KILLING IN GOD'S NAME
BY STEVE GUSHEE DATE: July 31,
1994 The Palm Beach Post EDITION: FINAL
Paul Hill declared a holy war in Pensacola Friday.
He believed that God commanded him to kill those who perform abortions, contrary to the law of the land and to the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith he professes. Hill's position on abortion was no secret. He had taken his gospel of justified violence on the road, appearing on both Donahue and Nightline after the murder of Dr. David Gunn last year in Pensacola.
``We should defend both born and unborn children with force. Force is justified when doctors are taking the lives of babies,'' Hill has said.
Killing an unjust aggressor has long been held morally justified by many theologians if necessary to protect the innocent. Christian nations have declared war in the name of God - even against one another - as a necessary means of ridding the world of an aggressive evil.
Dr. Richard Nolan of Fort Lauderdale, a retired professor of moral philosophy, believes that is what motivates those who would kill employees of clinics that perform abortions.
``We are not dealing with psychotic people,'' he said. ``We're dealing with committed people who are convinced they are right.''
Such people may be irrational and violent - even to the point of murder - but they do not consider themselves responsible for the tragedy they leave in their wake. They serve a higher truth. They know without hesitation what that truth is. That arrogance of certainty led David Hill to the Ladies Center clinic on Friday.
The divine defense of violence is increasingly used to justify inhuman behavior. Arab organizations Hamas and Hezbollah and others terrorize Israel in the name of Allah. Baruch Goldstein murdered nearly 40 Arabs at worship in Hebron recently in obedience to his conviction that God meant the land for Jews. ``Ethnic cleansing'' in Bosnia has frightening overtones of a religious self-righteousness.
America has not been without its fanatics. In 1861, abolitionist John Brown seized a federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry as the first step toward a slave insurrection, claiming, ``One man and God can overturn the universe.''
History is replete with examples of violence done in the name of God.
But none of the sacred writings of the world's major religions tells of a God who advocates violence.
``Whenever we do the work of Jesus in a way that is hateful, we are not doing the work of Jesus,'' said the Rev. Horace Ward of Maranatha Church of God in Palm Beach Gardens.
He recalled the teaching of Jesus that equates anger with murder and suggested that Hill and others become so blinded by their anger that it becomes something more deadly.
The real danger is that Hill and others like him believe they are good, have no perception of the potential evil within and cannot imagine misinterpreting the message they hear from God.
Theologians, however, say that the Bible and the Koran are written for a community, not individuals. In the course of history, God's word is spoken to Israel, Islam or the Church, as a people.
The community of faithful seek to discern the meaning of God's word through prayer and study. Scripture warns of the power of other less-benign spirits. It is a difficult, demanding and frightening presumption to claim knowledge of the mind of God.
Prophets stand outside that community and speak to its members. The prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus, and even Martin Luther King stood in judgment of their followers and others. But none of them took life, and none suggested that life be taken. Most gave their lives for the sake of the God they served.
The New Testament, which Hill claims to follow, demands that the faithful offer life in service to the world - not take life in anger at the world.
But the religious fanatic intentionally separates himself from the community and too often the words he chooses to hear from God exhort violence.
History and theology teach that if any word comes from God with a blinding certainty and supports one's own inclination, it is almost certainly not authentic. That word is the echo of one's own twisted thought.