From the world of phony sports — to which I customarily pay zero attention — comes this grisly tale of professional wrestler Chris Benoit, who murdered his wife and child and then killed himself. After killing his family, he placed a Bible next to their bodies.
This isn’t going to be another of those posts full of “religion kills” bromides. In this case, the possible reason for Benoit’s rampage may be linked to his use of too much of what the bodybuilding world calls Vitamin S. But the role the Bible plays here is interesting. Having no expertise in the mental health field at all, my built-in atheist’s “skepdar” (a wonderful term someone on the ACA’s Yahoo group came up with) tells me that Benoit was using religion as many people do in life: a forgiveness quick-fix, the moral equivalent of using Fix-a-Flat to pump up a punctured tire.
While Christians go on about how no one without religion can possibly have a moral compass to follow, what they never talk about is the way in which people who do embrace religion, however fervently or casually, typically behave no better than unbelievers, and oftimes worse. And when they do behave worse, they use religion as a convenient thing to fall back upon, either to justify their actions, or to showboat a fake display of remorse.
Many Christians will respond to this by agreeing wholeheartedly, then by attacking those people for moral hypocrisy and not being “true” Christians. This misses the point. I think Christianity unintentionally sets itself up to be used in this way by giving people a poor understanding of morality, and of the difference between right and wrong in the first place. As Stephen has pointed out here, Christianity paradoxically wants people to be good, then gives them bad reasons to do so. Christian morality is entirely tied in to how well one obeys divine rules and commandments. One should not kill or steal because it will anger God (except in those cases where it’s okay) and could doom you to hell. That killing takes a life, which is in and of itself bad, and that stealing involves taking something that isn’t yours and that you haven’t earned from someone who has earned it, which is in and of itself bad, is significantly less relevant to Christian thought. The only consequence to be feared is the displeasure of God. All of us have heard (and if you haven’t yet, it’s quite sobering to hear it for the first time) some Christians say that if there were no God, then they’d see no reason whatsoever not to just go off on a wild murder rampage, wreaking merciless havoc with gleeful impunity. Whether or not they actually would if presented with the chance, or whether it’s all just talk, is immaterial. That a Christian would even say such a thing with a straight face underscores the darkly ironic fact that many of the people who consider themselves to be the world’s poster children for all things righteous and moral simply do not comprehend what the terms “right” and “wrong” even mean.
But what of the believer who does go off on that rampage. Well, then, there’s God’s “forgiveness”. Since praying is really nothing other than glorified talking-to-yourself, how easy it must be for a person who does something really horrible to tell themselves, “Hey, it’s not that big a deal after all,” simply by praying, and enjoying a little delusional exchange in which they themselves, playing the role of creator and ruler of the universe, bestow instant “forgiveness”. Occasionally, the display is brazen, as in Kent Hovind’s bizarre dialogue with God in which Kent reinforces his belief in his own martyrdom and heroism to a degree that bespeaks genuine mental illness.
But other times, the self-forgiveness is more subtle and cynical. Benoit’s is a perfect example. I suspect he placed the Bible next to his murdered family either in the effort to convince himself that it wasn’t such a bad thing, what he did and all, because his wife and child were in Heaven now, or simply to assuage his own sense of guilt about the murders through a feeble gesture that he hoped would placate his invisible friend. Or both.
Either way, religion made it easier for him to carry out his crime, rather than giving him the intellectual and moral tools to stop himself from carrying it out. Because Benoit lacked the ability to make rational decisions in life — perhaps a combination of steroid use, religion, and too many blows to the head — he and his family are now dead. And all the little gestures of piety in the world don’t change that.