paradise in the afterlife, then why on Earth do you give a shit?

Your argument is with (some? most? all?) Christian theology, not this one man.

I have no idea if he is being sincere or not. Neither do ANY of you. That's why above I said we had to set aside discussions of sincerity, since it is unknowable and just clouds the issue. But yet, here we are, still post after post about "He's not being sincere! You just KNOW he's not!"

For what it is worth, again, I no longer have any faith, having abandoned it almost 15 years ago. I think this man's attempt to gain favor in the afterlife is a hollow pursuit. I do not believe his attempts at apology and cries for forgiveness will matter, at all, after his brain function ceases.

But, here's the thing... I DO think it matters in the here and now, here on Earth! The part that so many of you are railing against, I actually think is the ONLY positive outcome. Regardless of his motivation, he is attempting, in some way, any way, to "do the right thing".

What matters is not motivation, it is intention. Those are not the same thing. My entire belief system is intention based. If you intend to do a right, then that is right, regardless of outcome. If you intend to do a wrong, it is wrong.

So, how to separate motivation and intention?

If his intention is to dredge up old fears and wounds, and further emotionally damage these people by reminding them of the power he had over them, then that is a Bad Thing (tm) and obviously his intentions are not pure. I don't think anyone here is saying he is doing that. So let's just discount that.

If his intention is to legitimately try to make amends, then I think that is a Good Thing (tm).

See, that is the difference between motivation and intention.

His motivation may be to avoid fire and brimstone, but if his intentions are pure, then it is a positive event, regardless of what any of us think in this thread.

And as more than 1 person has mentioned, some of the people he has offered his apology to, the actual injured parties, have accepted his apology. I think that speaks greatly to their character, and indeed much more to their character than Wilson's. And far, far superior yet to some of the vileness I've seen in here.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:53 AM on April 8, 2009


I find it puzzling that you confuse victimless crimes — drug use, not-actually-terrorizing

terrorism is not a victimless crime

Wilson should probably have spent his lifetime in jail.

for aggravated assault? that's extreme

you've proved my point - a society ruled by the likes of you would be merciless and ruthless towards those it didn't accept - much more so than ours is now

seems to me the velvet glove's fallen off the iron fist here
posted by pyramid termite at 7:58 AM on April 8, 2009


And what I can't understand for the life of me is why do you fucking care? If you do not believe in a God, and certainly do not believe in a Messiah, and CERTAINLY don't believe in a paradise in the afterlife, then why on Earth do you give a shit?
Because I, like you, find the here and now to be important and I believe that treating him as a hero reinforces the moral hazard that I've discussed above. Pretending that it is a non-issue seems as strange as railing against the man himself and demanding that he be executed. It's about as obvious a case of end-of-life supernatural bargaining as you will ever find. The man explicitly says that it is. And when we celebrate cases of supernatural end-of-life bargaining we encourage others who would not be affected by empathy to use the same tactic.
Your argument is with (some? most? all?) Christian theology, not this one man.
Well, yes. I thought that was obvious. Wilson's story is a bit of a seed around which issues of forgiveness, consequences, responsibility, and so on can coalesce. I'll admit that I was unperturbed by the story until several of the posters here started talking about how it was a an inspiring story of redemption, a case of Christianity "doing its job," and so on.

I don't believe there is any point in further punishing the man; I just find it interesting that his Christian friends were unable to influence him until he was dying, and that the primary expressed concern of Christians in this thread is for him to experience catharsis and relief from the temporal consequences of his actions.
posted by verb at 8:15 AM on April 8, 2009


it's called giving someone the benefit of the doubt

That's fine, as long as you acknowledge that your benefit of the doubt ultimately has as much weight as those who doubt the benefit. You believe X. I believe Y. If you dispute Y as being knowable only by God without recognizing that X is as well, there is an implication that X is what God knows. Like I've said twice before, it's a blasphemous presumption.

nor do i understand why your accusations of blasphemy shouldn't be as exactly imaginary in your beliefs as god is

Well that's just silly - I'm not a Jew or Muslim either, but if I observe a practitioner of any of those faiths acting in a way that I believe violates a tenet of their belief system, I am certainly not prohibited from saying so.

frankly, i think you're just being gratuitously nasty to people who disagree with your opinion

The meanest things I've said here have been directed towards Wilson; I certainly don't and have never begrudged anyone their faith.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:43 AM on April 8, 2009


If his intention is to legitimately try to make amends, then I think that is a Good Thing (tm).

But that's our whole point. His intention is not to "make amends" at all. He is not donating to the NAACP, he is not announcing an intent to speak to hate groups and urge them to mend the error of their ways, he is not planning on giving money by way of restitution to the people he wronged. His intention is not to "make amends," his intention is to "avoid trouble".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:26 AM on April 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


But that's our whole point. His intention is not to "make amends" at all. He is not donating to the NAACP, he is not announcing an intent to speak to hate groups and urge them to mend the error of their ways, he is not planning on giving money by way of restitution to the people he wronged. His intention is not to "make amends," his intention is to "avoid trouble".

How do you know this?
posted by desuetude at 1:38 PM on April 8, 2009


How do you know this?

He said as much himself. His only thought when he explained himself was "God said I should be sorry, so I'm sorry." He said not a single thing about any other motivation, intent, or action he was going to take.

If he was feeling true remorse, of the sort I and others are talking about, he'd simply be saying, "Man, I'm sorry, I was an asshole." God's opinion on the situation wouldn't even be part of his statement. Okay, this kind of remorse doesn't necessarily guarantee he'd be taking any act of restitution against his victims either, but it at least would indicate the kind of remorse that COULD lead him to at least TRY to do so.

"God said I need to be sorry, so I'm sorry" doesn't lead one to do that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:53 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


He said as much himself. His only thought when he explained himself was "God said I should be sorry, so I'm sorry." He said not a single thing about any other motivation, intent, or action he was going to take.

Well, he's not presented as a particularly articulate (or intelligent) man. But we don't know what he's saying when he accepts these speaking engagements, either. I don't know whether his apology is sincere either, but I find the level of absolute certainty as to his motivations based on one thin, schlocky article to be bizarre.

I can't help but think that if he was donating to the NAACP or offering money in any way, he'd be accused of trying to "buy forgiveness" or some such.
posted by desuetude at 3:08 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Apparently "people who do wrong should feel bad about it" is a controversial point.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:11 PM on April 8, 2009


I read your reply, pyramid termite, but can't be arsed to say anything more than "ridiculous." Suspected terrorists, velvet gloves, silly hyperbole and silly cliches. Boring.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:43 PM on April 8, 2009


Because there ain't much more ingrained and stubborn as a good old fashioned southern racist old white man.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies


Or a good old fashioned southern racist young white man.
Or a good old fashioned racist old white man.
Or a good old fashioned southern racist old white woman.

Or a racist.

(every night I pray that you will stop giving your deluded misrepresentations of the South, and I don't really believe in god)
posted by justgary at 11:29 PM on April 8, 2009


Uh, gary, you DO know where she lives, right?
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:45 PM on April 8, 2009


What Pope Guilty is trying to tell you is I live in the South, I am related and/or acquainted with such old white men, and I would attest in a court of law with no fear of perjury re the stubborness of old racist white men.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:03 PM on April 9, 2009


Or the stubborness of certain single-issue voters who are being challenged to explain their self-contradictory worldview, eh?
posted by five fresh fish at 4:06 PM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


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