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Jailbait Follow-up

Luke Dittrich at Esquire magazine has written an excellent, provocative article about the death of Bill Conradt at the hands of To Catch a Predator. (via I mentioned this case last July in Jailbait, a post that generated some wonderful discussion. The article poses these questions, echoing some of the ideas expressed in the previous discussion:

Is it possible that Bill Conradt, an adult pretending to be a teenager, might have suspected, correctly, that “Luke” was also an adult pretending? Yes: Everybody knows that the Internet is a swamp of false identities. And is there any evidence that Conradt had ever acted on the longings that his chats illuminated? On the contrary, he chose not to when presented with the opportunity. Was it morally wrong for Bill Conradt to engage in online sex chats with an apparent child? Of course. But did his actions merit the response to them? Before answering this question, a man should take stock of the history of the desires he’s never acted on, and whether he should ever have to defend that history in court, or see it detailed on television.

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God Kills Compassion

When I try to step into the religious frame of mind, I get a deep urge to scream and run for the hills. Religious ideas feel like ill fitting clothes on a sweaty, sticky summer day. They chafe and confine. Their irksome restraint gives me no moment of peace. I want to leap out of my confining clothes and into a refreshingly cool shower.

Such has been my experience as I try to explain why we need compassion for people whose inclination and perhaps action deviate from cultural norms. I hoped to demonstrate the need for compassion by using religious ideas and doctrines so that my religious interlocutors could see the need. I don’t expect them to become atheist. I just hope to speak up for true compassion.

But God looms large over the shoulder of the faithful. They might want to be more compassionate, but they first check with God who gives a slow, stern shake of the head. The faithful turn back around and say, “Sorry. God says homosexuals can’t get into heaven.” God hampers our native inclination to compassion. God kills our humanity.

People think they know the mind and will of God. The arrogance! Then they justify their own bigotry in his name. Their false idols sycophantically echo the believers’ prejudices back to them with the appearance of authority. When the compassion of their views is challenged, they assume that since God is Love, his laws are loving. The believer is satisfied that all is well in Zion (2 Nephi 28:21, 25).

If anyone needs me, I’ll be outside tilting at windmills.

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My wife and I watched parts of To Catch a Predator last night, the one where guys chat online with people who they think are underage, arrange to meet with them for sex, and arrive only to be greeted by all of America sharing their most shameful moment. I cheered the television crew on months ago when I first started watching this show, but something strange has started to happen. I don’t think the producers of the show wanted me to, but I started to have compassion for these sexual predators.

As chance would have it, I heard on the radio yesterday that this television program caused a man to commit suicide.

Louis William Conradt Jr., of Terrell, Texas, a Dallas suburb, was suspected of being one of those men, except he didn’t show up at the house. That didn’t stop the TV producers and police from showing up at his, though, and as officers knocked on his door and a camera crew waited in the street, Conradt shot and killed himself. (Associated Press)

The radio hosts, the kind that are paid to act like brain-damaged teenagers, related this story, basically said good riddance, and danced on his grave. Their callousness elicited my compassion. Wouldn’t someone mourn for this destroyed life?

I’ll openly admit that I have ephebophilic tendencies. I gather from the term “jailbait” and popular humor that I’m not alone in the adult male population.

I and most of those who are similar to me choose to abstain from acting on any attraction we feel. We know it’s wrong to prey on an adolescent’s inexperience. We shrug off the attraction and go on with life. I don’t lose sleep over it because I’m not ashamed. I chalk it up to being a human being and forge ahead.

There is so much hatred and fear surrounding sexual predators these days. It sells an awful lot of commercial airtime. Sometimes it’s easy to forget who sexual predators are. They are not some alien species. They are our neighbors, our friends, our brothers, our husbands, our fathers… our sisters, our wives, and our mothers. They are us. We are them. They are human beings who cross a perilously thin line. Are the rest of us so different?

We seem to be afraid to acknowledge that pedophilia (for example) is one aspect of human nature—an aberrant and harmful one—but human nonetheless. Whatever it is that separates a pedophile from a non-pedophile is uncomfortably thin. We prefer to think of them as aliens rather than see their humanity, rather than acknowledge the thin ice below us. There but for the grace of Fortune go I.

As I watched the news crew publicly shame those men, I allowed myself to see something that I hadn’t noticed before. I watched as their hopes and dreams died. The weight of what the future held for them made some weep, some get physically ill, and some just sit dumb with shock. These were weak, stupid people, not inhuman monsters. The show put a human face on sexual predators.

I want to protect my children above all else, but I am not insensible to the suffering of these men and the tragedy of human frailty.

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