Redeemed by Art?

  A man in Austria named Jack Unterwegers murdered a woman in 1976 and was sentenced to life in prison. While there, he made good use of the library and began to write. In time he became a best-selling author, surprising the public with his compelling insights into the world of crime. He portrayed himself as a victim, the abandoned child of a prostitute, raised in foster homes where he was abused. He became a media darling, and soon the public demanded his release. So after 15 years, the gates were flung open and, at age 40, Jack Unterwegers was a free man. When he assured the media he would never spend another day in prison, they declared him "Redeemed by Art!" Almost immediately a wave of murders of prostitutes began. As a writer with expert knowledge of the subject, Unterwegers was hired by a German magazine to cover the story. A retired police officer read about the case and notified authorities that the killer was using the same methods as a man he had sent to prison years earlier—the same Jack Unterwegers. While searching the writer's apartment, police found receipts from a trip to America, and L.A. police had three murders that fit Unterwegers' M.O. exactly. Then the FBI got involved. FBI profilers said all the murders were the work of one man. Airline tickets and charge records revealed that Unterwegers had been in each location at the time of the murders. But the media refused to believe it. Unterwegers was covering the case, they said. He had a right to be there. There was just one problem: The writer had arrived before the murders took place. Crowds eagerly sought Unterwegers' company, and the charmer held court at different clubs every night. But the evidence became conclusive: Unterwegers had killed 12 women. He was charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. But, true to his word, he never spent another day in jail—he killed himself before the sentence was carried out. Art had not redeemed him, after all. Indeed, art has no power to redeem. Yes, literature and art can uplift the spirit, that's true. But over the years, many have been tricked into believing that art can also transform the heart. The New York literati glorified Jack Abbott, who wrote a powerful book about prison, In the Belly of the Beast. Media pressure got him out of prison. He was the toast of the town, then he killed again. My good friend Bill Buckley was misled by the writings of convicted murderer Edgar Smith in the late sixties. He too returned to crime. Can a guilty man be redeemed? Absolutely. It happens everyday, but not by art—no matter what the literary world may believe. No one will ever be redeemed by art or social engineering or charity or good works, or sitting in a church pew, for that matter. The real answer is nowhere more clearly put than in Scripture, which says: "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation." And that's the greatest artwork of all.


Chuck Colson



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