When Christian Morality Fails
Terry Mangum (left) murdered Ken Cummings (right) on orders from the Christian god to kill homosexuals.
I want to continue in the same vein that I began with my criticism of Michael Gerson, who claimed that although atheists could be good people, they could not justify their moral system. Presumably, however, Christians have access to a superior moral system (ultimately expressed in the "nature" of their god, but only practically accessible through their sacred scriptures) which provide the guidelines for the only truly moral life. Unfortunatly, a sad story from Texas is a keen illustration of why Christian morality is not a superior system.
Terry Mangum, a Christian Texan about my age, has studied the Bible extensively, and has even been in communication with the Christian deity. During one such supernatural experience, Yahweh directed him to kill a homosexual man. After six months of planning, Terry drove into Houston to do so. He found Ken Cummings, a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, at a bar, and after a few drinks went to Cummings' home with him. There, he stabbed Cummings to death with a six-inch knife, took his body to Mangum's grandfather's ranch near San Antonio, then burned and buried the body in a shallow grave.
One might think that such a violent, unprovoked act could not possibly come from someone with a strong religious background. But remember that the Christian scriptures are chock-full of hideously violent acts, most of which make Mangum's act seem downright polite (at least he had a couple beers with his victim before killing him), and all of which are justified by Christians today the same way that Mangum justifies his own actions- "I believe I'm Elijah, called by God to be a prophet... I believe with all my heart that I was doing the right thing."
Indeed, Elijah is a appropriate example for Magnum in this instance- the holy prophet of Yahweh slaughtered 450 men in one sitting, just because they worshipped a different god. But are there other Biblical examples that Mangum could have been drawing on when he committed his action? Of course there are- in Leviticus 20, we read:
The man who has intercourse with a man in the same way as with a woman: they have done a hateful thing together; they will be put to death; their blood will be on thier own heads.
And the deity Yahweh presumably punctuates the "hatefulness" of homosexuality by destroying two whole cities of people in Genesis 19 (we can safely assume this included many small children and babies), even though Abraham tries to intercede and prevent Yahweh's slaughter. But this hostility to homosexuality continues into the New Testament as well- in the letter of Paul to the Romans, we read:
That is why God abandoned them to degrading passions: why their women have exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural practices; and the men, in a similar fashion, too, giving up normal relations with women, are consumed with passion for each other, men doing shameful things with men and receiving in themselves due reward for their perversion.
Is it any real mystery why a devout young Christian, deep in the heart of conservative Texas, would come to the conclusion that homosexuals are flaunting the will of his god, and are deserving of death? Is it any wonder that when Terry Mangum received communication from his god, it advocated violence against them? And yet, Christians such as Michael Gerson would have us believe that it is only by appealing to the violence-choked scriptures of Christianity that one can truly be justified as a moral person. In the ultimate act of irony, some Christians will defend their scriptures by claiming that for that particular time and place, the seemingly immoral actions were actually good- and thus engage in the same moral relativism for which they would be eager to condemn others. If anything is made clear by this sad affair, it is that pointing to a book which contains actions no good person would commit today is no substitute for a well-developed moral system based only on reason and the facts of reality. Otherwise, we are doomed to continue equating piety with morality, as Terry Mangum does: "It's not that I'm a bad dude... I love God."