Life and death

One morning twenty years ago this month, I opened the front section of the Washington Post and read that my friend Stephen Peter Morin had been executed by the state of Texas for capital murder.

There are two reasons that that sentence, while accurate, felt awkward to write.

First reason: it has been a long time since I thought of Morin as a friend. He was a twisted, manipulative and malevolent person, and if I hate anyone in the world or out of it I hate him.

Second reason: I knew him as Ray Constantine.

But Morin was his real name, and for a number of months in 1981 I spent just about every day with him, generally enjoying his company.

“Ray Constantine” rode up to the front porch of my mother’s house on his bicycle one day to ask whether she knew of apartments he could rent. Her current partner is one of my favorite people in the world, but my mother had phenomenally, staggeringly bad judgment in men in those days: by that evening or the next, it seemed, he had moved in with her.

“Ray” was a smooth talker, and closer to my age than to my mother’s. My mother had had a string of failed relationships with a string of increasingly sleazy men, the previous one ending just a week or two before. Full of the self-righteousness only a twenty-one-year-old boy with a disintegrating mother truly knows, I exploded at her in mortified fury, telling her that she was being incredibly stupid and allowing herself to be set up for another romantic disaster.

She said he’d be moving in and that I’d better get used to the idea. So I did. “Ray” decided to work his way into my good graces by getting me a job — always in short supply in 1981 Buffalo. He lied his way onto a union painting crew and then vouched for me. I joined the union and worked with him all summer.

Three things about that summer stand out in my mind, aside from the monotony of paint, hauling kegs of tar to roofs, and a story about a ladder that will come a bit later.

The first was heading to DC to the giant march in support of the striking air traffic controllers.

The second was finding out that my mother had ordered a copy of my birth certificate to give to Ray so that he could get ID with a different name on it. I intercepted it in what was likely the luckiest moment of my life.

The third was just before Ray and my mother left for their trip across country in her van. I wandered by her house one humid night — I’d moved out to my own place, what with my union paycheck — and found Ray sweating, attaching carpet to the walls and ceiling of the van. He was struggling to hold the carpet up as he put rivets into metal; I stepped up and helped him.

My mother and Ray went from town to town, San Francisco, Denver, Las Vegas, and into Texas. In each town Ray would disappear for a day or two and then show up again, a worried look in his eyes, insisting they leave town right away. The third or fourth time it happened, she realized she’d heard news in each town of a local woman disappearing and then found murdered.

There was an uncomfortable period in Texas in December after he found out she’d turned him in to the police, and before they caught him. And then they did catch him, and he went to trial and pled guilty to capital murder and asked for the death penalty. On March 13 1985, after the executioner probed veins for 45 minutes looking for one that wasn’t collapsed — raising the ire of the ACLU for a time after — Stephen Peter Morin was put to death by the state of Texas for the murder of Carrie Marie Scott, whom he was attempting to rob.

There’s a way in which Scott was lucky: he did not rape and torture her the way he did some of his other victims, some of them in the van I helped him soundproof.

In the van I helped him soundproof.

Morin’s last words, as reported by the state of Texas, are a marvel of manipulative sociopathy:

Heavenly Father, I give thanks for this time, for the time that we have been together, the fellowship in your world, the Christian family presented to me [He called the names of the personal witnesses]. Allow your holy spirit to flow as I know your love as been showered upon me. Forgive them for they know not what they do, as I know that you have forgiven me, as I have forgiven them. Lord Jesus, I commit my soul to you, I praise you, and I thank you.

Covering up amoral, murderous violence with a coat of Jesus? Too bad for poor Ray. A little later, with better PR, he could have risen rather high in the Texas GOP.

I find myself unwilling to grant the possibility that the sick fuck said a single truthful thing in his miserable life. He sent me a letter from death row, calling me the closest thing he’d had to a brother. I destroyed it after one reading. Who tries to get ID with his “brother’s” name on it to use on his murder spree? He told his attorney he didn’t remember killing anyone. Why the fake IDs, the soundproofing of vans, the sudden desires to leave town? He wanted to manipulate the cloying, puling conservative Christians in the Texas penal system: what better method than ostentatiously coming to Jesus?

If ever there was a person who deserved the death penalty — and still I do not believe there ever was — Stephen Peter Morin was that person. The world is far better off without him, and I find some consolation in the fact that his putative hopes of forgiveness in the hereafter dissolved into the permanent blackness of non-existence. I only wish he had died before he could have killed Janna Bruce, Sheila Whalen, Carrie Scott, and as many as thirty or more other young women. Twenty years later, and his memory still brings me to a shaking rage.

And yet.

A wooden forty-foot ladder is a heavy thing. Set it against a house on ground saturated by a week of summer rain, and it will tend to slide. Climb that ladder with a two-gallon bucket of paint, and if the ladder is leaning against freshly-primed clapboard three stories up, it will tend to slide quickly. A quarter-century of exploring the precipitous landscapes of the West has thoroughly blunted my acrophobia, but that morning, thirty-five feet up a heavy ladder that was sliding rightward at about half an inch a second, I froze. And watched myself slide.

And “Ray” saw, and got from the yard to the third-floor window in about five seconds. Speaking calmly while he hung out the window, he persuaded me that I was unafraid. His words filled me with an odd strength. He persuaded me that I could take the ends of the ladder I was on — which I could barely lift in the best of conditions — and jump it back to the left and verticality.

And I did it: I pulled back violently on the ladder and slammed it back into place. In reach of the window now, I helped Ray tie the ladder securely to the window frame as I sobbed in relief, then descended on increasingly shaky legs. Ray met me as I reached the bottom, grabbed me in a bear hug, kept me from slumping to the ground.

98 thoughts on “Life and death

  1. dale

    This is one of the best essays I’ve ever read.

    Jesus, Chris, you’ve had a bit more than your share of the blood and agony of this life.  Thank you for turning it, like this, and putting it into the service of what’s beautiful and humane.  Nothing harder to do & nothing more important to do.

  2. carrie

    Once again, you’ve perpetuated my eye-mistiness.

    Years ago, when I was on my second-or-so “date” with Bob, I asked him, “how do I know you’re not a serial killer?”. 


    A day or so later he was watching my TV, eating.  I hear a “stir, stir, stir…clink, clink clink…clank, clank, clank… chew…repeat”.  It was getting pretty annoying.  I looked at what he was eating — cereal.  I told him, “I guess you ARE a cereal-killer.”

  3. Craig

    Thanks to you I just spent the last hour sitting with a warm tummy (Thursday is Soup Day at the soup kitchen) thinking about Ray stuff. Sneaking into Raiders of the Lost Ark… feeling all grown up and cool when he had me run into “We Never Close” to buy his smokes before he drove me to school. Him giving me his bike (which I imagine was stolen.)

    I couldn’t figure out his game. After Mom’s string of guys I knew he had to have one, but I just couldn’t pin it down in his case. He seemed to know what was going on with me, he knew I was hungry and tried to get me to stick around more, tried to get Mom to feed me. Trying to be my friend, trying to be an older brother or something. It seemed like empathy, but I already had enough experience to know that predators simulate empathy to get what they want. I just couldn’t see what he wanted other than a place to stay.


    He was very smooth. The only time I got a glimpse of something else was one day when he and I were in Mom’s yellow Pinto headed towards Bell’s Supermarket. He was planning stuffed pork chops for dinner.


    We were going down Bird Avenue and a young girl was riding her bike ahead of us. Ray gave a quick friendly honk to let her know we were there so she wouldn’t swerve in front of us. Being a typical wise-ass teenager, she flipped us off without even looking back.


    Ray lost it. He was seething the whole time we were grocery shopping and even when we got home. His initial reaction wasn’t so unusual, wasn’t too far over the top… what was unnerving is that it didn’t taper off. It just kept on and on, he couldn’t let it go.


    I guess I was already the person I am now, because I felt it was my responsibility to smooth things over. Desperate to avoid conflict. Spending the whole time trying to talk him down and after we got home explaining to Mom what had happened in front of him hoping to give him a different perspective.


