after Michael and Cathryn Borden of Lititz, Pennsylvania, were slain by
their daughter’s boyfriend (David Ludwig), family and clergy, at least
those who presented themselves to the media, indicated their readiness
to forgive little Lizzie, I mean Kara Borden. Forgiveness at least
implies some acknowledgment of wrongdoing. The media, for the most,
wouldn’t even impugn the girl.
After the shootings, Borden hopped into
her beau’s get-away car. She told him she wanted to “get as far away as
possible, get married, and start a new life.” Only after Borden was
confronted with surveillance cameras did she confess to accompanying
Ludwig of her own free will.
The two had been involved in an intense
sexual relationship. They were hopped-up on feelings of uniqueness and a
heightened sense of being misunderstood. In e-mail exchanges with girl
friends, Borden had intimated her woes would soon be over—by this she
meant the separation from Ludwig her parents had imposed. On the fateful
day the boy executed the Bordens, an argument had ensued. The teens had
stayed out all night, violating Kara’s curfew. It now seems more than
likely she had summoned the heavily armed Ludwig to the house.
Before instant clemency came disbelief.
Kevin Eshleman, the Borden’s pastor,
assured Paula Zahn (who investigates only in the sense that Larry King
"interviews") that since he knew the teen personally, he could say with
certainty she would never conspire against her parents in this manner.
“It just is almost incomprehensible,” he emphasized. Borden's brother’s
best friend also vouched for her. Said Kellymarie Conlon: “It’s
impossible to believe that Kara had any involvement in this at all."
Scott Peterson’s friends and family said
the same of him. Practically every alleged criminal’s kin repeat similar
incantations. By now we know these testimonials are worthless.
Still, one can understand family and
friends refusing to believe the cherubic 14-year-old was nothing but a
victim in the squalid affair. But what excuse do the chronically
incurious and uncritical media have in view of the emerging—and
“Probably none” is how MSNBC’s Clint Van
Zandt, a private investigator, evaluated Borden’s possible involvement
in the murders. The sentiment was seconded by John Kasich, sitting in
for Bill O’Reilly. They were not alone. Out of liberal deference to
youth, and Franco Zeffirelli’s film, “Endless Love,” some members of the
media even called the two “the couple.”
At the funeral, family friend Bill
Bradford waxed poetic about Kara’s “ability to reach out in compassion
and touch even the most unlovely people." They’d been touched by an
angel, no less. Church elder David Sheaffer assured reporters that there
was no strain between Kara and the other children and that the family
was supportive, refraining from any finger pointing. Acquaintance Vera
Zimmerman contributed this corrosive cliché: "They were good kids … they
just made some bad choices." Oops. There was more talk of faith-dictated
These all-too familiar spasms of no-fault
forgiveness, however, are more a distillation of the mass culture than a
reflection of any real religious sensibility. If anything, they are a
sign of people adrift in a moral twilight zone. In so charitably
absolving and embracing alleged killers and their culprits, well-meaning
clergy and flock are supplanting the power of the God whose mercy they
claim to represent; evincing religious doctrinal failure; and doing
injustice to the victims, to society, and, inadvertently, to the
For mercy without justice is no mercy at
If punishment is a declaration of those
values we wish to uphold, then pardoning a killer or an accessory before
he has made amends and paid for his crime perverts and subverts those
values. Redemption can be achieved only when the consequences of one’s
actions are faced. With each easy act of absolution, the sanctity of
life is diminished and murder becomes a little less abhorrent.
In the Jewish perspective, justice always
precedes and is a prerequisite for mercy. A Jew is not obliged to forgive a
transgressor unless he has ceased his harmful actions, compensated the
victim for the harm done, and asked forgiveness. Even then, he can but
is not obligated to forgive. This is both ethically elegant and
psychologically prudent. It upholds the notion of right and wrong and
lends meaning and force to the process of asking for and extending
forgiveness. And it doesn't mandate the incongruous emotion of
compassion for someone who has murdered, maimed, or committed other
A Jew is, however, obliged to seek
justice. And so are Christians.
In their much-missed “Orthodoxy” column,
in the (now-defunct) Report Newsmagazine, Ted and Virginia Byfield
confirmed that the Christian and Jewish doctrines are very similar.
Christian forgiveness is also contingent on the sinner’s repentance, and
can be granted only by the one sinned against, and not by the various
proxies of popularity. Instant expiation flows more from the values of
the 1960s than from any doctrinal Christian values. The corollary of the
current practice of minute-made forgiveness is that “it not only
abolishes the necessity of repentance; it abolishes sin itself,” the
These memorable words are the perfect
caption to the picture of Kara Borden in a front-row seat at the funeral
she may have helped plan.
© 2005 By Ilana Mercer