Ask RC: What are we to make of the Casey Anthony decision?
Nothing. A little girl died. She might have been murdered. It might have been an accident. It might have been somewhere in between. Her mother may be a murderer, or she may merely be a slightly more dramatic sinner than most of us. She came by her sin naturally, inheriting it from her parents, just like the rest of us. Her verdict may have been a mistake, a travesty of justice, a regrettable inevitability, or the right thing. I don’t know, and I suspect, neither do any of you.
It is a sad and sordid tale, whatever happened. No one should and I, as the father of five of them, never would want to diminish the horror of the death of a little girl. That said, the thing that most interests me in this whole media event is what it tells us about us that it has become such an event. Little children have died for millennia. In our own day thirty five hundred of them die every day, on purpose through the evil of abortion. In both instances there is no flotilla of satellite trucks beaming images into millions of living rooms. In both instances the wire services have not filled our newspapers with the latest information. What’s the difference?
What has changed is technology. Neil Postman, in his classic work, Amusing Ourselves to Death, argued that before the advent of the telegraph there was no such thing as “the news of the day.” There was no category for this form of information- descriptions of events, unlikely to ever directly impact us, in distant lands. The information we sought in times past was information that intersected with our own lives.
Now some might argue that this is a rather narrow and selfish perspective on things. Doesn’t opening the windows of the world onto the suffering of others encourage the virtues of empathy and compassion? Our second instance proves otherwise. It is not a mistake that we are called to love our neighbor. Empathetic feelings about a tragedy far, far away, whether it be a little girl’s death, or an earthquake in Japan, can’t run that deep, given that we aren’t in the least jolted to see the coverage we are watching be interrupted by a pitch to switch which brand of dish soap we use. It is faux empathy, faux compassion, just enough to persuade us that in feeling bad we have actually done something.
Real empathy requires real relationships with real people, with real neighbors. Were we invested in those closest to us, our families, our neighbors, our pew neighbors we would live real lives. Maybe, just maybe, if Casey Antony’s neighbor had not been too busy tuning into whatever captured the nation’s attention three years ago, maybe things might have turned out differently. Maybe we should all take up our cross, follow Jesus, and let the dead bury the dead. Our neighbors, and their unborn children are dying. That it’s not being covered on the news is how you can tell it’s where you’re supposed to be.