    I was already long since in the habit of seeing everything from the outside — adults were clueless, dangerous or both and something to avoid if possible or else a problem to be managed.


    I remember the night they killed him. I was at Dad’s and he was asleep, I was watching late night news, either Linda Ellerbee or her CBS counterpart. They told of the candlelight vigil and his approaching execution. An hour or so later they announced his death.


    What I felt was exactly nothing. It was just an anecdote. Family trivia.


    You know, Chris, I always thought it was strange that the whole Ray thing affected you so much. My weird emotional brother, always oversensitive, always internalizing everything.


    It wasn’t until this morning thinking about this that I realized that my reaction was the weird one. I had already completely walled myself off from everything. A fucking serial killer driving me to school each morning was just more of the same old bullshit and chaos “out there.”

  4. Chris Clarke

    weird emotional brother, always oversensitive


    Everything’s relative with relatives, I guess. I think I joked to Berna (or someone) in 1982 or so that I’d grieve for him for no more than five minutes. That morning reading the Post, that’s exactly what happened. And I didn’t recall my joke until Berna (or someone) reminded me.

  5. Craig

    Ya know, its strange. I’ve been thinking about the way they say predators have a complete lack of empathy… but having known several personally it doesn’t seem to me that that’s quite right. I don’t think they are just faking empathy. I think in some way they actually are able to empathize more clearly than other people but the way they respond to their own empathy is short-circuited or miswired somehow.

    I mean, thinking of the sickos that saw me, this scrawny starving kid with dark circles under my eyes, looking like I had a tapeworm or something, and the way they tried to “befriend” me, I think they actually thought of themselves as good guys. What else could motivate people to think its a good thing to start something like NAMBLA or whatever?

    Anyway, just rambling, sorry. Its just that reading this and a few other things going on today have put me in a seriously freaked-out mood.

  6. Hungry Hyaena

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this brief essay, Chris.

    Given our culture of distraction and titillation, the narrative you relate seems no more unusual than your average, run-of-the-mill Hollywood thriller.  What your account does do, however, is far more important and increasingly uncommon.  You manage to put a human face on life, death and human relationships.


    The ladder anecdote and your brother’s comments drive the point home: our lives are, as Hobbes suggested, “brutish and short,” but so much wonder presents itself along the way.  How can the embrace of a immoral man with a tweaked mind mean so much to you?  Moreover, why does it mean so much to me, a total stranger?  Reading your description of “Ray’s” protective, brotherly embrace, I feel as though I’ve just seen a little bit of “truth,” something almost tangible.  And then it is gone.


    Thank you.

  7. Wayne

    Read this this morning at 4am while grooving on myosin and actin, and then instead of motor proteins and mitosis like I shoulda been.  It popped into my mind periodically throughout the day, particularly as I was prepping a potato garden.  A very cool and haunting story.  Thanks.

  8. Fred

    Back in another lifetime at a bookshop where I worked, I had a regular customer. Nice guy, liked to read history, some science, liked to talk books. Years later I realized that this guy had been Ted Bundy and that all the time he’d been coming into the shop being Mr. Ordinary, he’d been killing women in Philadelphia.

    Thank you for giving me something to use as a handle on those memories.


    I echo Kathy.


    Thank the Whatever that I found your blog.


    And JAYSOOS! you are one hell of a writer.

  9. Rita Xavier

    There is so much more to this story. One day, I will reveal the whole thing, although I have tried for 20 years to shove it into the far reaches of my mind. Stephen (Ray) did not move in with me immediately, but we hung out together. When we started traveling around the country, it was the subtle things which started to clue me in to the crimes he was committing, although I did not come to this conclusion until after he had threatened me with a loaded gun held to my head, before walking out on me. I had not yet heard about murdered women in most of those cities. These incidents were revealed when I started to work with Texas, New York, and Colorado police, plus the FBI, solving the crimes. Up until that point, they did not know who they were looking for.

  10. Dave

    Whoa. Holy shit. Thanks for writing this.

    (Hi, Fred! I should be surprised to see you here, but I’m not — you’ve always had a knack for ferreting out the best stuff on the Internet.)

  11. Rita

    I may have been a rotten mother, but as I walked the lonely beaches of the Gulf Coast, I began to believe that my raison d’etre was to end a killing spree of many years by this incredibly disturbed man. Kismet…

  12. Kristjan Wager

    Haunting piece, and the comments likewise. It has given me something to think about — thanks.

  13. Coral

    Chris: Things have been hectic, and I have to admit I haven’t been keeping up with people’s blogs, but when Craig told me about this entry, I had to find the time to read it.

    It’s wierd.  I didn’t have a hard time switching to thinking of him as Stephen, because I didn’t really know him in Buffalo.  Dad and I stopped by the house one day and he was there.  I remember telling Dad that Mom was hanging around with “some 20 year-old”.  It got back to him, I guess — Mom later told me that he hated me because of it.


    That didn’t stop him from asking if I’d visit him in jail, though.  While Mom and I were in San Antonio, we would go to the county(?) jail and she’d spend 15 minutes visiting while I waited in the waiting room.  One day he asked if I would talk to him, too, so that he could have another 15 minutes out of his cell.  I said ok, and began having daily (I think) conversations with him through the prison glass (by way of telephones on either side.  I always thought they were just the stuff of movies!)  I don’t remember what we talked about, except for one thing…..he told me not to go out with Mexican men, because they couldn’t be trusted and would “hurt” me.  Think about that.


    I know I went to court one day (the Grand Jury Hearing?).  Mom testified about rope she had in the van, and a doctor testified about Carrie Scott’s injuries.


    And that’s just about all I remember.  The rest I blocked out, I suppose.  Maybe that’s a good thing, and maybe I’m lucky that I never liked the guy.  All I felt when he was executed was a sort of “How wierd; I know a guy who was executed for killing women” feeling.



    The kids’ video just ended, and I have to stop writing and just be “Mom”.  How convenient.  Insight will have to wait…

  14. Buffalo Gal

    Chris —

    What a horrible tale . . . and what strength you and your family must have to have overcome the awful things life handed you.  I often describe my own family as more dysfunctional than average, no axe murderers, just generally nuts.  And then I read your story of true dysfunction and murder.


    I wonder if Ray’s rescue of you on the ladder is another side of his weird empathy and ability to manipulate — this time used for good. Makes you wonder what twisted him so badly.

  15. Judi

    Apparently you do not know of Stephen’s last abduction.  I heard the testimony of the woman he abducted.  I assure you that Stephen’s last statement before he died was not a lie.  He truly did change. I do not think what he did should have gone unpunished.  He asked for the death penalty himself. When you went to see him in jail was that the first time?  I know he had already gone to prison before, when he abducted this woman I am talking about. Her name is Margy Mayfield. If you look at Focus on the Family website you will see a Focus on Radio link and it will have the story (at least the first part) there to hear. I can understand that the human side of you wants nothing more to do with the man.  I understand.  It’s been years now. But I really think you should know the whole true story. What you decide to do with the information is your choice. I Thank you for your time and ask that you will please consider listening to her story. The URL link directly to the spot I’m talking about is here:

    Take care Chris.

  16. Chris Clarke

    Thanks for your concern, Judi. I have in fact known that story since it happened. Ms. Mayfield is a very brave woman, deserves commendation, and I have no doubt that she inspired a crisis of conscience in Morin that lasted long enough to save her life.

    I don’t doubt that because the same thing happened when Morin held a loaded gun to my mother’s head. He couldn’t bring himself to shoot. That doesn’t mean he didn’t go out and kill afterwards.


    But I find the notion that his was a permanent and sincere conversion completely laughable. Morin was a skilled manipulator: having him fall in with a bunch of Texas Christians must have been like putting Siegfried and Roy in charge of a litter of house kittens.


    In other words, he conned you all, and you all still believe him twenty years after his death. He won: you lost.


    Also, a little hint: using James Dobson as evidence to support a position costs the arguer an automatic ninety three percent credibility penalty. (I’ll admit this is uncomfortably close to having him Focus on my Family, and I don’t like it one bit.)

