Paul Bernardo is one of Canada’s most infamous rapists and serial killers. While his litany of crimes is too extensive to list here, the court evidence against the man was absolutely overwhelming and included video tapes of the crimes he filmed with the help of his equally psychopathic wife. Suffice it to say, anybody with a modicum of interest in the case can readily find a summary of the ample evidence that convicted him on the internet.
This past week this psychopath was in the public eye again when news broke that he is dating a thirty year old woman. Apparently the woman began writing to him in prison last fall. She now considers herself his fiancée, has a tattoo that reads “Paul’s girl”, and insists to all that will listen that the man is innocent.
A reasonable first reaction is “What a complete idiot!” But it doesn’t take long to realize that this woman obviously has some very deep psychological problems. She needs therapy, not moral censure. There simply is no other way to explain a person ignoring an overwhelming mountain of evidence and insisting that black is white.
This case got me thinking about eternal conscious torment (ECT), a doctrine that faithful readers of this blog will know I criticize on an intermittent basis. According to ECT, God resurrects unregenerate people and fashions them with an immortal body so that he might torture them forever. (Sometimes defenders of ECT try to soften the picture by suggesting that really people just torture themselves. That view has its own ethical problems. After all, would you stand by while somebody inflicted egregious bodily harm on themselves? What if they did it forever? But the greater problem is that the NT overwhelming presents God as an active agent in hell. Consequently, if you endorse the ECT interpretation of hell, there is no way to escape the textual conclusion that God is torturing people in hell. He is there and he is not silent.)
So what’s the link between the 30 year old woman and ECT? Simple: if non-culpable mental disturbance is the only plausible way to explain a person disregarding the overwhelming evidence for a psychopath’s guilt, it is likewise the only plausible way to explain a person eternally rejecting the God of infinite love.
Please note, I’m not suggesting that people who go to hell are wholly non-culpable for their decisions. Nor for that matter, is that 30 year old woman wholly non-culpable for her decisions. Indeed, part of her therapy must include her decision to take responsibility for her own irrational and destructive decisions. The point, however, is that this process should occur within a redemptive framework rather than a punitive one.
If the proper response to a 30 year old who behaves in a fundamentally irrational and self-destructive manner is redemptive-therapeutic, why would we think this no longer applies posthumously?
The response, predictably, is that once people die they are no longer liable to change and thus they won’t respond to therapy. That may be so, but if it is why think that one should then shift to the punitive torture of these irredeemably disordered, irrational individuals?
For further discussion of the problems with ECT see my unpublished book chapter “Must Hitler Burn Forever?”