A 19th-century example of vigilante justice…
Welcome to DORScribe, a blog about reading the Bible with an open mind.
In other words, this blog is different. (For one thing it includes movie reviews like this to see how “old-timey” Biblical principles can apply to modern culture…)
But mostly this blog says you can get more out of the Bible by reading it with an open mind, and that it was written to liberate people, not shackle them in some kind of “spiritual straitjacket.”
Such ideas run contrary to some common perceptions these days. For example:
I don’t have a problem with God. I have a problem with religion. I’ve chosen to live my life without the certainties of religious faith.
Sting’s comment gives one example of some common perceptions of Christians today: 1) that too many are close-minded; 2) that too many are way too negative; or 3) that too many Christians think The Faith of the Bible is all about getting you to follow their set of rules, on pain of you “going to hell.” (See my way or the highway – Wiktionary.)
For more on such thoughts see About this Blog, which talks instead about the Three Great Promises of Jesus, to all people, and about how through those promises we can live full, rich lives of spiritual abundance and do greater miracles than Jesus, if only we open our minds…
In the meantime:
We were talking about vigilante justice, as examined in the movie Gone Girl, and in the Biblical example of the Apostle Paul being nearly “lynched” by a group of rioters in Jerusalem. (See On “Gone Girl” and Lazy Cusses – Part I.)
As noted, the Daily Office Readings for Saturday, October 11, included Acts 25:13-27, where Paul made his defense before the Roman governor Festus, along with “Agrippa the king” (who ruled as a puppet of Rome). Again, this all started back when Paul arrived in Jerusalem after this third missionary journey, and got in trouble at the hands of certain “agitatators.”
That is – and as told back in Acts 21:27-32 – some members of the “powers that be” in Jerusalem saw Paul in the Temple accompanied by “infidels,” and totally misconstrued the situation:
They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who … has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place…” The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple… While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.
Sound familiar? (I mean, except for the part about soldiers rescuing a person accused of a heinous crime from an angry mob?) And aside from that, there’s a BTW: Paul had followed the law and purified both himself and his “guests” before entering the holy Temple. So “the crowd” got it all wrong but didn’t let a trifling thing like the actual facts get in the way of a good riot.
The upshot was that Paul was arrested and made his defense in several tribunals, including the Sanhedrin, but when the Roman authorities learned that some of the rioters had hatched a plan to kill Paul, they had him taken to Caesarea, where – as noted – he eventually made his defense before Festus and King Agrippa, as told in Acts 25:13-2.
This was after Festus went to Jerusalem to consult Paul’s accusers, but as noted in Acts 25:3, “They requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way.” But Festus – in a justified abundance of caution – had them come to Caesarea, where he (Festus) brought King Agrippa up to speed:
Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king. He said: “There is a man here whom [former Roman governor] Felix left as a prisoner. When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned. I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over anyone before they have faced their accusers and have had an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges.”
(Acts 25:14-16, emphasis added) What a concept! Having a person accused of a heinous crime being able to actually face the person accusing him, and be able to present a defense. What will they think of next? (See Sarcasm – Wikipedia, and/or Irony – Wikipedia.)
But seriously, there is cause for concern these days, as explored by the movie Gone Girl. (And yes – in case I’m being too subtle – I am saying that such media frenzies and/or circuses are indeed a form of modern-day vigilantism…)
There’s a reason why we have things like the Sixth Amendment, which is supposed to guarantee that a person accused of a crime can only be convicted after a public trial “by an impartial jury … and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.” See Bill of Rights Institute: Bill of Rights.
And by the way, these aren’t “new-fangled pointy-headed liberal” legal protections. They go back to the Bible times of Paul and beyond. And there’s one big reason for this Biblical protection: In way too many cases “the crowd” – or in today’s case the media – simply gets it all wrong, as shown in the image below. But there’s another big lesson here: the Bible was designed in large part to protect idiots from their own stupidity!
That is, in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus said, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” But more importantly, He added this, in Matthew 7:2 (NIV): “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
So, if you’re prone to make snap judgments based on incomplete information from sources that aren’t always reliable – like today’s mass media – the chances are good that that’s the same method God will use in judging you. (See also Karma – Wikipedia.)
Now, getting back to the movie being reviewed, Gone Girl:
I don’t want to give away the ironic plot twist or the ending, but here’s a hint:
“Vigilante justice” is rationalized by the idea that adequate legal mechanisms for criminal punishment are either nonexistent or insufficient. Vigilantes typically see the government as ineffective in enforcing the law; such individuals often claim to justify their actions as a fulfillment of the wishes of the community… In a number of cases, vigilantism has involved targets with mistaken identities.
The lower image is courtesy Dewey Defeats Truman – Wikipedia: “‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ was a famously incorrect banner headline on the front page of the Chicago Tribune on November 3, 1948, the day after incumbent United States President Harry S. Truman won an upset victory over Republican challenger and Governor of New York Thomas E. Dewey in the 1948 presidential election.” The full caption: “President-elect Truman holding the infamous issue of the Chicago Tribune, telling the press, ‘That ain’t the way I heard it!’”
As to the subtle difference between a media frenzy and a media circus, see also Media Frenzy Global, a company that apparently specializes in “frenzy manipulation:”
Whether you’re trying to pique interest, incite sales, stir the market, or fan the flames of controversy, one thing is certain – you need to cause a commotion. Of course, you want to remain cool and composed in the midst of the excitement… In other words, you want to harness the media frenzy… We harness the media frenzy by controlling, managing and exploiting the media platforms…
All of which provides an interesting commentary on modern life.
See also Court of public opinion – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia; “It has been said that the prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse case attempted to try the case in the court of public opinion by making unsupported allegations to the media. In the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case, it was alleged that parties were using court pleadings as press releases.”