Like a few million other people I recently watched the gripping Netflix documentary, Making A Murderer. Without giving away too much (in case you have not seen it), this documentary tells the story of a the criminal prosecution of a Manitowoc County man, Steven Avery for a 1985 rape and later for a 2005 rape and murder. By now you probably know that Avery served 18 years in prison for the first charge but was later found to have been innocent. The documentary makes one think that Avery was unjustly prosecuted and falsely convicted in the first case. Remarkably, throughout the 10-hour documentary officials and others involved in prosecuting Avery for the first crime continue to insist that he is guilty despite the fact that the conviction was not only reversed, that Avery was released from prison, and that the county paid Avery more than $400,000 in a civil settlement—though the county admitted no fault or wrong doing for its actions.
The second case is more ambiguous. The documentary does a reasonably good job of helping the viewer to see and feel the ambiguity. Is Avery really guilty of raping and murdering Theresa Halbach? He was convicted for the crimes but there were significant irregularities in the investigation and the documentary implies that there were irregularities in the jury. He was found guilty the first time and yet we know he was not. As in the first case, Avery has not succeeded in making his case upon appeal. He is legally guilty and some, largely circumstantial, evidence seems damning but doubts remain. The second case is complicated by the prosecution of a 16-year old boy of apparently diminished capacity. The interrogation and prosecution of the boy is cringe worthy. His initial legal representation is presented in the documentary as not only inadequate (which would seem to provide the basis for an appeal) but arguably as working against his interests.
What should we make of it all?
First, viewers such as you and I are should all remember that though the documentary is not narrated it has a point of view. Out of the hundreds of hours of courtroom and interview footage someone had to make a decision to include some things and to exclude others. Already, in interviews conducted since the documentary was released, both sides have commented about evidence and arguments that were not included in the documentary. The documentary wants to stir our passions against injustice, which is a noble thing, when there has been injustice. In other words, even though we have watched 10 hours of film we were not present for the trial. We are not investigators. We are not jurors.
Second, this film illustrates how difficult it can be, in real life, to get to the truth and how important it is to keep seeking the truth. Insofar as the documentary can be trusted, it seems clear that, in some cases, there was no will to get to the truth, i.e., what actually happened. In other cases, there was a will to obscure the truth—one young person, in one of the trials, admitted to lying. In other cases it’s not clear that anyone but God actually knows what the truth is. Was the 16-year old Brenden Dassey present for the crime? Did he participate? At this point, does he even know? His prosecution seems (in the documentary) to have rested almost entirely on a confession that he gave without benefit of counsel. It seems clear that it was possible to get the boy to say whatever one wanted.
Even when everyone involved in an investigation (whether criminal or historical) is pursuing the truth it still remains difficult to get to it because not everyone agrees on what the truth is when it is found. In the first Avery case, the second DNA-based appeal seems clearly to vindicate his claim to innocence but some authorities seemed sure, even after he had been vindicated, that he was guilty. They seemed to know a priori that he must be guilty and that the truth could not be otherwise. I appreciated the comment of one of Avery’s later lawyers, who defended him in the second case, noting both the importance of seeking the truth and the importance of humility, of being willing to be corrected by new evidence and the facts. Despite all the difficulties, to paraphrase the Big Lebowski, the truth abides. We can know the truth but the truth does not show itself to the lazy nor does it appear to the corrupt.
Third, the film is a compelling witness to the effects of sin in the world. Every single person involved in the case is a sinner. Steven Avery, Brenden Dassey, the investigators, the prosecutors, the judges, and the lawyers all labor under the effects of sin and the fall. Steven Avery was no angel. The police knew him well from prior contacts. Yet, it also seems (at least in the picture painted by the documentary) as if the Avery clan suffered unfair treatment because they live unconventionally, because they are an embarrassment to the community, because they live on the wrong side of the tracks. In the second case, investigators did not find key evidence until after days of going over the same space repeatedly. At one point, one of Avery’s lawyers spoke of “the magic key” (a reference to the “magic bullet” that ricocheted and hit president Kennedy in 1963). Further, the “magic key” was found by an investigator from a department who was supposed to have recused itself from the investigation. The blood evidence, in the second case, seemed ambiguous too. Yet, even Avery’s strongest defenders wondered aloud whether he might have committed the crime. In watching Avery, one had the sense that one was watching either a remarkably honest fellow or a skilled, practiced manipulator. At the end, it is hard to tell which is the true or whether, in turns, both are true.