  17. Tina

    Chris, I’m shocked and sorry to read about the life that you have lived, especially your ties with Stephen.  We don’t choose our parents anymore than we choose to be exposed to whoever they decide to see.

    You are right, Stephen was a monster of the worst kind.  There is no rhyme or reason to the horrific pain that he caused.  You say you know about Ms. Mayfield’s story.  You are right, there is no way that Stephen deserves to be forgiven.  The problem is, neither do you and neither do I.  John 3:16 says that “…whoever believes in Him(Jesus)will not perish but have everlasting life.”  Stephen did win.  But so have I. There is nothing bad enough in a person’s life that the love of Christ cannot overcome.  Not because of anything that I have done or that you would do, but because of what Christ has done for us.  The only losers will be the ones that die having rejected Jesus.


    You say “using James Dobson as evidence to support a position costs the arguer an automatic ninety three percent credibility penalty.”  But I say, it’s to bad your mom wasn’t listening to Dr. Dobson’s program and reading his books, because chances are, you would not have led the miserable life, through a string of men for your mom, that you did.  She would have been more concerned about giving you a healthy environment to grow up in.


    I pray that you will give this some thought and ask Jesus into your life.  He will change every fibre of your being. That I know for a fact.  Tina

  18. Chris Clarke

    Yes, perhaps we could have ended up as well-cared-for and as loved as the children of Christians like Randall Terry and Alan Keyes.

    It may surprise you to learn that I was a born-again Christian for a time. I found I could not reconcile the inconsistencies in that religion with actual fact. Christianity in general was one of the destructive influences in my life that I had to overcome — though it’s one I can’t blame my parents for. I am much better, much happier, fulfilled and at peace with my place in the universe, for having rejected Christianity altogether.


    I have not, however, rejected Christ’s teachings. Not all of them, anyway. Here’s my favorite:


    And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (Matthew 6:5)

  19. Leah A


    I’ve been a fan of your presence at Michael Berube’s blog for some time now. I found my way to your blog just this weekend, thus my first introduction to you on your own turf was your long, lovely post on the transformative growth of your garden, with those astonishing before and now photographs; I also took a peek at the “about me” summation of your life thus far, and a fine, complicated, intense, meaningful life it struck me as.


    Michael’s link this morning directed me back, to this exquisitly crafted essay. Nothing about its content changed my sense of your life. To be alive is to have regrets, but nothing about your life, or so it strikes me, requires that anyone from outside that life extend their condolences to you for having lived that life.


    I wouldn’t have felt the need to respond based only on Judi’s comments, especially since you framed a thorough response of your own. But to see yet another Christian presume to offer sympathy for the fact of you being you, got the better of me.


    Your essay reminds us of the transfomative power of what writers do with the stuff of life.

  20. molly

    i’ve wrestled with something similar.  i once dated a man, sociopathic and violent, who did incalculable damage. yet, on one occassion, he resuscitated me after i had stopped breathing from a drug overdose.

    my mind is very clear on who he is and what should happen to him: he should be removed from general society, forever.


    but what about how i judge him? i mean, if there were some sort of Last Days and god asked me to give my “yeah” or “nay” for this man, i don’t know what i would say.


    or, perhaps more personally…. when i think about him any more, i want to somehow resolve this internal dilemma i hold: the anger and judgement i hold for his actions versus the profound recognition that he once saved my life. it never resolves neatly.


    for you, chris, rita and family — i think you are just fine.  i was raised by a christian family. they call me maybe twice a year to see how i am. you — you all speak so freely, so openly to each other and about the truly important shared happenings and feelings of your life.


    you might have wished for what i had for a childhood: i wish for what you have in adulthood.


    my love to you all.

  21. Librarian

    his Chris, it’s L. from M.B.‘s (followed the same link as Leah & one or two others.)

    i won’t bother repeating the praise of those above, with which i agree, but will add instead that what sticks with me from your essay are the following two Zen-like thwaps to the head:


    1. “In the van I helped him soundproof.” and,


    2. the story of the ladder.


    the former points out the strange, disconnected, blind reality about most decisions, most actions—we really almost never DO know what the end result of our actions might be. and yet somehow, we have to keep trying, don’t we?


    the second thwap is a perfect example of how nothing is ever simply black/white, good/evil, right/wrong, etc., not even horrible serial murderers are incapable of having the rare flash of humanity…but i never bet cash on death-bed conversions.


    (as for the people who have been sent here from Dobson’s site to try and use your personal story, experience, pain, etc., in order to further their own political or group goals…all i can say is, how typical. are those folks ever motivated by anything that is purely sincere and not some means to an end? they leave no tragedy un-exploited, do they?)



  22. Xopher

    Wow.  This is amazing.  Thanks for writing it. 

    Funny how terrible people can be wonderful in just the right circumstances, isn’t it?  Not funny to laugh at, though.

  23. Jonathan Vos Post

    This is a remarkable blog posting, especially when combined with the comments.  I don’t in any way mean to belittle it by saying that, in its entirety, it reads like a one-act play. There’s the long monolog by Chris, which makes us think we know the off-stage subject, Stephen Peter Morin a.k.a. Ray Constantine.  Then the comments give us differing family perspectives, and the theological debate.  We end up less sure of whatever we started off believing, but having been whipsawed through a series of literally dramatic emotional changes.  This is not the place for me to talk about killers whose lives have crossed mine.  I can’t top this story anyway.  Well written!

  24. Adam S

    Amazing story.  And well written, too.  Made me think of when I went to an alternative school with only a dozen or so students, one of whom was a boy who I believe would have turned into a serial killer if he hadn’t hung himself (*official story*) in the woods after ritually killing only one girl. 

    I saw no redeeming qualities in him.  Neither did I ever see him show empathy—faked or otherwise.  He carried a knife at all times, wrote threatening letters to all the girls in the school, and had a video collection of over a thousand horror movies.  He was an obviously disturbed kid who was dumped into a school utterly unprepared to deal with him.


    I was living twelve-hundred miles away when he killed, and the twenty-four hours before he was discovered dead were spent remembering all the sick notes he’d written to my ex-girlfriend, and cursing myself for not killing him when I’d been in school.

  25. Georgiana

    You’ve written a brave and beautiful piece.  I’m impressed that you are clear-eyed enough to see the good mixed in with the bad; stopping this man from taking your identity, the confusing incident with the ladder, and your mother’s heroism when it did the most good.  I’m also impressed with how well you all handled yourselves in the comments.  Keeping your cool like that is commendable.  Thanks for all this and I hope all of have found some measure of peace.

  26. No one special

    I’m in Canada. When I was 9 or 10 a man rented the house right next to the home of my mother’s childhood friend, it was about a block down the hill from where I lived. I don’t really recall it, but my mother told me the entire summer he was there I complained about him being creepy. Apparently he stood on the porch all day long in overalls, staring. All I remember is some big man on a porch (although it turns out he was not a large man at all, but when you’re a kid, things have a different perspective). Anyway, I wouldn’t even walk by the place, much less play near there. My unexplained repulsion and fear was brushed off as some childhood eccentricity. I did, after all, read far too many mystery books than was good for a girl my age. The man was Clifford Olsen.

    You can read about him here:

  27. Lasse

    Andrea says: ´You should be writing for a larger audienceª. I think that is impossible. I found this blog posted on a Norwegian website, your audience is the world.

    It is probably the most interesting blog posting I’ve ever read. Thank you very much, Chris, for sharing, and thanks to almost all you others for the comments.


    I’ve just experienced something. I just don’t know exactly what it is yet.

  28. Granuaile

    Wow, you have a brilliant writing style and it seems as though it you have made a great effort to understand when it would have been easier to let hate consume.

    Its possible ‘ray’ did not see those tragic women as people and could not feel emotion-empathy for them as such but for your mother and yourself he felt real emotion and could not allow you to fall, your disgust and horror at his crimes must be hard to balance with the human side you knew him to have, you have my sympathy in that.

  29. A. Nonymus

    I found out about this essay from

    I am glad my curiosity caused me to click on the link and read thru the essay and the comments.


