12-year-old stabbing wasn’t caused by the internet: Slenderman, genocide, and our Western culture of death

By Tilly Dillehay

I was extremely distressed when I read this news story from last week about the two girls in Wisconsin who stabbed their friend.

If you were under a rock this week and didn’t hear about it, I’ll give it to you as briefly as I can because it’s truly awful. Two 12-year-old girls lured a friend into a public park after a sleepover and stabbed her 19 times because they had begun to believe stories they read online about a fake character named Slenderman. Authorities said the girls believed they would need to “physically kill someone” in order to “become proxies of Slender,” the Huffington Post reported.

And this, friends, is why I don’t like horror movies, certain kinds of creepy stories, and even, to some extent, haunted houses.

Not because I think that stories like these have some kind of power to make innocent little girls do things they don’t want to do. Certainly not because I think that every child who read stories like this is likely take it to such a wicked end.

I blame sin, and the culture of death.

Remember this quote, if you remember nothing else. One of the girls told authorities, “It was weird that I didn’t feel remorse.”

This is absolutely earth-shatteringly, gut-wrenchingly horrifying. “Weird,” she says. Weird, like when you find a five dollar bill in your pocket that you don’t remember putting there. Weird, like when your brother makes a certain face and you experience déjà vu.

“Weird,” like when your best school friend is lying on the ground and you have just put a knife into her arms and legs and back nineteen times, and then ordered her to stay there, hoping that she will die while you pretend to go for help, and you “don’t feel remorse.”

This is the picture of evil. Evil is a confusion of mind that sees reality as reality ISN’T. Evil sets up the desires (or, in this case, whims) of the self over the desires (or in this case, life) of another. Evil takes things of great importance and shoves them into a position of low importance, and takes things of low importance and elevates them beyond reason, beyond love, beyond the future, beyond reality.

These little girls experienced and participated in wickedness out there in the woods. But they also participated in it in the months leading up to this incident, as they were reading these stories, latching onto them, hoarding them up in their hearts, and making their plans. They encountered this particular brand of wickedness as they were wandering through a cool, scary webpage that some college students made in their free time. That wickedness took root in their hearts and flowered in the rich soil of sin already waiting there.

No, it’s not the nonsense of the horror film or the haunted house that I blame here. But I must say this much: if we think that these things are harmless, we are vastly underestimating the power of evil.

Because evil is not content to live in urban legends on the internet. It’s not content to hover in the realm of games and costume blood and stories around a camp fire. When we talk about, dwell on, and feed these stories and the culture of death that they live in, we are talking about, dwelling on, and feeding a picture of something real.

Evil is a real thing. Surely we know this. Surely we haven’t dulled our sense of life and truth and honor and reality to the extent that we disbelieve the existence of the things that live in the shadows. Surely we haven’t dulled our self-awareness to the point that we really deny the things that lurk in the shadows of our own hearts.

I say that we ‘surely’ haven’t forgotten these things, but I’m far from confident that this is the case. Our culture laughs at darkness. We laugh at it and celebrate it by turns. It’s as if so many years of experiencing common-grace light—the byproduct of a culture built on a foundation of life and productivity rather than death—have made us doubtful that darkness could ever come.

Have we forgotten what things come out of a culture of death? Have we forgotten the KKK? Have we forgotten the WWII Holocaust? Have we forgotten Rwandan genocide, Polish genocide, Aboriginal genocide, Bosnian genocide, or the ongoing genocide of millions of American infants every year? (I could go further back into history, but the 20th century really provides us all the examples we’d ever need.)

Perhaps this seems like a left-field pitch, to bring up genocide in a discussion about horror stories and a backwoods stabbing. But I bring them up to illustrate something else about death culture, something we all seem so determined to forget: it slips in the back door. It comes up through the ranks. It comes from behind, disguised as entertainment, as a political stance, as reproductive freedom, as ‘finally getting our economy back on its feet’. Nobody who perpetrates a genocide is born with dreams of perpetrating genocide.