The series is a great illustration of the covenant of works. Civil law is a reflection of the principle: “do this and live.” The law, the covenant of works, demands perfect, personal righteousness. The law, righteousness, also demands that every infraction be punished. Once one has entered the criminal justice system as a potential criminal, one is liable not only to legal guilt but also to all the penalties prescribed by the law. The law is relentless. Under it there is no grace. That is why it is so important to try to find out what the law demands and what one has actually done. A judge may show mercy by abating some of the penalty but grace is another thing. The principles of law and grace are two things.
By contrast, grace or the covenant of grace operates on a different principle. In it, God says to sinners, “I have fulfilled justice for you. In my Son I have borne your penalty for you and I have covered you with (imputed to you) my perfect righteousness.” In the covenant of grace sinners are regarded as righteous, as though they have personally met all the terms of justice. In Christ, of course, grace and justice meet. Christ was only and continually righteous for us. All that he did is credited to us. In him, by grace alone, through faith alone, we see both the righteousness and the grace of God.
The documentary seemed to want us to conclude that Avery was, in large measure, a victim not only of a corrupt legal system but also of his environment. The title is a double entendre. He is presented at once as an innocent tow-headed boy who was gradually corrupted by his family and surroundings (environment) and then made unjustly (?), legally into a murderer. At least one person, in the documentary, raised the possibility that his 18 years in prison so changed him that he became a murderer and thus committed the Halbach murder. There is no doubt that our environment is corrupt and corrupting but Avery, if he committed the crime, did not become a murderer because of his environment. We sin because we make uncoerced choices. We are responsible for our choices. This is the conundrum of Pelagianism (and the Rousseauean) account of the corruption of nature. If humans fall because of their environment, how did the environment become corrupt? The environment did not make anyone murder Theresa Halbach. She was killed because of the corruption of the human heart and the will to power.
In the outrage generated by the series let us not forget the victim, Theresa Halbach. Whether Avery and Dassey are victims is unclear but there is no doubt that Theresa Halbach was legally, completely innocent. Legally and morally considered she had a right to do her job and to return home safe and sound. That did not happen and the authorities are God’s ministers to seek justice for her and for her family, within the confines of the law and the constitution. Whatever happens, if anything happens, in the wake of the film let it be with Theresa Halbach in mind.
“The documentary seemed to want us to conclude that Avery was, in large measure, a victim not only of a corrupt legal system but also of his environment. The title is a double entendre. He is presented at once as an innocent tow-headed boy who was gradually corrupted by his family and surroundings (environment) and then made unjustly (?), legally into a murderer.” Dr. Clark
The proposition that humans are helpless victims of external circumstances such as corrupt systems and environment is traceable to the Frankfurt School, a Marxist think-tank founded in Weimar, Germany in 1923. Among its founders were Georg Lukacs, Herbert Marcuse, and Theodore Adorno.
The Frankfurt School was a multidisciplinary effort which included sociologists, sexologists, and psychologists. Its primary purpose was to translate Marxism from economic terms into cultural terms. It would provide the ideas on which to base a new politically correct ‘counter culture, counter tradition’ theory of revolution based on the need to undermine and destroy Christendom (belief in God, the Fall, Christianity, morality, traditional family, etc.). New ‘oppressed’ groups would be found to replace the workers class, the faithless proletariat. New group resentment would be encouraged, inflated, harnessed and ignited in a fiery conflagration against everything targeted for destruction. It would also build a constituency among academics who could build careers studying and writing about the new oppression.
Toward this end, Marcuse (who favored polymorphous perversion)proposed a new proletariat consisting of bitter blacks, homosexuals, lesbians, transsexuals, and criminals. Into this was spliced George Lukacs perverse sex education and cultural terrorism tactics, Theodore Gramsci’s ‘long march’ through cultural institutions, Freudian psychoanalysis, and Pavlovian psychological conditioning techniques. The end product of this effort is now known throughout the West as multiculturalism.
