The Tate murders happened six months before I was born. So when I woke up on November 19, 2017, to hear that Charles Manson had died, I realized, right away, the story about evil I had heard my entire life finally had an ending.
In high school, I read books about Charles Manson and “The Family.” The story of his evil loomed so large and grotesque, as a teenager I needed to understand how one man could exert so much dark power. Then, later, as a college freshman in Social Work, I wrote papers on Manson’s discombobulated childhood, early adult institutionalization in the criminal justice system, and ability to master psychological manipulation in group settings. Even more recently, as a pastor, I have used the iconically evil Charles Manson as an example of Jesus’ warning of cult leaders at the end of the age, “And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people.” (Matthew 24:11)
My point is, Charles Manson has been my generation’s go-to example of what cultic iconic evil is and looks like. I think the most frightening part of Charlie, to me, was how easy he made it seem to collect people up into a cultic frenzy and to provoke them to evil acts in the name of loyalty, by bathing them in insane narratives about him being the Christ or being Satan, or triggering a race war so that they could rule the world. Maybe, a lot of it was the counterculture and LSD, but however he did it, he was able to motivate people to do the unthinkable in his name.
Iconic does not have to mean most evil. I read stories all the time about people I consider greatly evil like, mothers who drown their own children, fathers who shake their babies to death, and teachers who have sex with their minor students. Recently I read a horrible story about a mother and father who were both so consumed by drugs they overdosed together, leaving their baby to starve to death alone in the home, all because they loved a drug more than their own baby. Every day people assault, rape, murder, and hate, but we cling to icon images of evil because they allow us not to feel so badly about 1) the world around us, that we live in and 2) ourselves.
Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the serpent that God made. And the serpent accused God of lying. And ever since the world has gone to hell; and hell will literally become the final destination of all who put blame on icons rather than come to terms with the depths of the very nature of fallen mankind and the only solution.
A better explanation for Charlie Manson than the narratives we are currently hearing is found in the Holy Scriptures:
I want Manson to be what is wrong with the world because he is now dead! I want Hitler to be the evil of the world because I am not him! I want to pass the buck to … (fill in any person you currently hate or blame) because, then, I am not the problem. And as long as I prop up icons of evil they can be my new idols of reverse worship that step in and become my bogus backward atonement taking my blame and letting me avoid the awful tarrying truth, that I know with every fiber of my being to be true; I am part of the ALL!
I am sick. I am infected. I am a sinner. I am broken, twisted, bent, deformed, dysfunctional, and deathly problematic… I am short of the glory of God. I am evil by nature. I am Charlie.
Let us not fool ourselves with vain condensed childish slogans like, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” The reality really is, “There I am going, and my only hope to stop going is God’s great grace.” I have to own it. Yes, I am Charlie… even if I have not descended to his particular sins, I bear his condition and prognosis unless I undergo the only treatment known to man to eventually cure this fatal disease. The Apostle John put it this way, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). If I want the treatment I have to own the disease. You can’t rightfully expect a Doctor to treat you for a disease you don’t admit you have and even if he would, would you really be inclined to stay with the treatment plan?
Praise God! Praise God, I am forgiven! Praise God! Praise God I am purified of my sins! But that is only because I admit my disease, and allow “The Great Physician” to apply his blood to my wounds daily. I understand that icons are only idols of the self, that the self is spiritual suicide. If I am to be stopped from my destructive ways, if I am to be healed from my fatal disease, I must put down both icon and idol, admit the depths of my sin and shame, stop hiding from God, and let Him, daily, bind up my wounds with His stripes.
In 1972 Charles Manson escaped the death penalty due to a legal loophole in the system. But he could not, in the end, cheat death itself. I, however, don’t need to cheat death, Because Jesus died instead of me. My question is, did Jesus die for you? Because Jesus only died for sinners. Stop hiding in your icons of blame and excuses and rather be made whole by the confession of your condition in the office of the Great Physician. If Jesus is the cure, what prevents you from taking the treatment?