    Thank you for sharing this with us.

  30. wendy

    i think this is one of the most powerful things i have ever read.

    comments by family members were incredible too.  it really is amazing how you all write.


    i was offended by tenas and found them totally inappropriate.  they were condescending at the very least, and really quite horrifying in her lack of regard for the victims, including you and your family.  how dare she minimize your experience like that.  disgusting.


    i just found you linked by digby.  so glad i did.  i’ll be back.

  31. four legs good

    Wow. That was really powerful.

    For what it’s worth, I think there’s better than a 50/50 chance that he really did care about you. That’s the frightening thing about psychopaths, they’re still human, and they do have feelings, however twisted.


    I’m glad you survived it all.


    And I’m glad I came to visit. I’ll be back.

  32. Valentine Michael Smith

    People who start by claiming that blastocysts have the rights proper to human beings will end by limiting human beings to the rights proper to blastocysts.  People who believe that serial killers aren’t fundamentally worse than regular persons will end by treating regular citizens like serial killers.

    A faith that believes that a serial killer, torturer, and rapist is fundamentally in need of exactly as much forgiveness (or, rather, justification or “covering”) as you or I is a scandal.


    By their lights, if this person actually did receive Christ into his life, and any of his victims had not, then he is in Heaven while they lie screaming (along with my father, most of your ancestors, and the vast majority of everyone who’s ever lived).  Sick.  Doomed to eternal torture for screwing up in a fixed game with no credible, published, rule-book.

  33. nikto

    Gosh, but what about all the GOP killers and psychos that HAVEN’T been turned in by anyone, and who continue their hideous crimes, this time against a whole nation?

    This site’s writer’s life is a microcosm of America as a whole.


    When will the boundary be crossed, allowing the crimes to be stopped?


    Who will turn in the psycho GOP?

  34. Jerry

    Thanks for sharing your story… in many ways a brave thing to do. A man who may have saved your life took many others… and then again, as he saved you he may have also thought ‘he owes me.’ Sociopaths are so very good at playing people like a game of chess… and yet in their distorted minds they still mow the grass, feed the dog and often seem very normal (but elusive).

    His last act of manipulation may have been his last ‘sermon’ before he died. It sounds so much like his speech was not to god, but those in attendance.  Of course, god will be his judge in this regard. 


    It’s fortunate that you survived, and it sounds like you’ve reached the level beyond mere survival. Life can sometimes be hard… and then you move on.


    May you be well, happy and peaceful…

    Free from all harm…

    Living life with ease

  35. ghostcatbce

    Blessed be. Is it alright if I come back from time to time to try and learn from you?

  36. Alex (UK)

    You are all truly amazing people to have got through this and be able now to talk about what happened with such intelligence and honesty.

    Your mother is indeed a hero for taking action to stop this series of terrible events, particularly in that she informed the police BEFORE he was arrested, not once he had been caught/imprisoned, how many people would have the emotional and physical courage to do the same?


    I hope the wounds have healed as best they can and that all of you take solace in each others spririt.

  37. Rich

    I agree, it is an excellent essay, but your comments on christianity sadden me.  Why do we blame God for the actions of men?  If God is our creator as I believe, the worst thing He may have done is to have given us “free will” but then He doesn’t want holy-robots (middle eastern extremists come to mind).  Yes there are those who “get it wrong” in the name of god but thats their problem and they will have to answer up on the last day.  The world isn’t fair and we won’t always get the justice required, but God knows.  If Morin was faking it at the end he won’t fool God!  I know this has effected you deeply and thats ok, writing about it is a good part of the healing process.  You’ll need to let go sooner or later though, and no I didn’t say forgive, as contrary to popular belief it isn’t always necessary.  It will take work and time but let go or eventually it will eat you from the inside out.  For what its worth; my prayers are with you and I hope for the best for the future.

  38. Elric

    Thank you for posting your story. There’s a lot to think about there, and the dichotomy you describe isn’t unique to “Ray.”

    I knew a man named Paul who died in prison two years ago, a sort of slow-motion suicide. He was “only” jailed for involvement in two murders, a woman and her infant child. He and a friend of his had been hired by the woman’s estranged husband to kill her so that the husband wouldn’t have to pay a divorce settlement. The rape of the woman was apparently tossed in gratis. Paul tried to get clemency in trial by saying that he made a point to leave a bottle filled with water in the child’s crib. But no one found the dead woman until after the baby was also dead.


    For all the time I knew Paul, which was scattered over more than twenty years, I knew him as a manipulator and a con artist. The very first time I met him I was asked to witness his promise to repay stolen charitable monies. I knew him to have stolen from other people, to have cheated on his wife incessantly, and to have used her money to buy gifts for his girlfriends. After he was charged he tried to play new games. He had a jailhouse conversion. He somehow managed to eat enough in prison to become morbidly obese and actively diabetic (which combined to kill him after ten years in prison) in hopes that he could avoid jail by being too ill. Perhaps his worst manipulation was to “confess” all his sins to his ten-year-old son, apparently believing that he would both gain absolution and that his son couldn’t be compelled to testify against him. And that, somehow, his son would understand him and love him. The son, who was a Junior, changed his name because he could no longer stand to bear his father’s name.


    Paul was a thoroughly despicable excuse for a human being. I didn’t feel that he needed a death penalty, but I was confident that he needed to be in a place where he couldn’t hurt anyone else. Especially his family.


    When I heard of his death I had to think about my feelings on the topic. After all that I knew about him, and about what he had done to so many people, many of them friends, I found that what I felt was regret for the wasted potential of the man.


    Part of why he had remained part of free society for so long was that he was extremely charismatic.  A few months after I first met him, I encountered him at a gathering of mutual friends. While there he was talking with a man who was working hard to become a professional actor. This man was going off to New York to read for a part in some production of Camelot on stage. He talked Paul into driving there with him, to feed him lines during the trip, and to try for a part himself just for fun. They made the trip. The actor didn’t get a part. They offered Paul a paying role on stage. He turned them down.


    If his charisma and talent for showmanship had turned into the world of theater, or film, I have to wonder what good might have come from the man. On the flip side of that, I shudder to think what might have happened if he’d gone into politics or charismatic religion.


    The “road not taken” question is a tricky one to debate for any person, no matter their current character or crimes. Somehow, though, I still feel regret that Paul’s potential turned down that particular dark road that ended with a dead woman and child, his abused family, and his own slow death in the dual prisons of the Florida penitentiary system and his own self-destroyed body.

  39. weldon berger

    For every Ray who gets caught or gets killed, there are probably ten who don’t, who get to the age where their engines stop running at the pitch necessary to keep doing the things they’ve done.

    The BTK guy is a case in point. If whatever drove him to revive the case hadn’t, people who had relationships with him that echo yours with Ray would be denied, or spared, the sort of experience you’re writing about. No one with a choice would choose it and hardly anyone could use it the way you have. I’m not glad the man happened to you but I’m glad you dealt with it in a way that either nurtured or at least didn’t kill your extraordinary sensibilities. Thanks.

  40. Nancy

    I read this via Digby as well.  I recognized the stream photo on the left side so I know I have visited this site before. After reading your experience, I read the section about Chris Clarke.  It was like reading about 2 different people!  Unless my old mind has completely failed me, I am assuming both are the same.  We never know when we look at people what is on the inside.  Chris, putting Ray to death did not solve any problems. Ray will be with you until you too leave this world. Even some of the choices you make now are most likely arrived at because of your experience. We cannot comprehend why a sick mind like his would do the things he did.  The very outer edge is never studied like it should be.  For sure a few studies of people who kill has been done, but nothing in the large range it should be of brain study.  There are very few cuts we get on our skin that heals without any scar at all; how silly we are at times to think a cut to our emotion is any different.  I feel blessed to have read your essay.

  41. Chris Clarke

    Chris, putting Ray to death did not solve any problems.


    Oh, I utterly agree, and am a steadfast opponent of the death penalty for just that reason.