Additional firepower was required: a theory to pathologize what was to be destroyed. In 1950, the Frankfurt School augmented multiculturalism with Adornos’ idea of the authoritarian personality. This concept is premised on the notion that orthodox Christianity, capitalism, private property, gun ownership, and the traditional one-man, one-woman family create a character prone to racism and fascism. Thus anyone who upholds Americas traditional moral ethics and institutions is by nature racist and fascist. Children raised by traditional values parents, we are told to believe, will almost certainly become racists, fascists, and homophobes, a more recent conception of evil added to the line-up. By extension of this reasoning, if racism, fascism, and homophobia are endemic to Americas’ traditional culture, then everyone raised in the traditions of God, the Fall, orthodox Christianity, family, gun ownership, free markets and patriotism is mentally ill and in need of psychological help.
The pernicious influence of Adornos idea can be clearly seen in some of the ‘scientific’ research that receives tax-payer money:
“In Aug. 2003, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the results of their $1.2 million tax-payer funded study. It stated, essentially, that traditionalists are mentally disturbed. Scholars from the Universities of Maryland, California at Berkeley, and Stanford had determined that social conservatives…suffer from ‘mental rigidity,’ ‘dogmatism,’ and ‘uncertainty avoidance.’ together with associated indicators for mental illness.” (Social and Emotional Learning, Jan. 26, 2005, edwatch.org)
(Source: Cultural Marxism, Linda Kimball, Feb. 2007, American Thinker)
in the wake of the film let it be with Theresa Halbach in mind.
amen. Love does no wrong/harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Rom 13:10
“… In 1950, the Frankfurt School augmented multiculturalism with Adornos’ idea of the authoritarian personality. This concept is premised on the notion that orthodox Christianity, capitalism, private property, gun ownership, and the traditional one-man, one-woman family create a character prone to racism and fascism. Thus anyone who upholds Americas traditional moral ethics and institutions is by nature racist and fascist. Children raised by traditional values parents, we are told to believe, will almost certainly become racists, fascists, and homophobes, a more recent conception of evil added to the line-up. By extension of this reasoning, if racism, fascism, and homophobia are endemic to Americas’ traditional culture, then everyone raised in the traditions of God, the Fall, orthodox Christianity, family, gun ownership, free markets and patriotism is mentally ill and in need of psychological help….”
I’m a bit confused here. Seems like the definition of “…fascist totalitarianism has no positive theology, but confines itself to refuting, fighting and denying all traditional ideas and ideologies…Fascism not only refutes all old ideas but denies, for the first time in European history, the foundation on which all former political and social systems had been built…” [Drucker, Peter F. The End of Economic Man: the Origins of Totalitarianism. New Brunswick, N.J., U.S.A.: Transaction, 1995]. Drucker continues, “I…realized that the new totalitarianisms, especially Nazism in Germany, were indeed a genuine revolution, aiming at the overthrow of something much more fundamental than economic organization: values, beliefs, and basic morality. It was a revolution which replaced hope by despair, [and] reason by magic…”
If this is true then it’s not those “traditional orthodox Christian, capitalist, private property owning, gun owners, and the traditional one-man, one-woman family adherents” who are the fascists, it’s those who wish to tear down all of those established ideals in favor of a nihilistic, deconstruction of values, beliefs, basic morality, and reason who are the true fascists. Of course, using the good old bait-and-switch tactic, they’ve cleverly substituted the term for something that sounds much more innocuous to an ignorant, susceptible culture, “postmodernity.”
This is interesting. Can you explain how it connects to the post?
