Is Harvey Dent Worthy of Our Pity?

[Alternate titles: Our Defense Attorney Is also Our Judge, Check Your [Mental] Privilege (Except I hate that phrase)]

Elder Allen B. Haynie, two days ago: “The scriptures teach that every individual must be judged by the holy judgment of God. On that day there will be no opportunity to hide among a larger group, or point to others as an excuse for our being unclean. Gratefully, the scriptures also teach that Jesus Christ, He who suffered for our sins, who is our Advocate with the Father, who calls us His ‘friends,’ who loves us unto the end, He, ultimately, will be our Judge.”

I had an interesting conversation the other day after watching The Dark Knight with friends (for maybe the hundredth time). A new question arose after this viewing: that of the accountability of Harvey Dent.


I think it’s a little too easy to morally judge someone like him. Were his actions wrong? Well, killing several people out of personal vengeance and ultimately threatening the lives of an innocent family, guilty by association only in his twisted mind? Yeah, that’s certainly wrong. But ay, there’s the rub: in his twisted mind. Harvey Dent’s brain had clearly been broken. His acts were evil, yes, and needed to be stopped. The law is equipped to put a stop to evil, but the law, whether a civil government’s or even God’s, is not equipped by itself to judge the state of a man’s soul. Where does that final judgment rest? If Harvey Dent were real, in the hands of God, or more correctly, the Savior. Nobody, or no thing, else.

We often judge others as if all brains are on a perfectly level playing field, as if minds aren’t as fragile as any other part of the body. Truth is, a mind can break. And between broken and whole there are a world of degrees, an entire spectrum of sanity with differing levels of self-control and cognitive capabilities. That affects our behavior, including our sins, and thus our accountability.

It’s true that nowhere in the scriptures does God talk about neural pathways and chemical imbalances. He talks about the righteous and the wicked, and slaying the wicked with famine and pestilence and the sword. He talks about sinful behavior and how its spread must be stopped else it infect the righteous. Things are generally pretty black and white in the scriptures.

And yet he uses that blackness and whiteness, that condemnatory language not in judgment of the individual, but as a way of dissuading anyone and everyone from sinful behavior if they were thinking about it. Why? Because whether bad choices are understandable or not, they really do only cause misery and engender even more sinful behavior than before, and this is absolutely a fate to be avoided, if possible.

But I’d point out that rarely does God in the scriptures offer the final judgment of a human soul. I think those judgments are going to be, at the bar, very personal, and highly tuned to, yes, each and every variable in our lives that differentiates ours from others. Neural pathways and parents, spiritual gifts and inborn proclivities, what our actual potential was and how much Satan and his angels went after us more or less than others, the influences of both righteous people and others’ sinful behavior.

Remember, the unthinking, unfeeling Law is not our judge. Christ, the One defending us, is. And He knows us better than anyone or anything else could.

Do you think in that day He will say to us, Well, why weren’t you as good as my servant Gordon B. Hinckley?

No. He knows the vast amount of variables each of us live with. Young Gordon grew up in a different town, a different family, different school, with different friends, different teachers, different life tragedies, different spiritual gifts, a different rate of physical development into adolescence (that can be a bigger influence than we give it credit), different mental and spiritual dimensions, different inborn habits, different weaknesses, different EVERYthing. Including life mission and foreordination in the pre-mortal realm.

So how dare we try to judge ourselves based on the achievements and abilities of others! Comparisons, brothers and sisters, are hell.

Rather, God is going to be looking at us and judging us based on what He has given us. Neal, did you measure up to what I gave you? Did you use the blessings I gave you and blessed you with an awareness of? Did you search out your own potential and use the precious, limited time I gave you to the best of your ability?

He doesn’t change the law/standard because that’s what we all need to aspire to. What we actually achieve will be according to what we started with and what we were given along the way, nothing more. In other words, our singing voice is judged by what sheet music we were handed and how much training we received before being put on the stand to perform, not on the basis of comparison to the work of a maestro, even if we can still be inspired by him.

It’s the parable of the talents. We’re judged according to what we’re given. Harvey Dent was given a lot, and then, because of the fact that he was trying to do good with those talents, it was taken suddenly away by evil. That seeming betrayal permanently altered the way his mind functioned, and his whole life consequently spiraled out of control. He consequently had not much to work with.

I think we can therefore look with some pity on Harvey. Justice demands law, and the law demands that he be stopped, yes, those things are true and right. He is hurting people, after all, and is capable of perpetuating brokenness in others as a result of his own. Jim Gordon’s family, for instance, breaks up because of how the events of The Dark Knight affected them. But in turn, mercy and Christlike compassion ask that we help heal Harvey’s wounds and give him the opportunity to change. The same, of course, goes for all of us. That’s the essence of the Atonement, the balance between justice and mercy, judgment and compassion.

This series of articles do a better job than I could of summing this all up in more professional, clinical ways and offer the reader a look into the lives of people who have been broken either from birth or a storm-tossed life. On Thursday I’ll share some more thoughts on judgment, and then next week go into some of the winds and waves of mental illness that threw me off balance in my own storms, and how the Savior parted the clouds and calmed the raging tempest.


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