Much to think about in this article. Manson, Murder and Mercyby Mathew N. SchmalzJustice or mercy? That is the pressing question in what seems to be a coda in the story of the 1969 Manson family murders. At issue is the request by Susan Atkins, now 60, for compassionate release from prison on the grounds of terminal illness.Apart from Charles Manson himself, Atkins was the public face of the Manson family during the Tate-LaBianca murder trial. She had bragged about mercilessly stabbing the pregnant Sharon Tate and laughed when details of the murders were presented in court. When she received a death sentence, the verdict seemed particularly appropriate. When her punishment was later changed to life imprisonment with possibility parole, it seemed to be a gross distortion of the justice process. If there was an example of unmerited mercy in the criminal justice system, surely this was it.This issue of unmerited mercy manifested itself in Atkinss case in a quite different way later on. An obvious aspect of the public discourse surrounding the Manson family murders was how it was framed in terms of Christian understandings of evil. Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi described Manson as a Mephistophelian guru and Atkins as a vampyra. Given all this Satanic imagery, it seemed natural that God could not be far behind. In 1974, Susan Atkins claimed that she heard Gods audible voice saying that her sins had been forgiven. Since then, Susan Atkins has led an exemplary life in prison.It is tempting to dismiss these religious claims as all too convenient: the demonic influence of Charles Mansion is replaced by the divine influence of God himself. In either case, any sense of personal responsibility is lost. Moreover, Atkins has already received considerably more mercy than did her victims. But the issue of mercy cannot be set aside so easily.As part of an academic project focusing on issues of religious conversion and criminal justice, I corresponded with Susan Atkins over a two-year period before her illness. What struck me always was her quite sophisticated, and self-conscious, articulation of Christian understandings of grace as Gods unmerited love.Such religious ideas do not translate easily into the language of criminal justice, but they are implicit in understandings of rehabilitation and parole. The issue is that few of us really believe that such change is possible. Besides, crimes like the Tate-LaBianca killings are so heinous that they can never be redeemed even by radical personal change. But mercy does have social relevance in that it admits the fundamentally limited nature of any human moral calculus.Developing a way of talking about forgiveness also has social import if for no other reason than America has always been more comfortable talking about retribution. The decision in the Susan Atkins case appropriately belongs to relatives of the victims and the State of California. My plea is for a well-articulated decision that transforms discussion of the Manson family murders into a serious consideration of our own often conflicted relationship to justice and mercy.Mathew N. Schmalz is associate professor of religious studies and director of the College Honors Program at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.
I am not well studied in the area of revival but I think I can safely say that it requires Christians to be Christians. I was forgiven much. According to scripture I was a murderer at heart, yet I received forgiveness from a merciful God. I know of Churches where folks wont sit on the same side of the sanctuary because of some conflict or hurt feelings that took place years and years ago.If this thing called Christianity is about anything
its forgiveness. I know that many folks say they have forgiven so and so for what they did
but often times we do not see the fruit or change in actions that accompanies such an event.I know this is a little off from what the article is about and I wont even act like I would know what to in the situation described above, but it did get me to thinking about my own life.Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Matthew 5:7 (ESV)For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13 (ESV)