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Charles Manson — Has Justice Been Served?

charles manson

Guest post by ObstacleChick

As many have heard, the famous 1960s cult leader Charles Manson died while serving a life sentence in prison. By all accounts, he was a charismatic, dictatorial cult leader whose followers murdered several people and created false “evidence” that the murders were perpetrated by African Americans in order to try to start a race war, after which (somehow) Charles Manson would rise victorious and lead after the chaos. While Charles Manson did not physically commit the murders – his followers did – he was deemed to have been the mastermind behind the crimes and was sentenced to death. When the state of California abolished the death penalty, Charles Manson’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison. Manson died at age 83 of natural causes.

I first heard of Manson’s death while checking my social media. One of my Christian friends posted a link to the story with her personal comment:

At long last, justice may be served to him, in death. I’m glad some of the victims’ loved ones are alive to know he no longer breathes, but will become dust, in a state of death, like his long-ago prey. I have a particular disgust for Manson, and the gruesome acts of his followers. He stole so many lives, including those of promising young people who joined his cult, and had their minds and souls hijacked. They are responsible, in the end, for their decisions, but, to an extent, were also victims. America lost part of its innocence in the Manson years, so I consider us all his victims. It may not be charitable to say so, but I am nearly always happy to hear when any despot or cult leader is dead.

Someone commented:

I believe he is now in hell and finally getting what he deserves.

Another commented:

He was Satan’s own. Now may he go back to where he belongs.

My first thought was, here we go with talk of heaven, hell, and divine justice again. My second thought was, wasn’t Charles Manson arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced, and imprisoned for life? Is that not what our society deems as justice?

As one who does not believe in supernatural beings nor in an afterlife, I look to my society’s law enforcement and justice systems to resolve issues involving crime. While no system is perfect, our society’s system works in many cases, and, because it is an evolving society, it is possible for changes to occur within our systems so that they function more efficiently and fairly. However, I realize now that while religious people also are provided the protections of society’s law enforcement and judicial systems, they are also looking to their deity to mete out further justice in an afterlife. Therefore, Charles Manson, for example, has served life in prison for his crimes, and now after his death the Christian God will cast him into eternity in hell where he will burn or rot, depending on one’s definition of hell.

My friend is a Christian, and presumably many commenting on her post are Christians too. I saw many comments corroborating the concept that “now Charles Manson is receiving justice in hell.” These comments caused me to consider the concept of justice. Do these nice Christian men and women really not consider earthly justice “real justice”? Is God’s eternal justice the only true justice? What if Charles Manson had “gotten saved” before his death? According to these Christians’ religion, Charles Manson would be afforded the same afterlife of eternity in heaven as all these nice Christian people who have not persuaded others to commit multiple acts of murder. If one were to ask these nice Christian people if that is “real justice,” what would their answer be? I daresay many would find themselves in quite the conundrum when pressed for an honest answer.

Let us consider a few aspects of Christian justice. My friend and presumably many of her friends believe in the concept of original sin and salvation. Each person by birth is a sinner; the wages of sin are death – eternal death in hell; the only way to escape eternal death in hell is to repent of one’s sin, accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Savior, and to be baptized into a new life of service to God/Jesus/Holy Spirit. Anyone may be saved – anyone – including Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and yes, Charles Manson – and anyone who is saved is granted the golden ticket to eternity in heaven. However, anyone who does NOT accept Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Savior will be condemned to eternity in hell. This includes Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Charles Manson, the young man in India who grew up Hindu, the old woman in Kuwait who grew up Muslim, the old man in China who grew up Buddhist, the middle-aged American woman who is an agnostic atheist. Each one deserves and is subject to the same fate: eternity in hell. Does that sound like justice? Adolf Hitler, who orchestrated a massive extermination enterprise, inhabits the same hell as the nice Muslim lady who was unfortunate enough to believe in the wrong type of deity and who never had the chance to hear about or accept the “correct” one?