George: “If this is true then it’s not those “traditional orthodox Christian, capitalist, private property owning, gun owners, and the traditional one-man, one-woman family adherents” who are the fascists, it’s those who wish to tear down all of those established ideals in favor of a nihilistic, deconstruction of values, beliefs, basic morality, and reason who are the true fascists”
Exactly! The real fascists are modern communists camouflaged as progressives dedicated to the destruction of this country. In “The Threat We Face: what is the nature of the adversary we are up against?” David Horowitz argues that the president, his chief operative Valerie Jarrett and his chief political strategist David Axelrod all came out of the same Communist left and the same radical new left as he did,
“….and all have remained heart and soul a part of it. As someone who turned his back on that destructive movement, I can say with confidence that they have not. If a person belongs to an organization or is the supporter of an idea that they come to see as destructive or evil, the first thing they will want to do when they leave is to warn others against it, to warn them of the dangers it represents. If a person does not do this – that tells me that he or she hasn’t left the destructive movement or abandoned the pernicious idea but has just put another face on them. Instead of calling themselves communists or socialists they call themselves liberals and progressives. This camouflage is very old. I never once heard my parents and their party friends refer to themselves as Communists. They were progressives – and registered Democrats.” (frontpagemag.com, October 9, 2013
Horowitz outlines four defining features of the left:
1. Alienation from country: “If you ask progressives about their patriotic feeling, they will tell you that they don’t think of themselves first as Americans but as “citizens of the world.”
2. The key to understanding the left is its instinctive, practiced, and indispensable dishonesty.
3. The third feature that defines progressive politics is contemptuous disregard for the past, which is real, and exclusive focus on an imaginary future: “To understand why this is important, think of progressives as a species of religious fundamentalists planning a redemption. Like fundamentalists they look at the world as fallen – a place corrupted by racism, sexism and class division. But the truly religious understand that we are the source of corruption and that redemption is only possible through the work of a Divinity. In contrast, progressives see themselves as the redeemers, which is why they are so dangerous. Because they regard those who oppose them as the eternally damned. Progressives are on a mission to create the kingdom of heaven on earth by redistributing income and using the state to enforce politically correct attitudes and practices in everyone’s life. They want to control what you do, and who you are, and even what you eat. For your own good, of course.”
4. Since Progressives see themselves as saving the world – or “saving the planet” as they would prefer — they regard politics as a religious war: “This explains why they are so rude and nasty when you disagree with them or resist their panaceas (and of course if they had the power, the punishments would be more severe); that is why the politics of personal destruction is their favorite variety, why they are verbal assassins and go directly for the jugular, and why they think nothing of destroying the reputations of their opponents and burying them permanently. And that is why they can perform their character assassinations without regrets – or did I miss Obama’s apology to Romney for accusing him of killing a woman with cancer during the campaign? Why apologize when you did it for the good of a world transforming cause?”
In “The Snapping of the American Mind: Healing a Nation Broken by a Lawless Government and Godless Culture,” David Kupelian chronicles the decline and fall of America and shows that it was deliberately orchestrated by progressives. Compared with the decent, morally ordered, child and family-friendly nation it once was, today’s progressive dominated America is a different country altogether said Kupelian:
“(it is) deeply and angrily divided, unable to deal with crises foreign or domestic, the world’s greatest debtor nation with 50 million people on food stamps, rampant divorce and family breakdown, unprecedented sexual anarchy with 110 million with STDs, almost 60 million abusing alcohol, and over 70 million taking mood-altering drugs. On so many levels, America is becoming ever more “bizarre”—diametrically opposed to logic and common sense. Although America’s bizarro transformation has been in progress for decades, it burst into full bloom in the age of Obama. ” (p. 10)
Here’s how retired Marine Lt. Colonel Oliver North describes bizarro America, where according to the U.S. government North is an an extremist (formerly fascist) because:
” I am a Christian and meet regularly with other Christians to study Gods word. My faith convinces me the prophecies in the Holy Bible are true. I believe in the sanctity of life, oppose abortion and want to preserve marriage as the union of a man and woman. I am a veteran with skills and knowledge from military training and combat. I own several firearms, frequently shoot them, buy ammunition and consider efforts to infringe on my Second Amendment rights to be wrong and unconstitutional. I frequently support the sovereignty of the United States, am deeply concerned about our economy, increasingly higher taxes, illegal immigration, soaring unemployment and actions by our government that will bury my children beneath a mountain of debt. Apparently, all this makes me a ‘right-wing extremist.’ At least that’s what it says in the April 7, 2009 ‘assessment’ issued by the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security.” (ibid, pp. 14-15)
In bizarro America, many key Biblical, political, and cultural concepts actually amount to their opposite. For example, the Genesis account ex nihilo is backward, anti-science superstition; traditional marriage is slavery; the words discernment, discrimination, and judgment conjure up clouds of negativity and foreboding; sin is not sin but self-actualization; tolerance means mandatory celebration of vice; charity is entitlement; envy is righteousness; theft is economic justice; faith is ignorance; Lucifer is mans’ genetic creator, and the world we live in is a computer simulation in the minds of Robotic Overlords who are using humanity as playthings. This is the “scientific” theory put forward by a number of physicists and Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom, one of the founders of the World Transhumanist Association. .
