Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

On Social Workers and Arsonists

Feb 11, 2009

There was a lead letter in today’s Melbourne Age which caught my attention. It is a letter so very typical of the Age. The newspaper is a hotbed of trendy radicalism, secularism, and feel-good liberalism. Its editorial stances are almost always wrong. Those responsible for the Age are a perfect example of how our Politically Correct elites have lost touch with reality and common sense.

Thus this eye-opening letter was as expected as it was incredible. It was written by a social worker who urged us to be a whole lot more sympathetic with the arsonists responsible for many of the bush fires now raging in Victoria. In true liberal fashion, the writer asks us to try to understand the arsonists, and not be so harsh on them.

Indeed, we are told that they are pretty needy chaps, so we should not rush to judgment: “Firebugs, like all perpetrators of violence and abuse are also prone to being self-absorbed, with low levels of empathy.”

In fact, it all began in their childhood we are informed. Yes we have heard all that before. Mummy didn’t really love me, so that is why I became a rapist. I had problems with bed-wetting, so that is why I embarked upon my career as a serial killer.

Or, as the good social worker informs us in this case, “The response needs to be multilayered — the seeds of abusive behaviour are sown in the early years when the brain’s pre-frontal cortex is developing its role in impulse control and a capacity for empathy and reflection. Primary prevention begins in the first three years.”

So there you have it. Arsonists are simply those who had a dodgy pre-frontal cortex when growing up. Whew! What a relief to know that they are not really responsible for their actions after all, and that it all comes down to early childhood development. And there I thought they might actually be morally responsible agents who choose to commit these horrific crimes.

Our letter writer continues, “In our schools, we need to emphasise the need for all men to live respectful and responsible lives, which involves developing relationship and coping skills.” Yes, if we can just teach them a bit more about how to cope and get along with people, then all the arson attacks will wither up and disappear.

Foolish me for thinking that some people may actually get their jollies out of doing such things. Silly me for assuming that actual evil exists in this world, and that there might actually be evil people who deliberately do malicious things on planet earth.

I obviously need to take the same courses in social work that this fellow has. Then I will learn the truth of the matter: I will learn of Rousseau’s Noble Savage, and discover that we are all actually quite nice chaps, but society – or bed-wetting – is what corrupts us.

When American psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote his 1973 volume, Whatever Became of Sin?, he obviously was part of the old school that has long since been discarded. Sin and evil are not the sorts of terms we like to hear today. Instead we speak of mal-development and faulty cortices.

Indeed, we now know that “The problem is that public humiliation is a blunt instrument for preventing acts of destruction. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention saves a tonne of cure.” So much for the Scarlet Letter and other outdated methods. Say goodbye to guilt and shame. Say hello to “I’m OK and You’re OK”.

Social workers today have moved beyond those silly old notions of good and evil, right and wrong. And they have certainly set us straight on such foolish notions as personal responsibility, and socially acceptable behaviour.

Gee, if I were an arsonist I’d be feeling pretty good right now, knowing that it is not really my fault, and that I too am really a victim. Nice to know that the ol’ cortex is the culprit, not me. That puts the whole concept of crime and punishment in a whole new light.

Come to think of it, crime and punishment has been seen in a new light for quite some time now. We no longer talk about right and wrong. We no longer talk about criminal activity. Instead we talk about sickness and the need for healing. Treatment, not punishment, is the order of the day.

And all this new way of looking at things was meant to result in a healthier, more humane society, with fewer problems and more cooperation and harmony. So why, after decades of this kind of liberal social thinking, do we still have arsonists? Weren’t they supposed to disappear, along with those involved in other socially unacceptable behaviours?

Perhaps our forbears were right. Maybe a belief in right and wrong and personal responsibility makes much more sense, and is far more effective, than all this liberal social work mumbo jumbo. But of course to hold such views will ensure that I will not make it into the letter pages of the Age.