It is also interesting to ponder the way Christians learn to overlay their beliefs about supernatural forces onto the natural world. They live in the world, but the world is also inhabited by angels and demons. A person who is “saved” is said to have Jesus living in his “heart.” An unsaved person may be possessed by demons or guided by demonic forces. A guardian angel may save someone from harm. Satan may tempt or guide someone to commit some horrific act. God may intervene to prevent a catastrophe. Christians live in a world where humans commit acts which may or may not be influenced by supernatural forces, where nature may or may not be changed by supernatural forces. There is a constant struggle going on around Christians at all times between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Many Christians believe that if they live a life in favor with God that He will save them from catastrophe, from the forces of evil, from evil acts perpetrated by humans (possibly under the influence of demons), unless He doesn’t physically save them from harm. When He doesn’t, then one must not question His Will, for we humans cannot fathom God’s divine plan.

I remember living in the world inhabited by angels and demons, God/Jesus/Holy Spirit and the Devil. As a child, I was terrified of the dark. No, not the dark, but by the monsters and demons that inhabit the dark. I was taught that monsters were not real, but that demons and the Devil were real and were eager to prey on the unsuspecting unsaved and ready to tempt the staunchest of believers. As a child I couldn’t discern the difference between fictitious monsters and real demons. We were living in a world surrounded by the forces of Good and Evil locked in a battle for our immortal souls. Then in the 1980s (my teenage years) came the whole Satanic scare in which everyone (Christians, that is) talked about Satanic rituals and kidnappings and sacrifices and pentagrams. All of us Christians were afraid, on alert to battle the forces of evil, while at the same time we were told that all we had to do to overcome demons and Satan was to demand in Jesus’ name that they leave, and that they must obey. Whenever I was scared of the dark, I used to pray that the demons and Devil leave in Jesus’ name. Then I felt better.

But we have adult Christians who weave their belief of supernatural forces into the acts of human beings. Believing that Charles Manson is under Satan’s control or perpetrating acts that are pleasing to Satan brings the concept of justice to a different level. While non-believers see Charles Manson as someone who chose to lead others to commit horrific murders, Christians see Charles Manson as a tool of Satan, perhaps inhabited by demons or at least under Satan’s control either through Manson’s free will or lack of free will. Non-believers see that Charles Manson was arrested by law enforcement officers, tried by a group of peers, sentenced by a judge, and served life in prison. Christians see this too, but they also anticipate judgment by God and eternity in hell as additional justice later, as if life in prison were not enough. And there is rejoicing among believers that finally Charles Manson will receive the justice he deserves.

I wanted to ask my friend’s commenters “what if Charles Manson had been saved before his death?” (It’s unlikely, as that turn of events would be too much for a pastor or chaplain to leave unannounced, either so he/she could receive credit or so that other unbelievers could be influenced to turn to the “truth” before it is too late, because, see, God is so great He can even forgive Charles Manson.) But I did not ask, mainly because this friend is one of the few from my evangelical past who knows that I am now an agnostic atheist, and I do not want to cause trouble for her amongst her crowd. But if Charles Manson had been saved before his death, should not good Christians rejoice in his repentance and his eternal glory in heaven with his Lord and Savior?

I imagine that by the convoluted system of Christian justice, those good Christians would say that yes, they rejoice in the power and mercy of God that he can even forgive the likes of Charles Manson. Conversely, they are glad to see that God, in all his glory as the almighty righteous judge, meted out eternal justice to Charles Manson as he never repented of his sins and accepted the saving grace of Jesus’ sacrifice. It just seems somehow inconsistent with the concept of goodness one associates with religion the glee that Christians were exhibiting over the death – no, the everlasting damnation in hell – of another human being.

I desperately wanted to engage in conversation on social media, but I refrained and wrote this post instead. In any case, Charles Manson served his life sentence and will never harm another person again, and for that we should be glad.