Actually, I was responding to Linda’s first comment. She apparently connected the documentary’s portrayal of Avery as “a victim not only of a corrupt legal system but also of his environment” with “…The proposition that humans are helpless victims of external circumstances such as corrupt systems and environment is traceable to the Frankfurt School, a Marxist think-tank founded in Weimar, Germany in 1923. Among its founders were Georg Lukacs, Herbert Marcuse, and Theodore Adorno…” Further, the Frankfurt School “…augmented multiculturalism with Adornos’ idea of the authoritarian personality. This concept is premised on the notion that orthodox Christianity, capitalism, private property, gun ownership, and the traditional one-man, one-woman family create a character prone to racism and fascism…”
I was simply raising the issue of “fascism” by definition being just the opposite, especially in the postmodern deconstructionism of Derrida that has now grown like a cancer that has spread from literary criticism to philosophy to politics to economics to religion. The very foundations of independent thought are under assault; the rights of the individual are being deconstructed and the idea of the primacy of the community (Gemeinschaft) is being exalted; all transcendent truths and morals are being deconstructed and attacked. They are being replaced nowadays with an irrational epistemology founded upon subjective feelings (authenticity) with a hatred for so-called “meta-narratives.” Free market capitalism is under assault and being accused of causing the oppression of the poor and creating an unfair system that creates haves and have-nots; there is talk of ‘creating the millennial Kingdom of God’ here on earth by destroying or ‘redeeming’ all the political and economic structures of society (liberal over-realized eschatology in mainline Protestant and apparently since VAT2 and Francis, the RCC. If one has doubts about any of this watch the news carefully and read what it says on the placards carried by the protestors of police shootings and listen to what they are chanting.
Thank you George. I appreciate the explanation.
“The law, righteousness, also demands that every infraction be punished.” True but without looking it up it seems to me that the law also has a high level of required proof, like two eye witnesses in the case of murder. DaveW
Yes, that was the Mosaic Law but notice the lower case l. I was speaking of the law as a principle in general.
Good article Dr. Clark. Having recently watched this documentary myself I have some of the following observations.
First, it is truly a very well-made documentary and presents things in a very compelling manner.
Avery has truly been blessed with some amazing supporters and a very good PR machine. Whatever one thinks of Avery this fact must be acknowledged. Also Dr. Clark makes a great point that in the cause célèb out rage generated by the documentary very little seems to be made of the murder victim and the victims family.
It appears (at least based on the light cast by the documentary) that Steven Avery and his young nephew were very miss treated to some degree by law enforcement and government officials. It seems that because of his past they pursued him as the responsible party denying what our system of justice is to hold to – namely in this case that past crimes are not automatic indicators of guilt in a current crime.
Now I know at this point Avery’s defenders will say …..”wait a minute he was completely found innocent of that first charge via DNA evidence, he ”unjustly’ was made to serve18 years.”
Yes, but folks let’s get real, while that is true, Steven Avery was a man with a very soiled reputation and past. A man who committed a lot of impactful wrongs and sins, indeed acts of past malice, anger and violence. There is much that can be found in the public that would give strong indication of this, just go check out some of the statements on the track record of his character given by his ex-wife and others intimately close to him over long periods of time. It is so often the case with stories like this, while they might be innocent of this particular crime they are in fact criminals with much anger issues in the track record of their past, like it or not our ongoing character and past cacthes up to us all. In the grand scheme of things Avery is far from an innocent man. None of us are, but Steven Avery is hardly a man who should be made into a cult hero in some cause célèbre self righteous activism campaign. I think our city, state and local government’s can be very corrupt, but it seems to me his ongoing character, associations, life choices, (read sin) and his world view through the years is ever as to blaim as is the corrupt government for why he wound up where he is today. I don’t know for sure which or if any of the parties involved with this case are Christians or not—- But when it comes to associations one keeps, there is a dreadful and often misused quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that comes to mind …….” The only profitable relationship to others, especially our weaker brother is one of love, and that means the will to hold fellowship with them.” This quote must be given better and proper discernment as to what “love” really is as well as what a “brother” really is or isn’t. Sometimes love needs to be tough as the saying goes. Biblical discernment is needed.
