Yesterday, a gunman named George Sodini shot up an LA Fitness gym in Pittsburgh, killing three women and injuring many more before ultimately turning the gun on himself. Sodini had left some clues to his mental state many blog postings:
December 31, 2008:
Now that I am on the topic of family and people I know, I might as well make a summary of sorts to show where things stand. This is New Years Eve I have time, no date tonight of course, so:
Tetelestai Church in Pittsburgh, PA – “Be Ye Holy, even as I have been Ye holy! Thus saith the lord thy God!”, as pastor Rick Knapp would proclaim. Holy —-, religion is a waste. But this guy teaches (and convinced me) you can commit mass murder then still go to heaven. Ask him. Call him at [phone number]. If no answer there, he should still live at [address]. In any case, guilt and fear kept me there 13 long years until Nov 2006. I think his crap did the most damage. Their web site: http://www.tetelestai.org.
August 3, 2009:
… Maybe soon, I will see God and Jesus. At least that is what I was told. Eternal life does NOT depend on works. If it did, we will all be in hell. Christ paid for EVERY sin, so how can I or you be judged BY GOD for a sin when the penalty was ALREADY paid. People judge but that does not matter. I was reading the Bible and The Integrity of God beginning yesterday, because soon I will see them.
Now whenever stories like this pop up, it’s always important to establish that the guy was crazy from the start so I’m saying that religion carries all the blame here.
However, that being said, it seems impossible to ignore the fact that religion was so easily used by the killer to justify his actions. And such a justification would not be a mere twisting of religious dogma (as I’m sure the religious will be saying tomorrow), but indeed fits with passages in the Bible and the teachings of many Christian evangelicals.
Of course religious leaders weren’t telling Sodini to kill anyone. But again, he justified his actions using a perfectly valid reading of church teachings and not just a misinterpretation. The truth is that many evangelicals DO teach that reaching heaven has no basis in whether one is a good person or not on Earth but is strictly determined by whether one accepts Jesus into their hearts or declares themselves a follower of Jesus. And that is a very dangerous message.
The loophole evangelicals like to use is that if someone continues to sin then that’s a sign that they haven’t truly accepted Jesus or they’re not a “true Christian.” However, the problem here is that according to them, all sin is equally bad as their god can’t tolerate anything short of absolute perfection. So when I ask them if they still have lust in their hearts and they respond that they do, I point out that by their own standards, they’re no less a sinner than a guy who might continue to murder people while still claiming to be a true Christian. I’ve also heard many a evangelical admit to me that if Hitler had a deathbed confession he’d get to go to Heaven while his Jewish victims would still burn in Hell unless they converted to Christianity before they died. This is what evangelicals like to call “Objective Morality.”
So according to evangelical teachings, Sodini may very well be in Heaven while any of his non-Christian victims may be in Hell.
Again, I don’t want to place all the blame squarely on religion. Surely, other factors existed and the man was deranged anyway. But perhaps what religion did do is remove in him the barrier of fear of punishment, the inevitable philosophical outcome of the belief that rewards and punishment are merely determined by degree of faith as opposed to one’s actual behavior. Sodini seemed to believe his crime would have no eternal negative consequences for him if he believed the right thing. This perhaps reduced his inhabitions enough to commit the crime.
Now perhaps he still have found something to justify his actions had he not been religious. We’ll never know for sure. But in a more secular humanist society that actively promoted critical thinking, I think he’d have his work cut out for him.