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21 Responses to On Social Workers and Arsonists

  • After writing many, many letters to the Age over the last 3 or 4 years and having probably less than 10 per cent of them published, I can attest to the bias Bill writes about here. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I read that ridiculous letter earlier today. Call me insensitive and uncaring, but I believe that if an someone as an adult deliberately lights a fire when the forecast says 44 degrees Celcius and high winds, and the CFA says Total Fire Ban, you deserve jail, even if no-one dies and no property is damaged. But that someone could write something like this when the death toll has already reached three figures – it is beneath contempt. My next question would be – do my taxes fund someone who would lobby government to pour resources into a 24 hour arsonists anonymous hotline??? I sure hope not.

    Of course the Age will defend it’s selection of letters. They will of course point out that they regularly publish opinions from both sides – which is only a half truth. But what has become manifestly clear to me is that this lousy excuse for a newspaper has a sneaky way of doing the selecting and this is my view on it: the Age will rarely publish letters that express opposite points of view to it and then usually only if that person can give some level of personal experience with the subject at hand. But even then they’re practically never allowed to be too long. But if you’re a Howard or Bush hater, an Obama lover, an abortion advocate, a gay marriage supporter, an animal rights campaigner, etc. etc. – well, doesn’t matter if you have no qualifications or experience whatsoever or totally ignore facts easily at hand, or what you have to write is just ad hominem rubbish, you’ll get space, and probably twice as much at that. And the opponents on these positions usually come second in order too. And you can count how many times in a year the lead letter expresses an opinion opposite to leftist policies on one hand just about.

    I thought it rather ironic that a letter further down from a couple actually sought to blame the previous federal government (and even got in a mention for that “pointless war in Iraq”!) for the lack of funding for prescribed burns. Ummm, look to the other side of the political fence, will you? The ones who yelp when a tree is cut down but think the unborn are a ‘choice’. But what they wrote suits the Age beautifully.

    …but the real issue is that many reading this highly filtered content actually believe it is reflective of majority community thinking. That is the great and insidious lie.

    Mark Rabich

  • The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness, and the end of his talk is evil madness. (Ecclesiasties 10:13)

    We are not far from the logical end with these folk it seems.

    Phil Twiss

  • Another good article. Thanks, Bill.

    The problem with such social workers is that they have been trained for 3, 4, 5 or 6 years in the secular worldview, which has its own explanation for our origin, which denies our true history as recorded in Genesis.

    As we know, according to Genesis, God created man as a responsible moral being, but man disobeyed. Thus man’s problem is sin. Sin has consequences and we need to turn from our sin and return to obedience to God in order to find peace and forgiveness in Christ.

    But the secular worldview denies the reality of the fall. So there is no such thing as sin. They even deny the reality of God and that there are moral absolutes. Humans are imagined to be the product of their environment and there is no such thing as personal responsibility. Humans are just evolved animals. Social workers are taught that they should never judge another person’s behaviour. So in their treatment of the social problems in our society there is no call to repentance, which is the only remedy.

    It reminds me of the recent event in the news where a young child was reported to have been taken by a croc in North Queensland. The parents of the boy pleaded with people not to blame the crocs or to harm them, even though it seems they killed their boy. They were regarded as most noble for this attitude. Clearly a croc is not a moral being and so cannot be held responsible. The social workers have extended this concept to humans. It is simply a reflection of the modern view that man is just an animal.

    To call for sympathy for those who harm and kill humans like this sounds so noble, but it actually shows that they have lost all sense of right and wrong and any concept of the value of man, made in the image of God.

    It’s interesting the value that the Bible puts on human life. Genesis 9:5 says, ‘And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting.’ And that accounting was even required from every animal.

    Tas Walker

  • Some days, you just want to give up on society, don’t you? It seems justice was thrown out the door because society judges it, ironically, to be primitive and barbaric; in it’s place, there’s an oozing compassion and the urging for understanding for the perpetrators. Wasn’t this the case for 4yo Darcey Freeman’s dad, who threw her off the West Gate Bridge? That we are being called on to understand and be compassionate towards his ill-mental state?

    I don’t get why people seem intent on decoupling Justice from Compassion.

    Mathew Hamilton, Victoria

  • The assumption seems to be that if you commit arson (or pick a wrong), you have a brain problem or have some sickness.

