The Austrian cellar case

"He's a monster !", people say.

Then one journalist says "I interviewed him and he didn't seem like a monster to me, just a frightened old man."

When people do outrageous and appalling things it is very tempting to proclaim them monsters, to demonise them, to announce that they are not "normal".

I think that perhaps when we do that we do it to reassure ourselves.

They are monsters. We are not like that and we could never be like that. Nothing would ever cause us to do something extreme and horrific because they are monsters and we are not.

In demonising them we make ourselves feel better and safe. When we demonise them, we "angelise" ourselves.

Then again we are reminded that in some societies incest is not regarded as undesirable or abnormal.

Of course this man isn't a demon any more than any of us is. He maintained his relationship with his wife, his neighbours who knew nothing of the secret of his cellar. But there was this hidden monstrous aspect to his life.

What would it take to make us take the first step towards something "monstrous" ? And if we took that step could we turn back ?

And what do we hide - not in our cellars but in our heart of hearts ? A thought life that can be "monstrous" ?

This isn't to argue that what he did should be seen as normal, left unpunished or not criticised.

But the Christian believes that he has been kept from monstrous sin not because he is better or not a monster but because God has kept him.

And as for other societies where incest is seen as normal ? Well yes. Just as slavery was once seen as normal and just as abortion at the moment is seen as normal.

By God's grace society is not as monstrous as it could be, but by God's grace we hope it will become less monstrous in years to come.

The parable of the pharisee and the tax-collector teaches us not to justify ourselves by critcising others. The only way to be justified is to confess our monstrous nature and ask God's forgiveness. "God have mercy on me, a sinner" (more lit. God be propitiated towards me, the sinner.)


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