  1. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    Legal justice is overrated, because the prison system is so bad and the road to prison has so much racism packed into it. But it seems to me that if we were really serious about making prisons work for us, we would truly rehabilitate as many convicted criminals as we could, and house the rest humanely in order to keep them away from society. We don’t do that. Rehabilitation is mostly a joke, and people like Manson can’t be rehabilitated anyhow. But above and beyond that, the prison system in this country is profoundly dehumanizing. If we are ever possibly going to return prisoners to a place among us, we could do better than considering their humanity as beneath us to consider.

    I don’t care how despicably evil a person’s actions are, as a society we need to remove them to protect everyone else, and let them back in if and only if they’re rehabilitated. Does that mean making them suffer? To my mind, it means making them LEARN (or at least offering the ability to do so). Learning all the things that honorable people know and use in interaction with others. They don’t need to be treated like royalty during this process, but they do need proper food, facilities, and medical care.

    I don’t believe in an eye for an eye, etc. I’m convinced that anyone who doesn’t engage with other people in their society in a proper manner either didn’t learn how, or simply will not. And I certainly don’t have any patience with a deity who will punish people or reward them based on how they engage with him. That’s narcissism at its worst.

  2. Avatar

    My guess is he’s “skipping down streets of gold” as we speak; I’m sure he trusted Christ on his deathbed & all is well!

    We all know Jesus’ blood can cleanse even someone like him, right?

  3. Avatar
    Dell Anderson

    As those of us who grew up protestant know, there is no justice in Christianity. By a complicated system of twisted logic, jesus paid the ‘sin debt’ and all it takes is a few words of penance and a home in the sky is a criminal’s reward. Jesus himself said to the thief crucified next to him “Verily I say unto you today, that shalt be with me in paradise”.

    Perhaps this weird sense of ‘religious justice’ makes some some forms of christianity compatible with some criminals. If one can confess to a priest and all is forgiven, why put up with nuisance inconveniences that can be more easily dealt with directly? It’s easier solve the problem using human tactics and ask forgiveness later as ‘eternal life insurance’!

    The main tragedy with Charles Manson’s ‘justice’ is that he was allowed to live out the duration of his natural life, probably even live longer than he might have in the outside world. No doubt this caused some pain to the victims families (especially at parole hearings) and also subtracted from the quality of life for every guard, administrator, and health care provider, that had to deal with him.

  4. Avatar
    Ross Kardon

    If Adolph Hitler prayed the Christian sinner’s prayer before he died in the bunker in 1945, he would be in heaven. While the six millions Jews and the people who were not the right kind of Christians among the five million non-Jews, who were also killed in the Nazi Holocaust, would be eternally suffering in a fiery place of torment, that if it really does exit, makes Auschwitz look like a vacation at Disney World, a vacation in the Hamptons, or a vacation in the Caribbean!

    According to Christian fundamentalists, kind, honest, good people who were Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, Mormons, Unitarians, Muslims, Roman Catholics, atheists, agnostics, and even mainstream Protestants in their lives on Earth are now burning in hell. This would even include the nurse heroine Florence Nightingale who was a Unitarian. But, because one of the worst criminals ever to have existed, Jeffery Dahmer had a “born again” Christian conversion experience before he was killed in prison, Jeffery is now in heaven.

    On any city street, have you ever seen any of those Jews for Jesus cultists passing out their propaganda flyers? It is so tragic and pathetic that if what these religious cultists are believe are true, they are joyfully worshipping a cruel God who has sent their ancestors who died in the Nazi Holocaust, to eternally suffer in a fiery place that makes the Nazi concentration camps such as Auschwitz look like a country club!

    So if Charles Manson prayed the sinner’s prayer before he died, he would be in heaven while his unfortunate victims are in hell. What kind of terrible religion is this?

    • Avatar
      John Arthur

      A religion of unspeakable cruelty. The sooner it is placed in the dustbin of history, the better the world will be.


