Rebecca Hamilton is a former pro-abortion activist and leader. As the Oklahoma Director of NARAL, she helped establish the first abortion clinic in Oklahoma, and she continued her activism after being elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. After experiencing a profound conversion to Christ, voters returned her to office as a pro-life Democrat and she spent twelve years defending life and families in the Oklahoma Legislature. Rebecca left her political career in 2014, and along with the National Catholic Register, she writes at Patheos on her blog Public Catholic.
The first person I ever saw murdered was Lee Harvey Oswald.
I was a kid at the time. President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated on Friday. My family sat in front of our small-screen black and white television all that weekend. We watched obsessively.
As I said, I was a kid, a newcomer to the horrors of life. In a way, all Americans were kids, newcomers, at least to this kind of horror. My parents had grown up in the Great Depression and lived through World War II and Korea, so they were hardly rubes when it came to the horrors that evil can wreak.
But unknown to all of us at that time, America had passed through a membrane a little bit after noon on Friday, November 22, 1963. The America we had known, where children could go trick-or-treating without parental supervision and no one feared for their safety, where politicians were free to mix with the people without worry about being gunned down, where most kids slept under the roof of their own home with their married parents asleep down the hall in their own bedroom, had been mortally wounded.
The long bleed from that wound would go on for decades, right up until today. But America, the America in which I was born, ended when a dum-dum bullet tore through the back of President Kennedy’s skull and shattered, ripping out the right side of his brain.
I remember the shock when I saw Jackie step off the plane, blood all over her. I remember the shock the next morning when I saw her emerge from the White House, the tragedy written in every line of her swollen-eyed, bruised face.
She made it real to me. That blood on her skirt was America’s blood.
We watched the unfolding of that weekend-long national wake on our grainy-screened little television, and by the end of it, the tragedy was indelibly etched in our minds. That’s how it came to be that I witnessed the first murder I ever saw. We were watching, not talking, just watching, as the Dallas police brought the accused assassin out. I think I had seen Oswald on TV the night before, but I may be mixing memory with video I saw at a later time. I’m not sure.
I do know I was watching when Jack Ruby shoved the gun in Oswald’s side and pulled the trigger. It heard the sound of the gun and I saw a lot of shouting and people running around. I guess I saw the ambulance pull up and Oswald loaded into it, but I don’t remember.
I had no idea of the momentous effect of the event I had just witnessed. In fact, I didn’t really see the shooting all that clearly until I saw a still photo of it later. But that was my initiation into the new American rite of murder in real time and on the air.
Since then, I have seen many people murdered. I have also seen the bodies of those who were murdered. I’ve lost track of the murders I’ve witnessed just in the past year or so. I’ve seen good men beheaded by terrible men. I’ve seen babies torn to pieces and their body parts readied for sale. I’ve seen videos of people subjected to medical murder that we call euthanasia. I’ve seen police shoot people and people shoot police.
I have seen murder and the murdered until it should all be as meaningless to me as looking at a pile of broken dolls. Isn’t that what repetitive imagery usually does? Doesn’t seeing the same thing over and over wear away the edges of it until the thing we’re seeing becomes a commonplace?
I think for some people, it does just that. But not so with me. In the long run-up to this morning, when I switched on the television to a story about two journalists who were gunned down while they were filming so that their murders went out on air, in real time, I reached a couple of breaking points, and those breaking points changed me more profoundly than the murders I witnessed themselves.
The first breaking point was the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. My reaction to the assassination of JFK was that this country would go on and we would be OK. I was saddened by it. The events of that weekend imprinted on me for a lifetime. But I was calm about it, too. I felt that America would be fine.
Then came the year of assassination. Martin Luther King, Jr. died on a motel balcony, and just a couple of months later, Bobby Kennedy was murdered in a hotel kitchen. I guess it was the one-two-three nature of it. I don’t know exactly what else it might have been. Perhaps my age, which was late adolescent. I was politically active by then, very much involved in the ongoing presidential race.
All I know is that I wandered the day Bobby died, and then I went home. I stopped being politically active for a while and I stopped, I guess forever, believing that things would be all right.