    In response to the fellow a few comments up, I prefer not to believe in “holy robots,” but rather in people who allow fervent religious or other ideological beliefs to camouflage their continuing behavior. But if there are holy robots out there, I’m much less concerned with those in the Middle East than with those in Topeka or Sugarland.


    (Thanks, all, for your generous and perceptive comments so far.)

  42. aimai

    Brilliant post, very good comments. I came over here from Hullabaloo and I’m so glad I did. I agree with the person who said this is practically the script for a two or three act play, except that its lack of resolution is an important part of what makes it so powerful.

    I also agree very much with the person who posted above, in re Tina’s christian comments and Dobson’s Focus on the FAmily, that people who argue that a blastocyst deserves the rights of the fully human will pretty soon assign to live humans only the rights of a blastocyst—in other words, autonomy and freedom will be meaningless.  The other person who pointed out that Tina’s version of Holy HOly Holy makes a mockery out of human existence and “works” rather than “faith.” I’ve got nothing against the belief that a true conversion and true repentance would enable even the most depraved individual access to heaven (if I believed in heaven or hell) but the notion that that person’s victims would suffer for their lack of belief is truly sickening.


    Tina’s conviction that some are saved and some are damned and that she knows which are which strikes me as the last word in hubris. I put it to her, and to those like her, that *even if they are correct about Jesus*, which I doubt, no living individual is in a position to know what “knowing” Jesus or “believing” in Jesus truly means—for themselves or for others.  If they need to believe that only those who “know Jesus” are saved, they might still want to pause a minute and ask whether they can ever know whether their confession and knowledge are true. Conversely, they might want to remind themselves that “our father” knows and sees the secret hearts of all, so that public confession—the kind that Tina wants to see—is scarcely required.



  43. HubrisSonic

    aint life something, and so it goes.

    its cherry blossom season here in japan, the most beautiful symbol of our temporary-ness.

  44. Scooter

    Thanks for writing that. It’s a beautiful story, and I’m gonna pass it along to some friends.

  45. Ladybug

    It was a wonderful essay about how evil brushes up against us in all kinds of ways, and each time, we wonder how we can stop it from following along its own crooked path.

    Sometimes it is just not possible…we do what we can.


    The way I handled some evil people in my life (though, to my knowledge, not outright people murderers) is that I try to remember that their lives are lived as though they are inside a deep cave, without love or harmony or a sense of purpose or any peace. Anything they do, even their most selfish OR selfless acts, are done for some perceived benefit of their own.


    In this context, their saving of a life is as meaningless to others as their taking of a life…in each and every case, the impact on the evil person’s existence is all that matters.


    Because they are always, constantly, and completely, alone.

  46. Mrs. Robinson

    Several years ago, my husband and I bought 220 acres of pristine hill country in Mendocino. The land was dotted with oak and laurel and buckeye trees. Deer wandered through the meadows and drank from the springs. A large creek wended through a small stand of old-growth redwoods. It was (and is) a place of peace, and overwhelming beauty.

    On a dirt road on the backside of the property, out of place in this untouched paradise, there’s excavated gash carved into one of the hillsides. It’s almost big enough to put a house into. Or, perhaps, an underground bunker.


    Which is, in fact, exactly what serial killer Leonard Lake had in mind the day he took the D-4 and dug that hole. He lived on the parcel next door; and because the friends we bought the place from were absentee owners — and this hill was just a few dozen feet from his property line — he figured they wouldn’t mind if he carved a little cellar into their hill. (He thought wrong. They found out almost immediately from neighbors, and stopped him in mid-dig.)


    But you can’t stop a man with a vision. He did eventually build that bunker — a hundred miles away, next to a cabin he bought in the Sierra foothills above Sacramento. Several years later, when the feds raided it — but not before over a dozen people had been tortured and killed there.


    Leonard killed himself rather than be captured. His accomplice, Charles Ng, got the needle.


    Our old neighbors remembered Leonard as an odd, vaguely discomfiting character who displayed flashes of great decency — very much like you describe Ray.  Yet none of them were surprised very much at his end.


    I’m glad you found your peace with this man, and grateful that his evil did not touch your life any more deeply than it did.

  47. benjoya

    despite all her zeal to forgive Stephen, she seems pretty quick to judge your mother.

    cause declaring membership in The Jesus Club is the only important decision anyone will ever make. lie, steal, kill — doesn’t matter. just say the magic words. conversely, gandhi’s in hell, sadat’s in hell, paul wellstone’s in hell. as they say — heaven for the climate; hell for the company.

  48. knut

    Powerful story, written with the clarity that comes from a lifetime of consideration.  I must agree with you, as after my own life-changing encounter with a sociopath, the first step up to rebuild a life is to abandon all pretense of christianity as a means and a system for recovery.  You will never know what you are made of until you encounter absolute evil. If you put yourself together again after such an event the consequences will reverberate out among all those you touch.  Thank you.

  49. Daniel


    Any interest in re-printing the essay in a friendly alternative newspaper? It’s just such a wonderful piece of writing; I’m sure our readers would appreciate reading it.


    We would pay, of course, though probably not much.


    Anyway, drop me an email if you’re interested. If not, no worries.




  50. TerrinTokyo

    wow. thank you for this, it’s brilliant, as are the comments from your family. For me, the comments from members of the talibaptists serve to highlight the intelligence of the other commenters, and their grounding in reality beyond the cult…

    oh, for a world where someone else’s conversion to popular mythology doesn’t mean my opppression if my myths don’t fit theirs…

  51. js

    Chris, Tina, and Judi…

    James Dobson is, like all too many leaders nowadays, a sham. When his own mother was dying, he wouldn’t spend time with her. There are many other aspects of the man that are troubling. No one is perfect. But genuine Christians struggle with their deficiencies and change. James Dobson does not.


    Sadly, most born again Christians aren’t. One can see it in the way they live their lives. They work too hard at looking pure. They can’t forgive others. They seek the flamboyant miracles of a Benny Hinn, rather than the quiet miracles of the soup kitchen. They lack the humility to accept that God may have a different interpretation of scripture than they do. They thunder against those who are lost, rather than quietly grieving for them.


    Chris, I hope you won’t give up on Jesus. The Church has done many wrongful things in His name. His name is used to justify war and the crushing of the poor— even to justify capital punishment. But just because everyone says that 2 + 2=5 doesn’t make 4 the wrong number. A forgiving heart plus a love of truth does equal the Way.

  52. marezydoats

    Apparently, most readers of this blogsite are atheists or agnostics.  Most, I am sure, are part of the mainstream “intelligentsia” (yawn) or at least consider themselves as such because those of this world are way too “smart” for Jesus’ teachings.  Or, again, at least think they are. I have 3 points worth making:

    1.  Yes, thought-provoking writing about “Ray” and this family.

    2.  Don’t blame God for Satan’s works through unbelieving, unrepentant mankind.

    3.  God (love and truth) WILL prevail, and ALL you have to do is accept Christ as your Savior, repent of your sins, and ask him to lead and guide you.  It really is all there is.  Don’t wait til it’s too late! 

    If I sound preachy, PRAISE GOD! Means I am doing what He wants!

  53. marezydoats


    Perhaps Dobson’s mother molested him as a child?  Or left him for no reason when he was young?  I don’t know.  He may BE a cad, but before you label, maybe there was a good reason he was not there.  Some of us did not have a “mother.”

  54. NV Dad

    It’s hard to write an alternative opinion about this tale without coming off like one of those puling conservative Christians, damn their souls.  See, there I go already.

    And in that lies the problem with this story: It sets up straw men when it should content itself with its own merits, which are certainly ample.  In “People of the Lie” Peck wrote about this genuine, incontrovertable, sociopathic evil; that’s not my point.  Obviously, Ray/Stephen qualified. 


    My point is that a politically-charged taint can dilute hard-edged accounts of such evil.  When the core issue is the man’s false Christianity, then, well, it’s not really about Christianity, is it?  Yet that’s the aftertaste I sense.


