I wasn’t planning on writing anything about George Sodini, the nutcase who killed three women and himself at a fitness center in Pennsylvania, because there’s honestly not a lot to be said. The guy was unbalanced, to put it mildly, and years of isolation and bitterness finally took its toll. Even after his online journal was discovered and found to contain some indications that his religious delusions may have made it easier for him to go through with the shooting, I still resisted the urge to say anything about. After all, I’ve provided plenty of examples of people using their religious belief to justify the most heinous actions and, in comparison, Sodini’s rantings weren’t particularly exceptional on that point.
So I almost got away without ever bothering to mention this asshole and giving him yet more of the attention he craved in life and only got by killing a bunch of innocent women and himself. Then I read this Salon.com article about his church and their reaction to this tragedy:
Aug 9th, 2009 | FOREST HILLS, Pa.—If prayers were said Sunday for the soul of the gunman who killed three women at a Pennsylvania health club, they were not by the parishioners of a church where he apparently sat quietly for many years: Tetelestai Church doesn’t pray for the dead.
“We pray for the living—the victims and the family of George Sodini,” said Chuck Matone, a senior deacon.
And Sodini? “God will hold him accountable. God has his justice.”
OK, so far so good. The Salon.com writer then brings up Sodini’s blog wherein he states his belief, supposedly taught to him by his church, that he will go to Heaven in spite of what he’s about to do:
Sodini’s misery was apparent in his rambling, hate-filled blog, in which he complained of a nonexistent sex life, years of rejection by women and social isolation. Among those he blamed for his perceived troubles were his family and Tetelestai’s longtime pastor, Alan “Rick” Knapp, whose teachings he interpreted as assurance he would go to heaven even after committing murder.
“This guy teaches (and convinced me) you can commit mass murder, then still go to heaven,” he wrote.
Knapp, who left town Saturday to care for his critically ill father in Florida, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Friday that “the message of the word I preach never reflected such a thing.”
It should be said that the once-saved-always-saved message isn’t unique to this church. It’s actually a common belief among a lot of Protestant sects. The Baptist church I used to attend as a child, for example, taught me the same message. I found it an odd belief at the time and still do. Of course you’ll find disagreement over whether it’s a firm rule or not depending on which Christian you happen to be talking to at the time.
That’s why I find the following comment by Deacon Jack Rickard somewhat galling:
Personally, though, Rickard believes Sodini is in heaven.
“We believe in permanent security—once saved, always saved,” Rickard said. “He will be judged, but he will be in heaven. … He’ll be in heaven, but he won’t have any rewards because he did evil.”
I’m sure that’s a major comfort to the families of Sodini’s victims.
Seriously think about this for a second: If these people are right, that there is a God, Heaven, and Hell that are as they claim them to be, and Hell is as horrible an experience as they say it is, then even a bad day in Heaven is still better than the best day in Hell. So Sodini won’t get any ‘rewards’, whatever the fuck they might be, in Heaven, but at least he won’t be in Hell. What possible judgment could God give Sodini that would justify his remaining in Heaven?
“You killed three innocent women and then, coward that you are, you took your own life so as not to answer to your fellow man for your evil crimes. Bad Sodini! Bad! Bad! Now go sit in the corner for eternity.”
You’d think the guy would qualify for at least a couple millennia in Hell. Maybe a century or two? Couple of decades at least? How about a month? Can’t we get these ladies a month’s worth of punishment in Hell for that asshole? No? Pretty stupid rules if you ask me.
All the church will say for sure on this issue is that whatever the message they might or might not be giving to their congregation they don’t feel they’re in any way responsible for what happened:
The sermon, however, avoided addressing the fate of Sodini’s soul.
“You are accountable and you are responsible for what you do,” Dorohovich told the congregation. “God knows the motives of all men’s hearts, and as my pastor said Friday night, we will give account for all that is done in this body.”
Matone also sidestepped the issue: “Is he in heaven? Only God and he know.”
But the church leadership says one thing is clear: Sodini alone is responsible for the pain he has caused.
“There’s absolutely no guilt on the part of anyone in this ministry,” Matone said. “What he did, he did on his own.”
Clearly someone in the church sees the potential tie between what was taught and how Sodini interpreted the teaching. Shame they don’t have the moral fortitude to own up to possibly giving the wrong impression to a crazy psychopath in their midst. Not that I think they should be legally liable for the actions of a nutcase, but perhaps they may want to rethink the message and how it’s presented.