Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Literary lions and their cheap-grace "mercy"

In 1962 -- five years after the disappearance of a high-school cheerleader in New Jersey -- William Buckley began corresponding with the inmate who had been convicted of her murder in the first degree. Through the influence of the famous conservative writer, Edgar Smith (who had always insisted on his innocence) was released from prison in late 1971.

Several years later Smith abducted a 33-year-old woman at knife-point; she escaped, and he was captured. He soon admitted that he had, indeed, killed the New Jersey teenager.

William Buckley hosting prison parolee Smith on his "Firing Line" show

Norman Mailer began his own correspondence with a prison inmate in 1977: Jack Henry Abbott. His crimes included forgery, escaping from prison, bank robbery, and killing a fellow inmate. But Mailer pushed and cajoled for Abbott to be paroled early, and he was soon walking the streets of New York as the toast of the literati. (Jack Henry Abbott -- just like Edgar Smith -- had written a book or two).

A couple months later Abbott got in an argument with a 22-year-old waiter/actor, and stabbed him to death.

Norman Mailer making his way to a parole hearing for Mr. Abbott,
accompanied by actors Susan Sarandon and Christopher Walken

One hopes that Messrs Buckley and Mailer were jolted into genuine contrition for the victims; and that each man sat down at his writing desk, and sent off a short note to the families -- along with a large check.

UPDATE: The words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died before turning forty (he was executed at Flossenburg concentration camp in April 1945):

"Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again... 
"Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'ye were bought at a price,' and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

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