A murdered child, a guilty teen, ‘Dexter’ and a very real hell

One of the big ideas of this website, oft repeated in a variety of wordings, is that if journalists want to understand real events in the real lives of real people in the real world, then — more often than not — they are going have to wrestle with very real religious issues. At some point, journalists have to take religion seriously and let people talk about the religious beliefs that help shape their actions in life.

The following story from South Louisiana — care of FelicianaToday.com (and an obvious hat tip to Rod Dreher) — is a perfect example of what we’re talking about.

This is a crime story about an irrational, hellish act of violence in which a teen-aged boy, inspired by hours of watching serial killers in pop culture (especially the cable-TV show “Dexter”), decided that slashing the throat of an 8-year-old boy would help him establish a new, powerful sense of evil identity.

Jack Attuso died, but Trevor Reese didn’t feel excited or uplifted after committing the murder. His own personal hell had just begun.

Reese pleaded guilty, to spare both families the pain of a trial. The issue facing the court was whether he would have any chance at parole.

That brings us to the following news report about the hearing, a long, agonizing story in which real people are allowed to say very real and very painful things. There are real curses. There are pleas for redemption. There is a father trying to figure out the sins of his son. There is the looming threat of hell, in this world and the next.

All I can say is this: Read it all, if you dare.

The story starts on a slow boil and the power of the language builds and builds. Here is a sample, after Reese was handed a picture of Jack:

The next witness was Wayne Attuso, Jackson’s grandfather, who gave a victim impact statement. …

Wayne said, “I want you to stare at that picture… because you will see that face when you wake up each morning, at times during the day, and before you go to sleep for the rest of your life. This is the curse that I put on you. You knew nothing about Jack. He was a little boy who loved life. We called him Smiling Jack because he went to bed each night with a smile on his face and he woke up each morning with that same smile. Every day was an adventure for him. The devastation you caused my family will heal eventually, but a scar will always be there. The hole you created in our hearts is filled with all the wonderful memories we have of Jack. In the weeks following Jacks death, I was insane with hatred. I never knew I was capable of the kind of hatred I had for you. Since then I’ve come to my senses and I don’t hate you anymore, but I will never forgive you. That’s not my job. That belongs to someone other than me. After today, I will close the chapter on you. You will not exist in our family’s world. It is my hope that if you ever do leave prison, it will be feet first in a pine box.”

That literal curse would surface again, later in the hearing. Yes, there’s more, as Reese unfolds his story and tries to apologize:

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Yes, Pope Francis said: All are ‘redeemed!’ Is that news?

Let’s start with the actual words spoken by Pope Francis, in his much quoted, and often warped, sermon on Mark 9:38-40 and the work of Jesus Christ in redeeming all of creation, including the people in it.

The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. “But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.” Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. …

The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! “Father, the atheists?” Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all!

OK, here is what that turned into once it reached the cyber-pages of The Huffington Post, with this dramatic headline:

Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed By Jesus As Well As Catholics, Pope Francis Says

Pope Francis has delivered a homily in which he states atheists who do good are redeemed through Jesus.

Speaking at the Wednesday morning Mass in his Rome residence, he told the story of a Catholic who asked a priest if even atheists were saved by Christ.

In the unprepared speech, he emphasized the importance of “doing good” as a principle which unites all humanity.

OK, what we have here is two crucial doctrinal concepts that have been jammed into a journalistic blender.

First of all, the pope is talking about “redemption” and he notes, of course, that Jesus Christ died and was raised and, as the Orthodox like to say, has thus “trampled down death by death.”

So all of creation has been redeemed. The issue whether everyone in that creation manages, through grace, to accept the reality of this redemption. At that point, the key term is not “redemption,” but “salvation.” And who is saved, through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ? Those who have embraced that redemption.

For another take on this, consider the following — the blunt take offered by the famous/infamous theologian Stephen Colbert at the end of his classic showdown with scholar Philip Zimbardo, author of “The Lucifer Effect”. By all means, click right here for the full video. Meanwhile, here’s the key exchange:

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