Thursday, 2 April 2009

The Judge who can’t justify himself

This post has been written by the Associate Editor of Case,
Roberta Kwan

He’s been the subject of countless news stories, but his lasting legacy will be encapsulated in the recent headlines:

A Man Without Honour
I lied, but I'm basically honest, says Einfeld
Marcus Einfeld jailed for perjury

It would be hard to live in Australia and not have an opinion on the fate of Marcus Einfeld – the former federal court judge and National Trust ‘living treasure’ who has just received a three-year jail term for perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice. This blog entry isn’t an attempt to rehash the details of Einfeld’s ignominious fall. Rather, it is a brief reflection on what may appear to be the incomprehensible disparities between Einfield’s long record of human rights activism, his actions that led to his criminal convictions last week and his own beliefs about his character.

The ABC TV show Four Corners screened an exclusive interview with Einfeld two weeks ago. It recounted his many years of public service, including his role as the Founding President of the Human Rights’ Commission, his work to help asylum seekers and his most memorable contribution – his 1987 enquiry into the living conditions of Indigenous people in Toomelah in northern NSW.

This record was juxtaposed with Einfeld’s behavior that culminated in the infamy of being the first superior court judge to be jailed in Australia. Einfeld knew he had perjured himself.

Four Corners: “There can have been no doubt in your mind that you did not lend your car to Teresa Brennan and that is what you said.”
Einfeld: “Yes”
Four Corners: “Now that was just a straight-out lie.”
Einfeld: “It was. …”

Towards the end of the programme it was revealed that police had conducted enquiries that span back for over a decade and that these enquiries revealed a pattern of Einfeld using statutory declarations/sworn statements naming overseas friends as drivers to get out of traffic offenses. In each case the person was not in Australia at the time, and in one case (in May 2003) the person was already dead. That person was, once again, Teresa Brennan. And so, if Einfeld’s case had gone to trial, this evidence of a pattern of dishonest behavior would have been aired in court.

This being the case, the most jarring and obvious disjunction revealed in the programme was not between Einfeld’s good record and what he claimed to be an isolated ‘mad’ incident. Rather, the most jarring and obvious disjunction was between what Einfeld did and his assertions about his character. He continued to maintain that he is fundamentally a ‘good person’.

Four Corners: “Do you have a habit of dishonesty?”
Einfeld: “No, I’m not a dishonest … no … I don’t think I’m in the slightest bit dishonest, I just made a mistake.”

And:
Einfeld: “They’re [the character witnesses] going to prove that this matter, these offenses of mine were out of character, that I’m a good person, a person of integrity and honour, who’s given his life to working for people ...”

I’m not pointing out this profound discrepancy in order that I or you can pour scorn on Einfeld or adopt a sense of smug superiority. Instead, the point I’m trying to make is that a humanistic world view, such as Einfeld’s, cannot account for the incongruity. It is not possible to marry together the statements ‘I don’t think I’m in the slightest bit dishonest’ and ‘It was [a straight-out lie]’. This impossibility is echoed in the ironic headline in The Sydney Morning Herald from the 23rd March: ‘I lied, but I'm basically honest, says Einfeld’.

Moreover, it is clear that Einfeld’s attempts to justify his lies by recourse to his good deeds are hollow and inadequate, as reflected in the decision of the sentencing Judge. He could not appeal to anything that could result in him personally atoning for his criminal behaviour.


I think that the poignantly sad case of Marcus Einfeld should be a cause for self-reflection. Because, according to the Bible, what has become obvious about Einfeld is no less true of any person. As Romans 3:10 boldly states, ‘There is no-one righteous, not even one …’ A Christian world view can makes sense of a seemingly ‘good person’ and the lies told by this good person because it presents a true view of human nature. People can do good things but are equally prone to doing bad things because of the pervasiveness of our sinful nature, a sinful nature that means we can never justify ourselves, never atone for our own wrong-doing. If we reflect honestly upon our thoughts, our actions, our intentions, we will have to admit that these discredit any belief in ourselves as a ‘good person’. If I tell one lie (and I’m sure we’ve all told more than one), I cannot say ‘I am not dishonest’. If I slander one person (and I’m sure we’ve all slandered more than one person), then I cannot say ‘I am not a slanderer’.

Early in the Four Corners programme Einfeld said:
“I’m forever trying to atone for what I did. But, you know, whether God will hear me I don’t know, but I hope people hear me at least. …”

The Bible is clear that Einfeld’s fervent attempts at self-atonement will not be efficacious before God. But, the incredible news is that God has provided the means of atonement. He sent his perfect Son – the only one who could honestly accept the title of ‘good person’ – to be the atoning sacrifice for sin. It is through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, through him taking on the punishment for our sin, that anyone can be justified before God. The liar is declared honest. The unrighteous declared righteous. There IS one Judge who can justify. May the Marcus Einfeld case remind us of his amazing grace.

Related links

This piece has also posted on the Anglican Media website (here)

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