I don't believe in ESP.
But it didn't take any supernatural powers of perception for me, and many others, to accurately predict that the man who entered a Planned Parenthood clinic, killing three and wounding nine, was religiously motivated.
A well-researched New York Times piece, "For Robert Dear, Religion and Rage Before Planned Parenthood Attack," describes Dear's religious sensibilities. Excerpts:
He found excuses for his transgressions, she said, in his idiosyncratic views on Christian eschatology and the nature of salvation.
“He claims to be a Christian and is extremely evangelistic, but does not follow the Bible in his actions,” Ms. Micheau said in the court document. “He says that as long as he believes he will be saved, he can do whatever he pleases. He is obsessed with the world coming to an end.”
...He was a man of religious conviction who sinned openly, a man who craved both extreme solitude and near-constant female company, a man who successfully wooed women but, some of them say, also abused them. He frequented marijuana websites, then argued with other posters, often through heated religious screeds.
“Turn to JESUS or burn in hell,” he wrote on one site on Oct. 7, 2005. “WAKE UP SINNERS U CANT SAVE YOURSELF U WILL DIE AN WORMS SHALL EAT YOUR FLESH, NOW YOUR SOUL IS GOING SOMEWHERE.”
A number of people who knew Mr. Dear said he was a staunch abortion opponent. Ms. Micheau, 60, said in a brief interview Tuesday that late in her marriage to Mr. Dear, he told her that he had put glue in the locks of a Planned Parenthood location in Charleston.
...One person who spoke with him extensively about his religious views said Mr. Dear, who is 57, had praised people who attacked abortion providers, saying they were doing “God’s work.” In 2009, said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concerns for the privacy of the family, Mr. Dear described as “heroes” members of the Army of God, a loosely organized group of anti-abortion extremists that has claimed responsibility for a number of killings and bombings.
...He argued with users of the site who disagreed with his religious posts, deriding them as “slaves” and “demons” who would suffer at the end of the world. On Oct. 7, 2005, he wrote, “Every knee shall bow an every tongue will confess that JESUS IS LORD.”
...“She says she can’t believe he was capable of such things, and I think that’s what’s upsetting her most,” the relative said about Ms. Bragg. “He believed he was doing God’s will, and I’m sure he probably wanted to die in the process of carrying out what I’m sure he thought was right.”
So Robert Dear was a Christian terrorist.
Even though abortion is legal in the United States, and there is no evidence that Planned Parenthood did anything illegal when it was paid small sums for providing fetal tissue for medical research purposes, Dear's religious beliefs led him to believe that he was doing the godly thing when he attacked the clinic.
Dear didn't act alone, of course.
Though he apparently didn't have any direct accomplices, Dear was aided and abetted by all of the lies spouted about Planned Parenthood by many Right to Life zealots, including several GOP presidential candidates (notably Carly Fiorina).
I liked this reader comment on the NYT story by "Ami." Speaking about Dear, Ami said:
So he's the American Christian version of ISIS, but the muslims are terrorists and he is a what exactly?
And the yapping heads he listens to happen to be significant political figures, instead of radicalized Imams, And if the Imams are stirring up extremism as so many red politicians so adamantly vocalize, and fueling Islamic terrorism, then what are these politicians themselves? Seems they're fueling a fanatical base of extremists to incite acts of violence.
At least both sides are carrying out god's will. I'm glad I don't pray to either of those gods.
In fact, I don't pray to any god. I find that it is much easier to be a good person by forsaking religious approaches to morality, since these almost invariably lead to an overblown sense of self-righteousness and entitlement.
Religious believers don't just think they are doing the right thing when they act in accord with some made-up set of theological superstitions. They believe they are doing the divine thing, the godly thing.
This makes religious fanatics dangerous in a different way than secular fanatics. Secular extremists typically are seeking to achieve some worldly end. While they might be crazily wrong, their motivations have at least a tenuous connection with everyday physical reality.
But when a religious fanatic considers that the future of his immortal soul demands killing in God's name, this is a supersized motivation. It appears that Dear wasn't simply angry at Planned Parenthood for providing abortion services; he thought that those who attacked Planned Parenthood clinics were doing "God's work."
Of course, no one will ever know what made Robert Dear do what he did. Not even Dear himself.
The oft-heard search for motive in attacks like this one rests on an extremely dubious neuroscientific assumption: that a person's conscious will determines what he or she does.
Actually, decision-making is much more complicated, being highly influenced by unconscious factors. Out into consciousness pops an intention to do something. From where it came, nobody knows.
Imagine asking a married person, "What caused you to marry your spouse?" How believable would the answer be? Is it really possible to ascertain someone's motive for marrying a particular person? Can even that person accurately say why he or she decided to commit to their spouse?
Likewise, why does someone like Robert Dear decide to kill other people? The causes are numerous, mysterious, complex, largely hidden. Dear's trial will be much more successful at bringing out what he did, than why he did it.
Yet in one way or another, we all fall prey to the illusion that we know.
We know what is right and wrong. We know what is good and bad. We know what needs to be done to make the world a better place. We know why we're drawn to do this rather than that. We know that inside our head there is a distinct self called "me" who is in control of our thoughts and actions.
Robert Dear also thought, "I know." So what made him so dangerous compared to most other people?
I'd suggest, Dear's religiously-inspired conviction that his knowledge was divinely inspired. Like I said before, religiosity supercharges/supersizes an ordinary belief that we know what is best, what needs doing. A fanatic religious believer has no doubts.
Yet doubting is a sign that one is in touch with reality.
Nothing is absolutely certain. Every truth is provisional. Such is the way of science. Dialogue, discussion, debate -- this is the way we should resolve differences over what is true or false, right or wrong, moral or immoral.
Not by taking a rifle into a Planned Parenthood clinic and shooting people. Not by Carly Fiorina lying about Planned Parenthood and refusing to admit that what she said on a presidential debate stage wasn't true.
Fiorina spoke straight into the camera. “Anyone who has watched this videotape—I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, to watch these tapes,” she said referring to undercover videos first circulated in July. “Watch a fully-formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’ This is about the character of our nation, and if we do not stand up and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.”
...To be clear, Fiorina, like the other Republicans attacking Planned Parenthood, doesn’t have her facts straight.
Absolute faith in one's infallibility often leads to hurting others in the name of a fanatically-held erroneous belief.
It appears that Robert Dear wrongly felt that he was following God's will by shooting up a Planned Parenthood clinic. It appears that Carly Fiorina wrongly felt that speaking falsely about Planned Parenthood in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary was justified somehow.
Dear God Who Doesn't Exist, deliver us from the evil of religious fanaticism.
Such is my secular prayer.