Sin is the problem here. The truly terrifying thing to contemplate is the fact that at any moment, our own hearts may produce this kind of wickedness and death.

These girls didn’t go online, I imagine, ready to kill somebody. There was a period of time during which their minds underwent a change… through stages of fascination, obsession, discussion, encouragement, and fantasy… to the point that when they woke up on the morning of May 31, killing made sense.

We cannot, must not fail to draw some kind of connection between this culture of death that we’ve created and are creating—a culture that hates and devalues life—and the stabbing of a 12-year-old girl in the Wisconsin woods by her two sleepover buddies.

If we do, we’re kidding ourselves.

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2 thoughts on “12-year-old stabbing wasn’t caused by the internet: Slenderman, genocide, and our Western culture of death”

  1. This happened pretty much in my backyard (only about a half hour away,) in a pretty conservative mostly Christian community, and that is the part that worries me. I don’t disagree on any particular point, but I think it goes far beyond our devaluation of life. It is not just the culture of death; it is the culture of sin.

    As far as actively maintaining a culture of light or getting rid of abortion or censoring television, I worry that it seems just a bit too simple of a solution. I don’t think that’s entirely what you were getting at, but I think that’s what often we reduce the situation to; that it was the fault of the internet, or abortion, or lack of God in the schools, or any of the other simple things we say to help us sleep at night. It’s complex, and there are many factors at work here. I’ve also seen pastors’ children doing things like this. I’ve seen it in children raised in good churches, even good homes, and it’s horrific any time. In point of fact, I think it’s a good thing that this is newsworthy, and that we are horrified by it. We may sometimes have a culture of death, but the fact that this is so out of the ordinary shows that we also have a lot of goodness as well. This is not a norm.

    Sometimes, I wonder if Thoreau wasn’t right and that it is the human nature to try to micromanage and control our lives and control all of the factors that contribute to these incidents that causes the problem. Leslie Marmon Silko wrote a great novel entitled Ceremony in which the main character tries to fight the “witchery” that has caused him to feel hollow and ghostlike. Ultimately, he learns that fighting the witchery is what gives it strength. The solution was not to give in and accept the evil or embrace it, but simply to refuse it entirely.

    Lastly, when these things happen, we always question and react to control the factors for the next time, and ask God the one question that will never be answered: Why? Perhaps that is the most puzzling thing of all: why did God allow this in His wisdom, when He could easily have prevented in His power? It’s more than free will. Perhaps He did intervene a bit here; preventing a girl stabbed nearly twenty times from what should have been a certain death as a ritual sacrifice to a false god, but why allow abortion? Why allow one in four women to be raped? The problem of pain is an old one, and it will not go away easily.

    The culture of sin cannot be fought on our terms or in our own power. It’s not just morality, or rules for living, it is an active rebellion against God, and the consequence of living apart from Him. When we either ritualize our faith into a system of rules taught in Sunday School, or we believe foolishly that we can be good people apart from in active relationship with God, we begin down this road. When we simplify our faith into a list of do’s and don’ts, we start down this path. We cluck our tongues at these girls, horrified at the depths of their depravity and believing we are incapable of doing such a thing, but continue to live in a culture of sin regardless, and it begins to take over our lives one small piece at a time, before we see it, and we end up doing something as horrible. Probably the greatest danger is to believe that we are above something like this. I have no doubt in my mind that this community is reeling from exactly that thought, and I know that because these are my neighbors. My home community certainly doesn’t believe such a thing could happen there.

    Abortion, genocide, war, sexual abuse, and all other crimes against God… none of this will be solved until Christ reigns in the heart of every person. No law of man can change a person’s heart, only God alone. No censorship of websites, no banning of television shows, no external force apart from a loving relationship with God can change the mindset of a sinner.

  2. Thanks for this very thoughtful comment, Peter. It’s wonderful to get a perspective from right there in the community. And I absolutely agree with both your diagnosis (sin is the problem; Christ, the only solution) and your statement of hope (we should thank God that this incident is newsworthy rather than commonplace).

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