      John Arthur

  5. Avatar

    Maybe it’s just me, but I have never had any desire to speculate about any matters that will remain speculation, however much they are investigated. Fundies love this sort of thing…Patheos Evangelical, which I used to read before I saw the light has regular posts authoritatively informing us what Jesus would do now at a football match, in a school, at a concert, who he’s accepted into heaven etc etc. There was one post not so long ago earnestly telling us what Jesus’ real relationship with prostitutes was… I have more interesting things to fill my simple life with, than reading the fevered imaginings of fundies.

  6. Avatar

    Obstacle Chick, all as I can say is that I think you actually have more wisdom and spiritual discernment that your Christian friends posting on social media. This is something for me to ponder.

    • Avatar

      I’m going to have to re-name myself!

      For the record I don’t support the death penalty in any circumstances, though I fully accept the right of others to disagree.

  7. Avatar

    There was not much that could have prevented Manson from engaging in criminal or antisocial behavior in his life, but he might not have proved quite so murderous if he had been paroled to a smaller area in California. Manson was paroled to San Francisco in 1967, just in time for him to attract gullible followers. Manson did his time, and proved to be no more willing to follow rules in prison than out of it. Jeff Guinn’s book about Manson is quite enlightening on Manson’s early years in McMechen, West Virginia. Manson’s aunt Glenna and her minister husband raised Manson along with their daughter while Manson’s mother was in prison. Manson’s cousin, the daughter made it clear Manson was a problem from an early age. The cousin recalls Manson tried to attack her with a machete through a screen door when Manson was seven years old, and that he also lied a lot.

  8. Avatar

    Let’s not forget that Ted Bundy also came to the Lord prior to his execution:
    Jim Dobson decided he should be the conduit to spread the message that pornography was to blame for Bundy’s acts (although he showed violent tendencies even in childhood) and the unspoken message that God’s grace can forgive even the worst sinner. I can accept that, like Manson, Bundy paid his debt to society, which is justice enough.

  9. Avatar
    Justine Valinotti

    What I find sort-of-amusing is that some self-proclaimed Christians who say “only God has the right to judge” are quick to consign Manson to Hell, or to say that he should have received the death penalty.

  10. Avatar
    Dale m

    I like the idea of a 2nd chance. Prisons rarely offer that. It’s kill or be killed in the prison world. The death penalty is not harsh if done by firing squad. We don’t. We like to gas them, poison them, fry them. I don’t get this.

    If it is premeditated, for criminal gain …. automatic firing squad. Other killings would have to be done case by case. If one decides to choose a criminal career then, strike 1, strike 2, strike 3 with firing squad.

    Or, perish the thought, rebuild prisons for rehabilitation. If a nation does not want to, then take the whole damn lot out for target practise. Prisons could be radically emptied out. It’s a stark choice between 2 worlds.

    As for Manson, life in prison was far harsher than execution. I believe he was mentally challenged and should have been put in a psychiatric hospital. He was certainly wired for it.

    Last word. The real culprits today are the not so sufficiently advanced sciences associated with neurology/ psychiatry/ environmental settings within the home. We got a long way to go before we can help the most extreme of criminals. When that day arrives, hopefully, prisons will be redundant.

  11. Avatar
    Peter Jacob

    I don’t believe in that hard line christian beliefs. I believe there is a God/creator I believe there is a Jesus. But I don’t buy into all the repent crap that they spew. We all are spiritual beings / energy forces. I believe when we die we return where we came from. The universe. What don’t get or understand is why would an all loving creator allow such horrible things to happen to people all over the world. Oh wait for it wait for it free will they say. Well I say bullshit to that. Why is there so many sick people with diseases in this world yet all these murderers and rapists and child molesters, drug dealers, human trafficking people have none of these diseases and they continue on their horrible ways. Yet people that don’t do any of those above mentioned crimes are hit with horrible diseases. While these scumbags that continue to commit these acts get to have there scumbag health and continue on in their horrible ways. Where is God/Jesus/Holy spirit for that ???????

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