    Which leads to the conclusion:

    “It is impossible for a person to commit arson/crime without some sort of ill-health.”

    Suddenly there is no possible way for a healthy person to make a morally wrong choice – they must be sick to do that. Who honestly believes that?

    Tristan Ingle, Sydney.

  • Just saw the Herald-Sun report that the man charged with starting the Churchill fires has also been charged with possession of child pornography. I wonder if the social worker also expects us to understand and empathize with the latter!
    More seriously – the combination of the two indicates how sin spreads like cancer, so that one degradation dulls the conscience and leads to pursuit of further warped stimulation.
    Stephen White

  • In all this we meed to remember that this indulgent slop came in through psychology and its essentially deterministic outlook on human behaviour. There came a subtle – and surreptitious – slide from from a purely descriptive analysis of behaviour to a causal explanation, whereby the same terminology became explanatory. This was true of Freudianism, which was very deterministic, but also the more modern forms are too.
    My concern is how the Church responded. In my young days psychology was viewed with suspicion, because it explained away sin (that dreaded word!), but in the 1970s all that changed: psychology was ‘in’, at the behest of certain evangelists who kept quoting certain psychologists with approval, likewise certain scholars. Now sin has all but disappeared from the Church’s vocabulary: a family broken by evil behaviour (be it drunkenness, wife-beating, yelling and swearing etc) is merely “dysfunctional” (whatever that means), i.e. a neutral, descriptive, and (of course) non-judgmental term; an adulterer merely has an over-active albedo; even a murderer is explained away as having psychopathic urges, and thus can’t be blamed. Then we have the examples you mention above.
    However, all this psycho-babble of excuses comes at a price: good behaviour must likewise be explained in such terms, and one cannot claim the credit for exemplary behaviour either. Moreover, it means that everyone, you and I, are nothing but biochemical, psychological machines, with no transcendence, no responsibility, no capability of reflection etc.
    One final thought: how does the deterministic psychologist explain himself and his colleagues? Is this desire to classify people into pigeon-holes just the outworking of some inner penchant, probably gene-drive, to pigeon-hole others, but to exempt himself, so that thereby he may exercise power over them?
    Murray Adamthwaite

  • Thanks guys

    Yes our intelligentsia are convinced that the concepts of sin and evil must be jettisoned, and replaced with notions of sickness and mal-adaptation. So arson is no longer viewed as a crime but as the result of a bad upbringing or some such thing.

    Of course mental illnesses certainly do exist, but the problem is our elites want to explain away basically all crime in terms of mental and/or psychological illness. Many want to argue that arsonists have mental problems and therefore we need to be understanding, not judgmental.

    However a much different picture is presented in today’s Weekend Australian. Damon Muller of the Australian National University, whose first degree was in psychology, has a doctorate in criminology. He has just written a major report on deliberately-lit bush fires. This is what the article says:

    “The modest available evidence says the average offender is a 28-year-old man. One-third have a prior conviction for a violent offence. Most have limited education and poor social skills, and are single. There is a strong correlation with cruelty to animals.”

    “Muller says an arsonist is not usually a pyromaniac. The latter, he says, has an obsessive-compulsive mental disorder: ‘It’s pretty rare, if the category even actually exists’.”

    “Muller says: ‘A lot of people want to believe there’s something fundamentally psychologically wrong with an arsonist, and that they can’t help it. But actually, most can help it: they’re not mentally ill’.”,25197,25051465-5018722,00.html

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Great letters there, I especialy liked the one from Mark Rabich. My recipe for minimising damage from bushfires (1) anyone maliciously starting a bushfire- life imprisonment. It should stop them dead in their tracks. (2) Greenies should be excluded totally from any committee discussions on bushfires.
    Frank Bellet, Petrie Qld

  • As a qualified social worker, I take great offence at the generalised, sweeping statements made about the profession of “social work”. I have no doubt that there are such people within this profession, but please, the cliches are tiresome.

    We are not all tree hugging, Jesus Sandal wearing, Nazi booted, tie die t-shirted lefties.

