Proponents of a culture of life are often charged with forwarding an incomplete picture of what their ideal world would look like and accused of being disproportionately concerned with fetuses and infants. This is complicated by the fact that too often proponents of a culture of life act completely un-Christian. Take, for instance, Sean Hannity.
Despite the football-throwing Fox frontman being vociferously anti-abortion, he recently found time to defend Byron Smith, the Minnesota man convicted this week of murdering two teenagers.
In graphic audio released after Smith's trial, a full recording of two murders can be heard. There is plenty to be viscerally disturbed by in the recording, from the groans of a dying teenager to the shrieks of his teenage female companion, all set against the shattering sound of gunshots. But the most upsetting refrain is Smith's own voice, mocking the girl as she dies — telling her repeatedly, "you're dying" — and then, after everything else has gone silent, breathing heavily and assuring himself "I'm not a bleeding heart liberal."
It's the sort of thing that stays with you. Evidently Hannity wasn't as disconcerted, though, arguing that Smith's conviction was bogus because, "They broke into the guy's house." Which is true: The two teenagers were illegally on Smith's property when he killed them, and he had been waiting armed in his basement for an opportunity to do just that.
Similar scenarios aren't hard to come by. A Montana man has been charged with murder in an almost identical situation involving a German exchange student whom he admittedly "baited" into his garage, then killed him with repeated shotgun blasts. Never slow on the draw, Republicans like Rep. Steve Daines have already jumped to defend both castle doctrine, a set of laws protecting property owners' right to kill trespassers under particular circumstances, and Second Amendment rights. If all of this is reminiscent of the recent Fox News favorite, the Trayvon Martin case, that's because there are more than a few similarities, each of them distinctly disturbing.
For one, all three cases involve a morbid obsession with the conditions under which it's permissible to take human life. It would be one thing to discuss those legal parameters with the solemnity and gravitas they deserve, especially if the intent were to limit them to the greatest degree possible. But of course, in the media discourse of folks like Hannity, the intent is never to suggest a limitation on the strictures carving out space for legitimized murder, but rather to celebrate the individuals who manage to slip into those bounds. Consider, for example, the macabre acclaim that transformed George Zimmerman from the unstable killer of a teenager to some kind of D-list right-wing celebrity, signing autographs and appearing at gun shows. Hannity, who had plenty to say in Zimmerman's defense just as in Smith's, played a definitive role in that strange celebrity.
Deliberating on Smith's conviction, Hannity reprimanded Geraldo Rivera's disgust by informing him, "It's easy to say after the fact 'I wouldn't.'" The implication being, of course, that greater and more noble men, like Hannity, would absolutely await teenage intruders in their basements and kill them when alternatives existed.
That all three cases involved the murder of teenagers by adults is of particular interest; after all, it is the destruction of young life, which by its nature is imbued with such potential, that is so tragic to proponents of a culture of life. The ruin of young life is supposedly a sick sort of signal of a culture that has wrongly oriented itself, preferring death and decline over life and possibility. If signals of that sort are detectable in a culture overly dedicated to protecting abortion, then they're doubly evident in a culture that gloats over its own machismo when teenagers are murdered for trespassing.
It may be the case that providing property owners certain proportional latitude in defending their possessions is an unhappy legal necessity. It is also the case that elevating property owners who do take advantage of those legal provisions to the status of folk hero and celebrity is a direct and dangerous promotion of a culture of death, a worldview in which murderous bravado is favored over a "bleeding heart" — that is, sympathy for other people. That a category of celebrity is swiftly developing around property owners who, acting on some application or misapplication of law, end human life is as morbid a symptom as any, and suggests a barely veiled malice brewing in the shadows of American conservatism. If Sean Hannity and his colleagues have any real interest in the promotion of an authentic culture of life, they'll abandon this bizarre obsession with legal latitude for killing, which has that distinct flavor of savoring a twisted loophole. Until then, they will remain responsible for the role models they promote to their viewership, and the deathly culture they create.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Fall movie guide: All the films you should see in September
- Hey, grammar nerds! Stop freaking out about 'alot.'
- Scottish independence is another financial crisis waiting to happen
- The elusive 'It factor' in presidential politics
- Why the West should let Russia have eastern Ukraine
- 10 things you need to know today: September 1, 2014
- 11 scientific studies that will restore your faith in humanity
- 7 things the world's happiest people do every day
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
Subscribe to the Week