The second breaking point was the Oklahoma City bombing. I heard the bomb. It rattled the windows of my house. But I did not know what it was. My brother-in-law was a cop. He called my sister and told her it was a bomb and to stay home. I argued with her when she called me. It wasn’t a bomb. Couldn’t be a bomb. It was a gas explosion or some such. But not a bomb. Please God, not a bomb. Not something that an actual human being had planned, put together and done.
I knew people who died that day. I know people who are living with the aftermath of it, to this day. I didn’t see the bomb, didn’t watch the people die. But I heard the sound, felt the shock wave of the explosion. And I realized that all this mindless anger, all this senseless killing and violence against innocents had to stop.
Rage was not the correct reply. Neither was just wandering off and giving up the way I did after Bobby was murdered. I was a Christian by the time of the Oklahoma City bombing. That gave me a different hope than anything those images of death on the screen could provide.
My life at that time was the life of a full-time stay-at-home mom. I had gone back to school to get a master’s degree, largely so that I would have something mentally challenging to do. My first class was that night.
But the thing that allowed me to see through the violence and into a future of hope was that I had Hope. I had the Hope, the only Hope there is for any of us.
I have seen so many murders of innocent people. The television and now the Internet brings the full horror of senseless slaughter into my home, my heart and my spirit. Without Christ, I think it would sear my soul into permanent anomie.
We have become a world that witnesses atrocity on a daily basis. We see it, hear it and experience it vicariously over and over and over again. We are pounded with murder after senseless and brutal murder. We see people shot, beheaded, dismembered, raped to death. We see people killed with the gun, the needle, the vacuum aspirator, the drug and the knife.
We sit in our living rooms and watch people die at the hands of other people while we are munching on chips and swilling down our diet sodas. Television and the internet have become an ongoing snuff film.
No one — no one — can watch this daily unfolding of the absolute worst that humankind is capable of doing without being changed by it. And we are changed by it. We are changed in ways that are both profound and subtle. We have become a society and a world that is suffering from a form of corporate post-traumatic stress disorder.
The obvious manifestations of this universal PTSD are all around us. They range from the angry ravings of talk show hosts, to the ugly ravings of Internet atheists, to the ugly ravings of a few Internet Christians. They show up at the battered women’s shelter and the rape crisis hotlines, the abortion clinics and the easy way we discuss putting our sick and elderly down with euthanasia.
At the same time that we have become inured to watching while other people are murdered in cold blood, we have become too sensitive to endure the rigors of caring for our loved ones and birthing our babies. Fathers walk off from the mothers of their children, mothers elect to abort their own babies, men and women are increasingly slow to trust themselves and one another enough to form families and raise their own children, and we toss the elderly away like used milk cartons. When the cost of caring for people gets too high, our solution is, always, to kill them. We claim that we want euthanasia and abortion because we are “compassionate,” but in truth what we are is the extreme of uncaring.
Rather than care, we kill. And we call it compassion because a quick death is better than the abandonment we would push onto our victims if they lived. Instead of putting grandma out on the ice to let the bears have her, we knock her on the head. We call that compassion because a quick blow to the head is kinder than abandonment.
The only way to live through our daily dose of virtual murder of real people and not become monsters ourselves is by looking at these things through the eyes of Christ. If you put on Jesus, your vision will not stop at the carnage. It will see through it to the eternal hope.
We cannot hate our enemies to death. In fact, we cannot hate them at all. Our job as Christians is to convert the world. This is no easy task because sin is profoundly ugly and people who are the thrall of the darkness are often angry, malicious and mean. But we must see them with spiritual eyes, see past the hate to the hurt that fuels it. We must love this world from death to life, and we must do it one unhappy and lost person at a time.
How many murders have you witnessed this year? How many murders have you witnessed in your life?
Have you, as I have during my pro-abortion activities, actually participated in the murder of innocent people?
It does not matter. Whatever you have done, whatever you have seen, take it to the foot of the Cross and leave it there.
And remember: There is no act so depraved, no heart so black, that Jesus Christ can not redeem it and make it new again in Him.