    Some of us are conservative voting Christians (and I don’t know of anyone more “right wing” than myself) who advocate for personal responsibility and punishment befitting of crimes.

    Don’t paint us all with the same brush.

    Tracy Herron, Brisbane

  • Thanks Tracy

    Sorry, but you are taking offence where none was intended. Where exactly in my article do I say that all social workers think and act this way? By your self-description, you have nothing to do with the picture I was painting. The issue is how the profession as a whole is travelling – how it is being taught in our universities, how it is being practiced on the field, etc.

    Indeed, as Christian I would have thought that you too would be concerned about the direction of modern secular social work and theory – be it feminist social theory, Marxist social theory, etc – to ignore altogether the biblical view of things, and to replace it with the sort of ideology I described in the article.

    Certainly not all social theory and practice is in the vein described above – but much of it is. I would have thought that we both would agree that these sorts of ideologies and directions exist, that they are unhelpful, and that they run counter to the biblical worldview.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill: I have always enjoyed reading your articles, especially in “News Weekly” and on the web site. My wife is a retired social worker, having encountered a number of convicted arsonists in the many gaols in which she worked. She says that arsonists are generally of a lower socio-economic class, have low intelligence and often have been involved in cruelty to animals early in their lives. All that, of course, does not excuse their evil-doing but it may help to identify such perpetrators before they go off the rails. I sympathise with Tracy’s response as above., Frank Bellet’s also. In discussion with my social worker wife over the years, both she and I believe that many of the graduating social workers are far too young with minimal life skills when they are let loose on their “clients”, especially in the gaols. These younger graduates really have no idea how to handle the older offenders that they are supposed to work with.
    Anthony Connor

  • Thanks Bill another insightful article and a passionate one. We as a society, have been told to raise children in the last 15-20 years to not take responsibility and to reason with them instead of making them take responsibility and instilling good, consistent boundaries. Then if they step out of these boundaries showing them there are consequences for their actions. We give our children every whim, entertain them (whether it be good or bad) and allow them to do whatever they want. This leads to boredom, laziness, apathy, selfishness, and a debased mind – and this is our “humane” society. Even our justice system shows this by the light sentencing given to people who offend and then re-offend. They get a slap on the wrist and then claim well they are victims too. What happened to respect of others? And if you do the wrong thing there is punishment? I was not raised in a christian home but my parents still taught me what is right and what is wrong, and if I did wrong I knew about it and so did my bottom (and my eardrums)! We have taken consequences out of the picture and replaced it with the word “victim”. “Oh, it was his/her abusive upbringing” society claims. NO, he/she has a CHOICE. Just like i have a choice everyday in what I say, what I think, how I act or react or respond. We have choices and if we choose to do what our debased and sinful minds tell us to do then we are in the wrong. We should not wrap it in cotton wool and lighten it up by saying it isn’t his/her fault because they are victims of their childhood. My question is this, who on this planet has had the perfect childhood, the right amount of attention, the perfect upbringing? I can be so bold to say well that makes us all victims and we can do whatever we like, and not expect to get punished – well not by society at least, however, God Almighty will have His say. We sadly have left Him out of the picture and that’s when good becomes evil and evil becomes good.
    Francesca Collard

  • The Age is a hotbed of…………… That kind of writing is pure innuendo. Not helpful, not accurate and suggests the writer is a little prejudiced. I can only surmise that more imagination than analysis has gone into such radical statements. Tha Age is looking at possible solutions to a problem. Jail removes a perpetrator and rightly so but are then all the arsonists in jail? However misguided you believe The Age is in considering arsonists as human beings and the sorts of people they might be, you might at least behave with a humanity consistent with the faith you profess. How would you have handled the Samaritan woman at the well – let’s see, whore – well, I guess she just needed to shape up and act responsibly. Social workers – do you know them all? – have moved beyond good and evil? Although you have no clue whether what you’re saying is true, the social worker is not endeavouring to sit in judgment. The real absentee is an understanding of and living in the power of the gospel, where an encounter can with the living Christ can change hearts. Reform by penalty and punishment does not do this.
    Eugene Moreau

  • Thanks Eugene

    If you wish to defend and promote a secular leftist Age that is up to you. But the rest of your comments can be replied to. Where exactly in my article did I say an arsonist is not a human being?