    The gawdamn Texas GOP, those hypothetical mewling, oafish penal-system Christians (who obviously weren’t manipulated at all — the man’s rightfully dead) and the rest of the “intentionally stupid” American middle has, despite the appeals to various logical fallacies in this story, nothing much to do with your uncomfortable interface with this killer, Chris.  He speaks for none of them. 


    Yet the tone of Life and Death, like your bio, speaks of a subtle bias not entirely evident in a quick, literal take on its prose.  If you want to go there, please be sure you do so very, very completely.  Intolerance begets intolerance.

  55. Chris Clarke

    I take your point, NV Dad: I should have made my biases — which are anything but subtle — more plain.

    It’s funny, the prevailing attitude among the recent crop of Christian commenters. “Yeah, yeah, it’s bad he klilled all those women, but why are you so mean to Christians?”


    People like these are forcing my country into a crisis, possibly resulting in a theocracy, certainly resulting in more deaths than Morin caused — though under the rubric of law and laissez-faire economics. People like me are being forced to the margins, targeted as traitors, threatened and belittled, our rights taken away. And when we complain about the Christian Death Cult being shoved down our fucking throats, people like you cluck about our “intolerance.”


    You think I’m being mean to you so far? Just wait.

  56. renska

    A couple of random thoughts…

    As you go through life in these here United States, it’s impossible not to encounter the “hero/ine for a day” stories — the media loves them so, especially when it’s an “ordinary person” whose extraordinary actions save a life. But both having known someone who did something heroic, and my semi-cynical way of looking at the world, have led me to the following conclusion:


    It’s easier to engage in a heroic action, once, than it is to live your each day of your entire life as a good, honest human being.


    I think there’s something about the adrenaline, and the immediate *necessity* of the situation that makes it possible for ordinary flawed people to “rise above.” But it’s a mistake to believe that any one single act of heroism — regardless of the situation’s inherent peril — can redeem or explain those other human, ordinary flaws. And when those flaws are other than ordinary?


    Which brings me to my next random thought:


    I was involved in a not-so-great relationship fairly early in life, and based on that experience have come to believe that there are people who act the good act, but whose generous/moral behaviour is primarily for public consumption; ie, it’s to ensure that others see them as a good person, which in turn allows them to believe that they *are* a good person. What happens when no one else sees doesn’t matter. Or maybe that not-so-great behaviour isn’t even real, in their heads.


    (In this not-so-great relationship it was possible for Mr X to apologize for bad behaviour; discuss what his therapist said about said bad behavior; and then, a week or so later later, deny the event, the apology, and dismiss the therapist as a moron. Oh, and make me believe that everything was my fault to begin with. Lather, rinse, repeat.)


    I tend to believe, that in his head, Ray’s treatment of you was for public consumption, and it allowed him to think of himself as a good person. That you mattered to him for *your* sake, rather than as a prop to his own self-esteem… well, cynical me, I doubt it.


    And I’m sure, in his head, that the women he killed “deserved” it.


    Anyway, I thank Digby for directing me here, and you for the essay.


    I also, despite NVDad’s criticism, emphatically sympathize with your POV re: Ray’s claim to have found redemption through faith, especially because the “forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do” is just so beautifully manipulative, that it almost deserves a prize. (One hallmark of my relationship with Mr X was his ability to manipulate my emotions. Based on this, you can either believe the relationship left me with an exceptional ability to sniff manipulation out, or for me to see it wherever I look.)


    It’s very hard, these days, what with certain elements’ intrusion into the body politic, to not have a certain measure of distaste for those who claim that faith redeems (in absence of few, if any, good works and a multitude of bad). It’s particularly annoying when such people insist that *we* must forgive and accept faith as an all-purpose bleach that removes all stains from all souls when, so far as I understand it, that’s God’s gig. And only God can tell when such a profession of faith is sincere.


    Winnowing the wheat from the chaff when it comes to determining who is actually a devout Christian, and who is using faith as a get-out-of-hell-free (and possibly earthly punishment as well) card simply isn’t possible for us mere mortals to determine. Which is why, if I have any professions of faith to make, or any prayers to send on high, I will make use of the privacy of my studio apartment, as my closets are too crammed with stuff for me to actually get into.

  57. Al Terego

    There is a great PBS program that just aired here in the west, Chris, (we live in the same state). It deals with the question of the existence of God, “The Question of God.” It is essentially a certain Harvard psychiatrist’s class comparing the works and writings of Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis. It is a very popular class. Freud thought religion was a neurosis. Lewis converted from militant atheism to Christianity. They were probably both right.

  58. Al Terego

    I disagree, Renska. C.S. Lewis would have had no patience for these people. It is important to remember that no religion is monolithic. Every one of them has internal battles within them over direction, interpretation, methods, and last but not least, power. That is why I prefer to consider spirituality the virtue, religiosity the vice.

  59. renska

    Hey Al —

    You disagree with what?


    And yes, C.S. Lewis, in the Last Battle, said something to the effect that “someone who swears an oath, and keeps it for the oath’s sake, has sworn the oath to me [Aslan/God]…” The rest of the quote has something to do with oathbreakers and Tash and I can’t remember how it goes.


    What that seemed to imply, to me, anyway (I read the books for pleasure as a teenager, and never from a scholarly POV) was that Lewis believed that living rightly, thereby living according to God’s law (even if you don’t know that you’re doing the God’s will and simply think you’re living rightly) was more important than professing faith and seeing that profession as enough to justify living howsomever you please, whether it’s according to God’s law or not.


    I have no problem with that view of things; I’m less enthralled with the “man is redeemed by faith alone” school of thought.


    To sum p, spirituality the virtue, religiousity the vice is a nice motto, but I’m not certain how what I said in my initial post contradicts it.


    What I am objecting to is what is, in my opinion, militant religiousity *without* any redeeming measure of spirituality.

  60. NV Dad

    Is that misplaced anger, Chris?  You’re threatening your phantoms — all the death and disfigurement caused, somehow, by those uncomfortable theocratic evil middle Americans with traditional ethics who want you in a brown shirt.  You know, the ones wrecking the country by trying to keep scissors out of newborn’s skulls, setting the fourth or sixth generation of impoverished inner city dependants on a self-actualized path, working to again legalize their free speech on their (and your) taxpaid property, and keeping runaway secular humanism’s various special interests in Washington under reasonable check and balance, that being the nature of representative government.

    Set em up and knock em over, Chris.  Appeal to anger, emotion, fear, ridicule, popularity, what have you.  I suppose its cathartic. 


    But you still miss the point.  This isn’t about defending killers who, being psychopaths, can’t voice a shred of authentic Christian — or for that matter, any — principles.  It’s about an uncontrollable, irrational bias that, with 40 years of leftist social wreckage under its belt already, can’t stand the slightest correction — that’s the intolerance part — and instead goes splintering off in a huff and defiantly challenges others to make it right.


    renksa brings up Lewis.  Perhaps like Kirkegaard, Lewis wrote of the problem of pain; that impenetrable state of unavoidable and ultimate surrender that defines authentic Christianity.  That ultimate self responsibility that overcomes the soul to create a unique accountability in the lonely wilderness of individual existence.  That, Chris, is Christianity.  It isn’t Ray.


    Own your issues, my friend.  Threatening others with your eventual righteous wrath against a foe that only partly fits a politically trendy preconception — you admitted them as your not so subtle biases — only entrenches the problem.

  61. NV Dad

    BTW, renska nicely describes real evil too; the appearances-centric phoniness that hides behind any number of socially acceptable storefronts while it willfully wrecks others.  This is M. Scott Peck’s “Lie”, and expressed ultimately, that lie is Ray. 

    renska goes on to admirably suggest that “it’s particularly annoying when such people insist that *we* must forgive and accept faith as an all-purpose bleach that removes all stains from all souls when, so far as I understand it, that’s God’s gig. And only God can tell when such a profession of faith is sincere.


    “Winnowing the wheat from the chaff when it comes to determining who is actually a devout Christian, and who is using faith as a get-out-of-hell-free (and possibly earthly punishment as well) card simply isn’t possible for us mere mortals to determine.”


