I almost lost my breakfast this morning upon reading in today’s New York Times that a man named Pedro Hernandez, who confessed to police last week to murdering six-year-old Etan Patz thirty-three years ago, also confessed to some relatives and to a charismatic Christian group thirty years ago. I can’t even imagine how Etan’s parents feel.
This “Christian” group apparently encouraged (or maybe still encourages) participants to “feel the Holy Spirit and unburden themselves of guilt for their sins.” The Times further describes the charismatic Christian gathering in Camden that Mr. Hernandez attended 30 years ago a “free-for-all of admissions of guilt, sometimes shocking.” Furthermore, the article says, the “groups grow hardened and numb to hearing them,” and that one Mr. Rivera explained it by saying that it wasn’t his “place” to tell because the confession wasn’t made to him alone, one-on-one, but to the group.
This is probably an accurate expression of Mr. Rivera’s own psychological rationalization. But wow. That is some religion. Defenders of religion often try to say that we need religion to instill morality, and manage to ascribe this kind of immorality to zealots of “other” religions, but how do we find the morality in any philosophy that would encourage silence and rationalization in the face of such a confession? How do we reconcile an ethic that finds the “Holy Spirit” powerful enough and sufficient to relieve the guilt of a child murderer? Or that puts protected confession above any feeling of empathy for the parents of that murdered little boy? How do we cope with a religion that puts so called “faith” above a proper, conscience-guided sense of right and wrong? Examples abound of religion–all religions, in history and currently–encouraging blind adherence to zealotry and faith, and/or protection of a misguided, entrenched hierarchy over the development of a moral conscience that can distinguish right from wrong, but really, this all still all reminds me of Eichmann’s Nuremberg defense that he was ” just following orders.”
One has to wonder what other confessions these people heard. Isn’t there a priest somewhere who understands and can distinguish right from wrong, and could have advised these people?
My heart and soul goes out to Etan’s parents.