I was named after the doctor who delivered me, a friend of my father’s from medical school.
Dr. Curtis is a gynecologist who has written several popular books about pregnancy. When a woman asked for a tubal ligation after her tenth delivery (two of her children had died in infancy, but by then she was raising eight, ranging in age from a high school sophomore to her newborn), he performed the surgery.
This woman’s husband had given his grudging permission before she came in, but he later decided that irreversible sterilization must be against the will of God. He began to harass Dr. Curtis. He convinced his wife that she had done an evil thing. The couple became so distraught that the hospital forgave their medical bills, hoping to stave off litigation.
This angry man never did bring a lawsuit against Dr. Curtis or the hospital. Instead, he convinced his wife to give him back his guns – she’d hidden them as his rants became increasingly vitriolic. But she caved.
Fully armed, he drove to the hospital, planted enough dynamite to level half a block, and stormed inside to find the doctor. Dr. Curtis noticed him, called the police, and left. The angry man took hostages – nurses, mothers with infants, pregnant women – whom he threatened at gunpoint as he searched the hospital.
One of these hostages – a recently-hired nurse – saw an opportunity to wrest his gun away. She pulled the shotgun from his hands and ran. He pulled out another gun and shot her in the back, killing her.
Three hours into the crisis, one woman delivered her baby – the newborn began life as a hostage. Fifteen hours into the crisis, the police had found the dynamite and began to negotiate. The angry man wanted the police to escort his wife and Dr. Curtis into the hospital, so that he could murder Dr. Curtis in front of her.
The police declined this offer.
Eighteen hours into the crisis, the angry man surrendered. He was taken to jail and charged with murder – the nurse he’d shot in the back – amidst other crimes. He took a plea for thirty-five years because the prosecutors said they’d seek the death penalty.
In jail, he extolled the other inmates with his virtues. He was better than them, he said. His plan was righteous.
The other inmates beat the shit out of him. Repeatedly. It seems they had a difference of opinion as to who was better than whom.
The angry man tried repeatedly to escape. He was transferred from state to state – he’d be transferred after altercations with fellow inmates, botched escapes, and suicide attempts. During one of the botched escapes, he fell from a fence and broke both his legs.
His lawyers recommended an appeal – he was not in his right mind when he pled guilty, they said. That much I agree with, I suppose. I’m not sure he was ever in his right mind. But I think it’s likely he would have attempted murder again if he was released.
Shortly before his appeal hearing, he succeeded in breaking his own neck with a sheet tied to the wall with shoelaces. (Inmates at Bloomington’s jail wear lace-less orange crocks. Less risk of suicide that way … although there have still been several in the past few years. Jail is a miserable place to be.)
It’s not clear to me how a tubal ligation could be against God’s will but suicide was fine. Maybe the angry man knew that his logic was faulty. His defense attorney said that “One of his biggest regrets is that they didn’t kill him at Alta View Hospital.” Just like the members of ISIS, Christian terrorists would rather lose their lives in action.
This country has a long history of Christian terrorism. Numerous seemingly respectable people support the murder of doctors who enable women’s right to choose when to have children. In Danny Davis’s The Phinehas Priesthood: violent vanguard of the Christian Identity movement, he writes that:
Many Christians will be surprised to discover that similar beliefs and moral values are present in the Identity worldview. In some denominations, the only initial difference will appear when the idea of a biological Israelite heritage to present day European Anglo-Saxons is seen.
These terrorists believe that human life begins when a sperm cell fuses with an egg to form a zygote with a full compliment of chromosomes. Given this belief, they think that abortion is murder – especially later in a pregnancy, when the developing fetus begins to look like a miniature human. Because a gynecologist might perform several abortions each day, they believe that God would want them to murder the doctor.
(Human life does not begin at conception. A large number of zygotes – probably between fifteen and twenty percent, but possibly higher since women do not always realize that they ever were pregnant – will self-abort due to chromosomal abnormalities. Also, although most miscarriages are caused by blameless genetic problems, the rate of miscarriage is higher in women who are overweight. Why do Christian terrorists not target McDonald’s? Their food probably terminates more pregnancies than any gynecologist.)
Davis also writes that:
In his book, Mix My Blood with the Blood of the Unborn, Paul Hill details his public defense of anti-abortion shooters Michael Griffin and Shelley Shannon. Shortly after Griffin’s attack Hill penned a very articulate letter “describing such murders as ‘justifiable homicide.’ ” In the same letter he gave his Biblical reasons against abortion and explained the need for “Phineas actions” to protect the unborn.
Christian theology has a long tradition of defending awful behavior that supposedly fulfills the will of God. In Fear and Trembling, nineteenth century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard writes (translated by Walter Lowrie):
It is now my intention to draw out from the story of Abraham the dialectical consequences inherent in it, expressing them in the form of problemata, in order to see what a tremendous paradox faith is, a paradox which is capable of transforming a murder into a holy act well-pleasing to God, a paradox which gives Isaac back to Abraham, which no thought can master, because faith begins precisely there where thinking leaves off.
Fear and Trembling has the beginnings of a lovely work of philosophy. I have always enjoyed Kierkegaard’s description of the sort of person he considers second best in the world, the knight of infinite resignation. This sort of person, according to Kierkegaard, accepts that our efforts are guaranteed to be fruitless – Camus would later argue that this is true of all of us, since we are all guaranteed to die, and eventually humans will go extinct, the universe will become a frozen void, and all trace of our existence will have dissolved into an entropic nothing – but doesn’t stop striving even when though failure is inevitable.
[The knight of infinite resignation] does not give up his [doomed] love, not for all the glory of the world. He is no fool. First he makes sure that this really is the content of his life, and his soul is too healthy and too proud to squander the least thing upon an inebriation. He is not cowardly, he is not afraid of letting love creep into his most secret, his most hidden thoughts, to let it twine in innumerable coils about every ligament of his consciousness – if the love becomes an unhappy love, he will never be able to tear himself loose from it.
That’s great, Kierkegaard! But then why would you also write that “The paradox of faith is this, that the individual is higher than the universal”? Abraham does not need your defense. Whatever he believed God to have said, stabbing your son is wrong.
According to the King James translation of the Bible,
Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.
And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
Because Abraham believed it was God’s will, he was ready to murder. And so set Kierkegaard off on his convoluted reasonings, arguing that when the faithful believe themselves to be fulfilling the will of God, their vile actions should be seen as righteous.
At least the story of Abraham ends with the man refraining from murder. Not so the story of Phinehas, patron saint of violent white supremacists. In this story, God was angry because the Israelites were marrying foreigners, which might lead them to eventually abandon their religious traditions. Rather than let them drift away, God figured he should smite his chosen people. But Phinehas patched things up with God by murdering.
Again from the King James translation:
And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand;
And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.
And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy.
Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace:
And he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel.
In the United States, Christian terrorists have referenced the story of Phinehas to justify murder. In Matthias Gardell’s Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism, he writes that:
In 1990, hardcore Identity ideologue Richard Kelly Hoskins suggested that individual zealots could atone for Israel’s transgressions by assassinating homosexuals, interracial couples, and prostitutes. Hoskins believed such zealots belonged to an underground tradition of racial purists, the Phineas Priesthood, and traced its history into antiquity.
After all, most of the Bible does depict Yahweh as a bloodthirsty god. Yahweh himself murders a lot of people. He was initially worshiped with animal sacrifice. And he has a chilling disregard for the lives of women and children – in the story of Job, for instance, his wife and children are killed, but all is made right again when Job receives a new, better wife and new, better children. These people are simply possessions, and only Job’s suffering has moral weight.
And this book is supposed to be the wellspring of American values?