    There is indeed a difference between God’s ultimate role (literal, metaphorical, or otherwise) of evaluating souls and our need to make value judgments in order to survive.  Is a hands-off principle, contrary to the uncomfortable zeal of those visible numbers of missionary “Christians”, the effective antithesis of and antidote to the manipulative lost souls?  The Rays who knowingly use words they’ll never comprehend to sound like something they’re not?  If so, how do we acquire and use it, if at all?


    Having the need and ability to identify and address evil requires judgment; to make assessments hopefully intended to preserve the highest principle.  So are we ever completely free from this decision making process?  Certainly God hasn’t relieved us from moral perspective. 


    Anyway, regardless of the method, there’s your difference:  Evil vs good.  Ray vs Christianity.  It’s actually quite plain…

  62. Al Terego

    Renska, sorry for the misunderstanding. My only disagreement was with this,

    “[W]hen it comes to determining who is actually a devout Christian, and who is using faith as a get-out-of-hell-free (and possibly earthly punishment as well) card simply isn’t possible for us mere mortals to determine.”


    “Devout” wouldn’t be my choice of word , I’d rather choose “authentic” or “genuine,”  but I think it’s easier to determine than you think and I hope I am just a mere mortal. “Culture of life” be damned, I don’t want to live forever. Otherwise I agree with every thing you have said, and everything Chris has said, except that I think there are more capital “C” Christians, Texans and middle American who are with Chris than Chris thinks and fewer people that think like NV Dad than NV Dad realizes. Which is not to say that I don’t agree with Chris 100% that zealots are always a problem, even in small numbers. NV Dad, no one advocate scissors in newborn’s heads. That indicates to all the intellectually honest people here, just how intellectually dishonest you are. And hardly someone who should preach logic and logical fallacies to anyone. But preaching is your schtick. This is religious hucksterism. Snake oil sales.


    “3. God (love and truth) WILL prevail, and ALL you have to do is accept Christ as your Savior, repent of your sins, and ask him to lead and guide you. It really is all there is. Don’t wait til it’s too late!

    If I sound preachy, PRAISE GOD! Means I am doing what He wants!”


    Like evangelistic “libertarianism” and the perversion of Adam Smith’s work is political and economic hucksterism. Ayn Rand is just a bad romance novelist masquerading as an even worse pseudo-philosopher.

  63. Al Terego

    Hey, Pops…  This is funny, but I don’t think it will sell here.

    “This isn’t about defending killers who, being psychopaths, can’t voice a shred of authentic Christian — or for that matter, any — principles. It’s about an uncontrollable, irrational bias that, with 40 years of leftist social wreckage under its belt already, can’t stand the slightest correction — that’s the intolerance part — and instead goes splintering off in a huff and defiantly challenges others to make it right.”


    You really can’t sell that Peroutka Constitution Party nonsense, the poor man’s John Birch society, here. Not with a straight face.


    By way of response, let me say:

    Pops, you are no Christian. I know Jesus Christ, and you are no Christian.

  64. Al Terego

    But you might want to examine your own

    “uncontrollable, irrational bias” if you are able to, that is.

  65. Al Terego

    And this is what I mean about “clocking” them, Renska and Chris. Although he modifies his rhetoric and sales pitch for this venue, the remark about “scissors in newborn’s heads” and “40 years of leftist social wreckage” are dead giveaways. This is where Pops is really coming from. And I fully expect him to deny it, because bearing false witness in furtherance of “his God’s agenda” is not a mortal sin.

  66. black dog barking

    NV Dad —

    “You know, the ones wrecking the country by trying to keep scissors out of newborn’s skulls …”


    If you are personally responsible for keeping scissors out of baby skulls, congratulations! Great work!


    Google shows only two hits for scissors and “newborns’ skulls”, neither pointing to criminal behavior. ( I have to think that scissors in babys’ skulls is newsworthy enough that Google would find it. )


    You’re a saint!!!

  67. renska

    Hey Al —

    I went away for a bit to consider how to refute NVDad’s latest… post and came back to find that you’d done the honors and that we are pretty much in accord when it comes to whited sepulchres v authentic Christianity.


    My difficulty in telling the difference between the genuine and the other sort has primarily to do with (physical) distance from many of those who make such claims, plus the suspicion that there are those who, like NVDad, genuinely believe in *something*, it’s just that something seemingly makes souls dingier than otherwise. In such cases the question of “authentic” Christianity becomes a “yes it is, no it isn’t” proposition.


    IOW, are you Christian because you believe yourself to be, or is there an actual Christian purity test somewhere? And who wrote up the questions and grades the answers? At a certain point, I don’t feel like wrangling over the issue and go by which version seems all about peace, love, and understanding, and social progressivism (er, mine) and which version makes me feel like I need a shower/convinces me that the hearts of such Christians are two or more sizes too small/ inspires me to check out the requirements for immigration to Canada.


    Just FYI, chief among my list of irritations are those who claim heartland values and authentic Middle-America Christianity and such, not simply because those who make such claims often tailor the message to the audience in the hopes of confusing the issue, but because those same folks are truly confident in their assertion that it’s *not* *possible* to be religious (or, more accurately, to be *Christian*) and, hold one or more of the following positions:


    1. Opposition to religious texts in the halls of government and prayer in schools

    2. Fear of any attempt to impose (a certain interpretation (actually *any* interpretation)of) Biblical law on the nation

    3. Feel ill at the prospect of creationism being taught in public schools (especially after hearing some poor Park Ranger at the Grand Canyon have to go through some eloquent circomlocutions before she was able to get around to claiming the canyon’s age)

    4. Be completely in favor of contraception and (pay careful attention now) a woman’s right to choose while still acknowledging that choosing abortion involves a moral choice

    5. Have (the intention of writing) a living will the likes of which would inspire so-called Culture-of-Lifers to demand congressional intervention should it ever need to be put into effect




    At this point, I feel like I should step back and apologize for hijacking Chris’s blog in this fashion, especially on a first visit. Between the Schiavo case and the pope’s death I’ve been quite a bit postier than I usually am (and at great length, too, it seems).

  68. NV Dad

    Looks like you’re pulling your own chain, Al…more railing about personal phantoms, more bristling at the appearance of preaching where none exists.  I suggest its your *perspective* that’s the issue.



    “NV Dad, no one advocate scissors in newborn’s heads.”


    Immediately turns into this:


    “That indicates to all the intellectually honest people here, just how intellectually dishonest you are. And hardly someone who should preach logic and logical fallacies to anyone. But preaching is your schtick. This is religious hucksterism. Snake oil sales.”


    Sure.  All the intellectually honest people here probably already know who this applies to, Al.  Don’t put words in my mouth when you can’t admit a fair spectrum of problems facing humanity and what motivates them.  Like most of the enraged left’s hatred of the mere appearance of anything fundamentalist, you selectively criticize, and I’d guess, from a position that holds variable, conditional “tolerance” as its primary virtue.


    “Pops, you are no Christian. I know Jesus Christ, and you are no Christian.”


    Let me guess:  Your Christ preached tolerance of absolutely everything including the conditional intolerance of any particular un-PC whim you uniquely care to come up with.  Yeah, I’d say logical fallicies apply.

  69. Chris Clarke

    Like most of the enraged left’s hatred of the mere appearance of anything fundamentalist, you selectively criticize, and I’d guess, from a position that holds variable, conditional “tolerance” as its primary virtue.


    That “hatred of fundamentalism” seems to have nonetheless allowed a number of fundamentalists to post insults of my family and rude, classless proselytizing on my blog, without being banned.


    However, it’s a hatred of people who are willing to cast aspersions on others while hiding behind not only a pseudonym but a mutable series of spoofed email addresses that has now gotten you banned for further comments here.


    I have a fair amount of tolerance for differing opinions. I have a very low tolerance for trolling cowards.

  70. Frederick

    Wow. Incredible piece. The comments are very interesting too, especially Valentine Michael Smith’s response to the Godsters:

    By their lights, if this person actually did receive Christ into his life, and any of his victims had not, then he is in Heaven while they lie screaming (along with my father, most of your ancestors, and the vast majority of everyone who’s ever lived). Sick. Doomed to eternal torture for screwing up in a fixed game with no credible, published, rule-book.