Yes we are called to grace and mercy and we can and should be friends with unbelievers, but the Scriptures are also filled with mandates to not associate with evildoers and since we don’t have true “fellowship” with unbelievers it is not Biblical to speak of those relationships as “fellowship.” Holding fellowship with true brothers also means holding them accountable, that is the loving thing to do. Those who are in consistent unrepentant patterns of serious sin yet make the claim of “brethren”…… Well, we are called by God’s Word to not associate with them. The church is further called to discipline them and remove them from the church in the hopes that they will turn to true repentance if they are truly believers. When those who claim to be believers consistently buck against being held accountable by God’s Word this is often an indication that they are not really believers. Again, in this particular case I don’t know who was a Christian or even if there were Christians involved in either side of this case. However, some of these items seem relevant in our cause célèbre and activism driven culture that has even creeped into the church. This documentary is even now being used in Christian circles for social gospel/justice activism.
All that said, all of our opinions in this case are based on watching a documentary. The fact is we just don’t know, none of us do, if he really did or did not do this latest crime he serving time for. Our system of justice and jurrors have to make the best decisions that can based on the facts they have at hand. In this fallen world they can often get it very very wrong, and that can deeply hurt individuals families.
It is disturbing to me how often cases like this are tried in the media and the court of public opinion instead of kept in the confines of the legal system, in the court room. This has greatly bothered me since the OJ trial, as it seems from that time forward our celebrity culture loves to feed on stories like this. I am torn between this idea of the public has a right to know and the hair on the back of my neck standing up over fellow Americans being tried in the court of the media or public opinion. It just doesn’t seem right. I think one of Dr. Clark’s past articles hit the nail on the head when it said social media puts us all back under the covenant of works, very insightful. What’s even worse is that stories like this seem to elevate people to leadership status (of the cause célèbre cult hero variety) who should not be. Even in many Christian circles there seems to be this heavy leaning on someone’s great story or amazing testimony. That coupled with this idea that the means of grace are not good enough and they’re boring ……. “I’ve got to have something to do I’ve got to have something …some kind of activism, that’s the key thing that makes my Christian Faith relevant”…. or so goes the thought. To the point where often it is primarily these things which put many a folk in leadership positions or on the parachurch speaking circuit , etc. Whereas the wisdom of Scripture clearly tells us we should not make new converts or those with ongoing/ recent sin or character issues into leaders. There seems to be a great lack of humility in the approach to this, even in Christian circles. Yes, none of us should act like the older brother in the prodigal son story, but folks let’s properly interpret what a biblical text or story does and doesn’t mean. The prodigal son was forgiven by his father (a foreshadowing of our forgiveness by our perfect Heavenly Father in Christ) , but the prodigal son no doubt still had to deal with ongoing life consequences because of his long ongoing character and sin. If he were to be a child of God growing in character he would need to engage in that long-term character development in the years after his return. Nor is there any indication from holy scripture that the prodigal son was held up on a pedestal in his community or civic world or any indication he was put into leadership roles upon his return.
Anyway, just some thoughts.
In a cause celeb and activism driven culture where folks don’t seem to be busy at their own family raising nor displaying a consistent long obedience in the same direction year after year decade after decade in the vocations that the Lord has for them, would it not be something to behold and indeed more God glorifying if we all endeavored to do as the Scriptures say…..
“…to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
1 Thessalonians 4:11
Millennials and Baby boomers really do have a strong tie that binds in their precious social gospel.
“The greatest paradox of the last fifty years in the United States has been the contrast between the enormous growth of the non-profit sector and the collapse in the social capital of poor and middle class American communities. We have more organizations with more money working to solve more social problems than ever before…..”
Being a victim is a growth industry and it’s hand maiden is the social gospel. Yet they are yielding pathetic net results, but are creating more of a victim class. Epitome of a vicious cycle really.