Why do we make martyrs out of the criminally negligent?

Yesterday, at the beauty shop, Donna and I made typical beauty shop conversation while she cut my hair. We talked about her vacation to New York City the week before. She hated it. She hated the crowds, the smells, the hassles, the noise, the people. She also spent some time in New Jersey visiting relatives and hated that too. Mostly, in New Jersey, it was the driving that made her nuts.

“People drove so fast and they just didn’t seem to care that there were other people on the road,” she explained.

“I had the same experience when we went to Boston a couple of years ago. I remember driving 75mph in the slow lane on the highway and even those people honked constantly wanting to pass me,” I agreed. “Of course, some of that goes on here in Indianapolis,” I added.

“Oh, I know it. Isn’t your son getting ready to drive?” she asked me.

I told her that he was 15, thought he was ready for his learner’s permit and it all scared me to death. We talked a minute about kids driving and the subject led to people driving while talking on cell-phones. “They have a no-cell-phone-while-driving law in New Jersey now. I wish we had that here,” she said.

And then she went on to tell me about a client of hers who recently was driving on I-465 in Indianapolis. He was talking on his cell-phone and drove into the lane next to him, hitting and killing a motorcycle driver instantly.

”That’s just so tragic. So senseless. Did anything happen to your client?” I asked.

“No, there are no laws against cell-phone usage while driving here, so there was no criminal intent and no charges against him.”

By this time, there were four other women in the shop listening, but so far none had made a comment.

“But, you know, the family of the guy on the motorcycle is now suing him. Poor thing. He’s got a lot of money and they’re going to make sure they get some of it.”

One of the other women shook her head in disgust and said, “Oh, that’s such a shame.” Then the other three and Donna made a few more “such a shame” and “that could just ruin him” comments before the subject was changed.

But I was stuck. I couldn’t move on to the next subject yet. What they had essentially said was that now the true victim was her client. That it was as if the motorcycle driver had purposefully put himself in that exact spot at that exact time so his family could get some money from his (unintentional, yet criminally negligent) killer. And, in the process, the community needed to show their support of him. It would be wrong for the man to have to pay, financially or otherwise. Hadn’t he paid enough? Hadn’t he suffered enough?

Had he?

Who am I to judge?

I couldn’t think of a thing to say in response to this group for fear of someone quoting Bible verses to me about judgment. And besides, they were already two subjects ahead of me. But most of all I was just scared to voice my unpopular opinion.

See, the same thing had happened not a week before. And I had spoken up, unfortunately.

Three months ago, an outdoor guide/teacher at a prep school in Georgia led a group of students on a spring break excursion to Suwanee and Coon Island. Part of their trek required a 4.5 mile trip skirting the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. He had been a guide for over 25 years and had made this particular trip several times. But on February 26, 2005, he ignored weather reports and Coast Guard warnings, and chose to lead the group into the ocean. When their one motorized boat failed, two of the boys floated away in their kayaks and died. Their bodies were found 13 miles out in the Gulf two days later. The boys were dressed in t-shirts and shorts, there was only a cell-phone for communication, there were many mistakes made by this "expert" guide, and there were several problems with sub-par craft making the trip precarious in the first place according to outdoor experts.

But most importantly, the leader ignored the weather reports of the “worst storm of the season so far” that morning and led the entire group to what could have been all their deaths. It became a blessing that they all didn’t die. According to the guide’s town, he truly was a hero. In May, the guide/teacher received a community award for all he’s done for kids over the years.

My question that I needed an answer to (probably because I have a son the same age as these poor boys) was that of arrogance. A man who ignores the weather and risks eight kids’ lives has to have quite the ego. In addition, he was vehemently coaching his soccer team (another one of his school activities) before the boys were even buried. He was quoted in the paper about the “fun” he was having watching them play.

So, I spoke up. I emailed him my questions and he responded. He said that there were legal proceedings in progress preventing him from talking about it. I assumed someone was suing him or the school.

Then his wife and his website creator emailed me. She mentioned his suffering, his welcomed attendance at the funerals, the nurturing support and good works he’d done for hundreds of children over the years, how wrong I was for judging someone else, and how much of an “idiot” I was for badgering him. The website friend talked about how much the community loved and respected him, quoted Bible verses about judging people and told me he’d “see me in hell’. Both mentioned that it was a shame that anyone would want civil justice for this tragedy, and that the town insisted that he continue taking kids on trips so this one tragedy wouldn’t turn into another.

So, accidents happen every day. People’s negligence causes other people to die every day. But how does the negligent person become the victim? When did this happen? Is it because of money? Is it because we value money more than we do human life and that it is more of a detriment to lose?

It can’t be about Christian forgiveness and the sin of judgment , because why would someone quoting Bible verses about judgment banish me to hell?

And what about judgment? If we don’t judge each other, do right and wrong even exist?

If there were no judgment, wouldn’t there be no jails? Wouldn’t murderers, serial killers and pedophiles live among us, stand next to us at church, shop at the same places, drive on our streets, teach our children? Shouldn’t they, according to the Bible?

Or is legal judging different than Christian judging? Are they two different things in the eyes of Christians? In the eyes of God? Does this mean that we should leave all judgment to God? Or do we leave it in the hands of the legal system? Then we as ordinary people should not have any opinion other than the law?

We should then stop voicing our opinions? Is that how this country was founded? Is that how civilizations throughout history have conducted themselves? Is that what was done at the Crucifixion? Nobody was supposed to judge or have opinions about the crucifiers? Is this correct? Is this moral? Is this really how God meant it?

And if we do have an opinion/pass judgment on another, are we then, according to the Bible, worse sinners than the offender?

Because I judge the criminally negligent as I do, does God now feel worse about me than he feels about them?

But back to my original question: why do we make martyrs out of the criminally negligent? I suppose my answer would have to be because of our subjective interpretation of Christian doctrine and our glory of money. What a combination.