    I don’t recall previously seeing such an eloquent refutation of the unfairness of Christian doctrine (even if it made any sense otherwise, which it doesn’t).

  71. js

    Marezydoats, if Dobson believed what he preached, then he would feel obligated to be with his mother at the time of her death especially if she had wronged him.  I’d suggest that if you haven’t read the gospels closely enough to understand that rather basic principle, you might want to start. 

    I’d also suggest reading Gil Alexander-Moegerle’s book James Dobson’s War on America. The author was one of Dobson’s top aides. The episode with Dobson’s mother is consistent with many other examples of narcissism and hypocrisy that is the hallmark of Dobson’s behavior. 


    None of this would be important if Dobson weren’t presenting himself as a leader and a teacher. But every small deficiency is magnified in a leader and damages his cause. In the case of Dobson, significantly larger deficiencies of character have helped to produce a narcissistic, hypocritical generation of Christians who Jesus would not recognize.

  72. js

    Renska asks, “IOW, are you Christian because you believe yourself to be, or is there an actual Christian purity test somewhere?”

    “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” (1 John 5:3).


    But what are those commandments?  They are not, as the fundamentalists wrongly believe, the Ten Commandments or, more generally, Mosaic Law. In the epistles, Paul makes it clear that people who are trying to keep that law have not heard the basic message of Jesus. Instead, these are the commandments:


    “Master, which [is] the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment. And the second [is] like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 22:36ff)


    So, there is a “purity test,” so to speak. If you do what you do out of a genuine love of eternal principles, such as truth and justice and love of neighbor and mercy, then you love God. For how do we know God except through truth, justice, love, and mercy? 


    Unfortunately, as you point out, we tend to grade ourselves very leniently, whereas sincerity of belief is something only God knows for certain. This is why there are so many people who think they have been born again and haven’t been. 


    But the epistles lay out some basic points. For example, if you claim to love your neighbor, but you let him go hungry, then you’re fooling yourself (James 2).  Similarly, if you claim to be saved by faith but are not moved to do compassionate works, something’s wrong (ibid).  Whole swathes of the fundamentalist movement are rather obviously non-Christian, idolizing wealth and denigrating/abandoning the poor, even while claiming this is done from compassion (if it is, then surely those people would be offering their services as big brothers or tutors, right? ::ahem::). 


    For me, it’s very easy to tell who has been born again. For example, someone who has been born again may, occasionally lie, but telling a lie genuinely grieves him/her. For that reason, someone who is born again will tell the truth even when it’s personally embarrassing or when it hurts his own cause. Or another example, a person who is born again finds friends among people whose political beliefs he/she does not share, because what is important is not political beliefs. Or one final example, when they find they have done wrong, they will apologize AND make restitution.


    Think we will see anything like that for Martinez memo on Schiavo, the SwiftLiar ads, or any of the innumerable smears the right has used in in march to seize power?

  73. sofa-ist


    I stumbled onto your blog thru Digby’s rabbit hole, and was drawn right in by your gifted writing and by the intersesting tale.  I stayed around to see some of the comments, and now I wish I hadn’t.


    What irked me is that the ‘Christians’ did here (in a place that had its own wierd, wonderful kind of ‘sanctity’ going on) what they always do: they hijack the discussion for their own purposes, and turn it into a debate about their ‘Jesus’.


    The truth is that they don’t give a damn about you, Chris, or your story, or about anything except their peculiar ‘Jesus’, and they’ll use any available opportunity to worm their way into a given situation, and then twist everything around to their perversion.


    They do this because they have a desperate need to convince others of their “truth”.  Their own belief is so insubtantial that if it isn’t constantly bolstered by the agreement of others, it will simply collapse.  Their ‘faith’ is like the Gollum: a wretched little thing defined completly by the fear of the unknown from which it comes.


    And, damn, here I am talking about them, and that’s exactly what they want.  It’s just another opportunity that they’ll sieze upon to keep on ‘prosylitizing’.  Unless…


    Look, the only thing to do, both here, and on a larger scale, is to ignore them.  Whenever they show up, realize what’s happening and react as though they are a virus. No matter how sweetly their initial contact is couched, know it is a virus, and that given the chance it will smother everything it reaches.


    To kill their virus, isolate them and studiously ignore them until they whither on the vine.  Like ponzi scheme frauds, if they’re prevented from prosylitizing, eventually they’ll just dry up and blow away.  The truth is they have no real substance, only that which we give to them by listening, engaging and taking them at their word. Denied that, they are nothing.


    So, that’s my two cents — take it or leave it.


    John, “Sofa-ist”


  74. reader

    My father wasn’t a serial killer or guilty of any crime we have laws against, but I used to think of him as a monster. I believe his self-deception was profound, and that he deceived himself not only persistent and systematic ways but in ad hoc ways as crises arose. He was also very charming and charismatic and impressed with his seeming ability to empathize…such that people tended not to initially believe their eyes when he acted from profoundly blind and petty self interest. As you might guess, we didn’t have a good relationship, but as you might not guess I am starting to forgive him. Partly it’s just because forgiving him seems like a prudent choice for someone like me who likes to avoid hypocrisy—because even if I didn’t know myself I’d have to recognize the possibility of self-deception in principle.  Partly it’s genuine sympathy, because I think his self-deceptions and selfishness in a deep way came from fear and an instinct for self preservation. I think monsters are “given birth to” in childhood from the combination of sensitive children with insensitive parents and an absence of sensitive others in the sidelines who can mediate or ameliorate (and I believe monstrosity is later nurtured and sustained by many of the environments people find themselves in as teens and adults). By all accounts my father had a lousy father, as by all accounts in somewhat different ways I had a lousy father. I know I’m sensitive and empathetic and yet have acted like a selfish jerk from unconscious fears. I think it’s no mystery at all that we have serial killers and Hitlers and that we don’t need to postulate a Devil or the existence of capital-E Evil. We’re animals folks, and recently socialized at that. Hopefully, socialization is an ongoing processs. If only every child had Hillary Clinton’s village and/or free and competent psychotherapy on demand, I think we’d be in pretty good shape. I don’t doubt we have far fewer serial killers now than Europe had in the time of the crusades or that Macedonia had in the time of Alexander. My other source of sympathy for my dad is that in hindsight it wasn’t always my imagination in those instances where I felt care and love. I believe Hitler loved his dog and I wouldn’t be surprised if Morin loved you, Chris, during the time in which doing so was consistent with his more primal psychological needs. I believe people are complicated.  Thank goodness—plus cultural and natural selection—that most people are complicated in less lethal ways.

  75. js

    John, I will tell you frankly that I don’t care one way or another what religion you espouse. I don’t doubt that I will see a number of Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and atheists on the other other side. 

    But I am distressed not only by twisted Christianity that I see, but also by the misinformed hate that it seems to provoke. 


    Comparing people’s beliefs to the monster “Gollum” or to a “virus”, as you have, is just as wrong as people calling themselves Christians accusing others of murder over a millenium-old disagreement over when human life begins.


    It was Chris who legitimately raised the point of fake religion in the context of Ray Constantine’s jailhouse “conversion.”  He documented very nicely how people can fool themselves about conversion. And, as he said, one of the posters on this thread nicely illustrated his point about fake Christians.


    But no matter how many fakes there are— and there are many— there is the real thing. You really, really should not libel it.

  76. sofa-ist

    Dear JS,

    And you, Sir, really, REALLY, shouldn’t flog your beliefs in every venue you happen upon.  It isn’t seemly.


    Didn’t your St. Paul say something about praying in the church and being humble about it?  Didn’t your Jesus say something about it being only hypocrites who pray obviously?


    If you need to convince someone, Sir, I recommend that you practice on yourself, and leave the rest of us in peace.  If your belief is as important as you think it is, then you won’t have to force it on others.  Interested folks will find their way to you.


    But, that’s enough.  I won’t be sucked into your silliness, and I won’t continue to participate in your wanton desecration of this place.


    John, Sofa-ist