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"Need Directions?"

     There was something vaguely familiar about my instinctive
reaction to the inadequate media coverage of the trial of Andrea
Yates, the Houston housewife who drowned her five children in the
bathtub, believing they would go to hell if she didn't.  I kept
asking myself, "Where did she get such a foolish notion?  Who
taught that to her?  Is someone teaching such dangerous nonsense
to other people?  Go to hell!  What does that even mean?  What
kind of God would send five kids under the age of twelve to hell? 
For doing what?"
     Then I remembered why my response seemed so familiar.  I had
already worked myself into a lather over a teen-age suicide club
which seemed unduly influenced by a fundamentalist church they
all belonged to.  I wrote a story about it, called, "Undue
Influence."  It appears in VERMIN: HUMANITY AS AN ENDANGERED
SPECIES.  My story is satirical, subtle, too cute and clever, not
nearly direct and pointed enough.  Someone could read it and not
understand it, not get the point of it.
     But, back to Andrea Yates.  She'll be in prison for the rest
of her natural life.  Our judicial system is quite capable of
sidestepping the obvious question of mental illness.  The word
"insane" is not a precise and technical term.  But it
nevertheless appears clear that we have a case of serious mental
illness on our hands.  How can a sane and rational person believe
that a good and loving God would send anyone, of any age and
experience, to a place of eternal conscious torment?  
     Persons who are guilty of something seem to be getting away
with it.  Who would encourage anyone to believe what Andrea Yates
believed?  No reporter, and no detective that we know of, has
tried to track down these questions.  What church did the family
attend?  What is the pastor like?  Did he, or anyone, exert undue
influence on Mrs. Yates?
     Another person who seems to me to be guilty of something is
the husband, Russell Yates.  Was he unaware of post-partum
depression and its causes?  One of the causes, indeed the
principle cause, is pregnancy.  Is he not at least partially
responsible for her getting pregnant the fifth time, after
previous serious bouts with post-partum depression?
     I know a little about this.  After the birth of our third
child, forty-five years ago, my wife went through very serious
post-partum depression.  It was scary for me, and terrifying for
her.  Voices were challenging her to kill the baby.  We got
through it, but she did not become pregnant again.  We did not
leave that in God's hands -- we saw to it.  It seems to me that
Russell Yates bears some responsibility for not seeing to it in
Andrea's case.  
     And if there's a pastor, or a doctrine, lurking around
nearby that says that contraception is a sin, some sort of bad
idea and bad practice, then the perpetrators of such wicked
nonsense should also bear some responsibility.  The churches who
teach such nonsense about contraception should be dismantled. 
Pastors should be prosecuted for teaching such dangerous
nonsense.  The notion of a punishing God, who could lead anyone
to think that killing children is a good thing because it spares
them the risk of hell fire, needs to be stamped out.  We may as
well get started.
     Another of those big black billboards, with white lettering
has appeared in our neighborhood.  "Need directions?" it asks,
and it is signed, "God."  The assumption is that you're lost, and
"God" can give you directions, help you find yourself, and get
you home safely.  Poor Andrea Yates was lost and needed
directions, and the upshot was that she came to believe that
"God" wanted her to sacrifice her children.  
     It's a stunning reminder of an old story in the Book of
Genesis.  Abraham, the father of the faithful, believed that God
wanted him to sacrifice his son, Isaac.  He built an altar, tied
up Isaac and pulled out a knife.  Then God stopped the
proceedings, the story says, and declared the whole thing "a
test."  It's quite a story, and you can bet that Andrea Yates was
familiar with it.
     Soren Kierkegaard, the great existentialist philosopher,
wrote a book about it, FEAR AND TREMBLING.  It's about radical
obedience.  God may ask you to do things which look immoral, even
evil.  "Are you ready to obey?" is the question.  It's enough to
drive an unstable person right over the edge.  Isn't all this
really insanity?  Isn't it wickedness to teach people such stuff?

     [Addendum!  Now it comes out, a week later -- a very glib
and cocky man called Pastor Michael Woroniecki, not connected to
any church, appeared on network TV, and stated that not only is
Andrea Yates going to hell, but so is Charlie Gibson of ABC, and
all viewers of "Good Morning America," and everybody on earth! 
He feels no guilt over his influence over Andrea Yates, which was
very great -- "Was it Jesus' fault that Judas went out and hanged
himself?"  He equates himself with Jesus.  He, in fact, appears
to be mentally ill himself, so our first reaction, that he should
be prosecuted as an accessory to a crime, will collide again with
our justice system's inability to deal with mental illness.]

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Copyright © 2002 Harry Willson

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