Wednesday, August 5, 2009

LA Fitness Shooter's Theology - The Consequences of An Idea

It has been nearly four hundred years since Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of his church, but the revolution that began with that simple act is still having real world consequences, and not all of them good. The ideas that Dr. Luther affirmed in his struggle against the Roman Catholic Church are still active in the world, and, as they buzzed around the disturbed mind of an evil man yesterday, they comforted him and contributed motive power to his madness.

Last night I was shocked when I saw the LA Fitness building on my TV in a local news story of a shooting. My wife and I had a joint membership to that gym last summer - they sold us one at a discounted rate while they were still building it. We paid the deposit but decided not to pay the monthly payments and gave up the membership. We got the deposit back, surprisingly enough. So we could have been there when the bullets were flying. Teresa could have been in that room last night if we had kept the membership. I've lost a lot of weight since then, so I know I would have made use of it, and if I went, she might well have come along.

We now know that a man named George Sodini walked in with a gun and started shooting, and saved the last bullet for himself. He had a blog, which has been taken down by the web host, but his blog posts were archived, so we have some insight into what he was trying to do. Apparently his main intention was to kill himself. Murdering other people helped give him the gumption to do it. And why did he want to kill himself? Because he wanted to skip over the rest of his lousy life and just cut to the happy ending with God and Jesus in heaven.

Here is an excerpt from his blog which reveals this:

"I took off today, Monday, and tomorrow to practice my routine and make sure it is well polished. I need to work out every detail, there is only one shot. Also I need to be completely immersed into something before I can be successful. I haven’t had a drink since Friday at about 2:30. Total effort needed. Tomorrow is the big day.
Unfortunately I talked to my neighbor today, who is very positive and upbeat. I need to remain focused and absorbed COMPLETELY. Last time I tried this, in January, I chickened out. Lets see how this new approach works.
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.
I will try not to add anymore entries because this computer clicking distracts me.
Also, any of the “Practice Papers” left on my coffee table I used or the notes in my gym bag can be published freely. I will not be embarased, because, well, I will be dead. Some people like to study that stuff. Maybe all this will shed insight on why some people just cannot make things happen in their life, which can potentially benefit others."

What hits me the hardest about this is that this man believed he was going to heaven! He had applied logic to a very typical evangelical Protestant belief rooted in the Reformation. When Martin Luther enunciated it he used the Latin, Sola Fide, Faith Alone. What this meant at the time was that good works (like buying indulgences from your local corrupt bishop) do not contribute to your salvation, at least not in such a way that they can make up for a lack of saving faith. A saving faith was one from which good works would emerge as a consequence because that faith, as a gift of God, would bring about another gift - Grace. Not much argue with there, but the idea began to morph and mutate even as Dr. Luther was propounding it. In a letter to Melancthon, Luther infamously wrote:

“If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly,  but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here [in this world]  we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness,  but, as Peter says,  we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It is enough that by the riches of God’s glory we have come to know the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.  No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day. Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small? Pray boldly—you too are a mighty sinner.” (font and bold emphasis my own).

Before anyone decides to argue about my bringing up this statement, I grant that it was not contextualized by an overall discussion about mass murder. It concerned ecclesiastical and theological issues. But the context does not redeem this statement, either. The text of the statement stands as it is, not mitigated or softened by its context. It's meaning is plain, as plain as he wrongly claimed Biblical text always is as a rule. Luther was propounding a heretical antinomianism - a belief that no moral law applies to those saved by the grace of God purchased by the sacrificial death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The antinomian heresy is alive today, promoted as the "assurance of salvation". It is expessed when a believer who goes around saying that he has beeen "born again" asks you "If you were to die tonight, do you know whether you would go to heaven?" He then testifies that he, at least, knows that he will go to heaven and be with Jesus because he has been saved, and nothing can separate him from his salvation. And don't you want that assurance, too?

I first encountered this belief system in my teens, when I was reading a book by Hal Lindsey, The Liberation of Planet Earth. He had a diagram of the cross on a page and it showed how the death of Christ on the cross paid for ALL your sins, past, present and future. The left arm of the cross had over it, "all the sins of the past" or something like that, and the right arm of the cross had something like "all future sins". It made sense - that death had to pay for all sin, so of course it would apply to future sins as well as those committed prior to the crucifixion. It couldn't only apply to those sins committed by an individual before he was saved and/or baptized, because then that would leave the sins he commits thereafter unpaid for - requiring, what, another crucifixion? I remember that Lindsey claimed that once you are saved, all your sins, those of your past, and those you commit after you are born again, are paid for "once and for all".

Over time I struggled with my faith, abandoned it, and eventually returned to it. During that time I have come to terms with how much truth there is in Sola Fide, and it is not a worthless doctrine. But all the truth it contains can all be affirmed without denying anything that the Catholic Church has consistently taught and affirmed from that Christ taught the apostles and the apostes taught the early Church Fathers, until the time of Martin Luther, all the way to the present day. It definitely should not be used by people like George Sodini to justify or excuse or encourage themselves in despicable acts of multiple murder and suicide. That is an abuse of the doctrine, and abusus non tollit usus.

Certainly people like Sodini are the exception, not the rule, both for believers in Sola Fide, and among psycho killer suicides. Certainly there is no temptation among any typical Protestant Christian believer who accepts Sola Fide to test his assurance of salvation in this way, and I have never seen any indication that other crazy random shooter murder-suicides, like Seung-Hui Cho at Viriginia Tech in 2007, or the Charles Carl Roberts, the gunman of the terrible massare at an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster six months before, or the perpatrators of the Columbine tragedy, ever drew any dark, terrible strength from a belief in the assurance of their salvation in Christ. The latter, insofar as the believed in anything, drew their inspiration from Darwinian natural selection, and saw themselves as culling the herd. Cho was a hate-filled racist scumbag. Roberts was insane and claimed that he was overcome with the desire to molest one of these girls, and claimed ot have done so 20 years before - but the person who he claims he molested denies that. So it is clear that whatever is true about Roberts, he was batshit crazy.

Nevertheless I am not surprised that the antinomian Assurance-of-Salvation doctrine has had a death toll in a psychic atmosphere that brings forth people like Cho and Roberts and Sodini. The idea is mainly false to begin with, and bad ideas eventually bear their fruit - bad consequences...evil actions.