    As to the Samaritan woman, you might be mixing apples with oranges. It seems you are conflating social ethics into personal ethics. If my home were burned down by an arsonist, I as a Christian can choose to forgive the arsonist. But the state, which has been established by God to promote justice and punish evil, has an obligation to deal with arsonists and other offenders (eg Romans 13:1-7).

    The Samaritan woman was not an arsonist. But the sin she was involved in was something Jesus dealt with elsewhere. In a similar case he could clearly say, “go and sin no more”. Forgiveness does not mean remaining in one’s sinful behaviour. The New Testament throughout makes this clear.

    And since it is God who has instituted ‘penalty and punishment’ for dealing with social evil, as well as personal sin, I have no problem with the concept whatsoever. But I suspect we see things differently here.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Bill. Sin has social repercussions. The Samaritan woman’s behaviour had severe social repercussions for her and no doubt for her many husbands. I did say that jail removes a perpetrator and rightly so. I meant I believe in justice. Arsonists should be in jail if found guilty. The effort to understand the arsonist, what makes him tick etc involves seeking ways to deal with such behaviour. The State is concerned with justice and just dealing, with a citizen’s well-being, all of them. If an arsonist encountered the living Christ that would be sufficient, although there is still free will. The State does not seek such a Way.

    If you wish to say The Age is as you say it is what do you really mean? And is anything leftist ergo bad? Are you bandying about labels? Shooting messengers? The point is to consider what is actually said about any given issue and not vilify a whole newspaper.
    As for punishing evil. Punish away, Bill. It will not make one scrap of difference. The only Person in whom that has been dealt with is Christ.

    Eugene Moreau

  • Thanks again Eugene

    I think accurate labelling is quite acceptable. Indeed, I would think that the editorial staff of the Age would be quite offended if they were considered to be anything other than secular and left wing.

    As to punishment, again, read Romans 13:1-7 for starters. God has ordained the state to punish wrong doers. If you don’t like Paul, then try Peter, since he says the very same thing (1 Peter 2:13-14).

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Speaking of labels:

    I used to think I was reasonably “centrist” – being able to see clearly those to my “right” and “left” both theologically and politically.
    I have now discovered that I have shifted to the “right” by not moving! The culture has moved to the “left” around me!

    Mark Wilkinson

  • Mark is exactly right. The culture has indeed moved to the Left, which means those trying to position themselves in the so-called ‘centre’ are constantly moving Leftward so as to accommodate. The ‘default setting’ of so much of today’s Western society is liberal.

    To the church the Bible is the standard which anchors us to a fixed morality. When the church jettisons the Bible it sets itself adrift to go with the Leftward moving tide. This applies both theologically and politically. It seems that for Christians, theological liberalism precedes political liberalism.

    But why does the tide naturally move Left? I think it is because it follows our sin nature. Just as apart from God’s grace the human heart tends toward evil, so a society without the Bible moves to the Left of the political spectrum. Hence for the rest of society, the Bible believing Christian appears to be moving to the Right when in fact he is simply standing his ground.

    Ewan McDonald.

  • This has echoes of Ronald Reagan in 1962 who, after switching, said, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me!”
    Mark Rabich

  • Bill – In response to your reply to my former post here – thank you for your clarification. The original article does appear to be somewhat inclusive of all, however, as it does not say “many”, “some” or even “most” – but rather, merely “social workers”.
    You are right about many of the concerns raised, however. And I can attest to some of the teachings and political leanings within the learning institutions. I struggled with this and opposed this on a frequent basis during my time of university training. Social work, as a whole, appears to be having a definitional crisis – a difficulty in determining its direction, focus and role. The whole basis should indeed be the desire to “help people to help themselves” – and this should of course be inclusive of personal responsibility and a doing away with the patronising notion that people need to be constantly “propped up” – a dangerous leftist notion.

    Tracy Herron

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