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The Invisible Worm…BTK

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Dennis Lynn Rader, The BTK Strangler. May have killed as many as 13 people. (Click the photo above for a Google News Search.)

O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

~ William Blake, (1757-1827), “The Sick Rose”

The Invisible Worm.

Certain protestant denominations refer to the formation of a new church in a given neighborhood as church “planting”. Though I am one of the more sinful of God’s children, a congenital skeptic and doubter, I’ve always liked the suggestion that word brings to mind – an image of each new church as a bloom, a blossoming flower in a garden.

If Christ Lutheran Church of Wichita, Kansas was a flower, then like William Blake’s rose, it was sick. Among the faithful there lurked a worm…for the last 30 years. He was a leader there – a past president of the congregation, responsible on many Sundays for the proper functioning of the church’s sound system.

Wichitans, and now the rest of us, once knew that worm only by it’s self-applied name, the malevolent acronym, BTK – short for Bind, Torture, Kill.

Now Wichita and the world knows his real name. They know his face, the clenched expression you see in the mugshot at the top of this entry. Dennis Lynn Rader.

Dennis Sinned.

(Some of the following info was found in an article published today, February 27th, 2005 in The Wichita Eagle, titled Liked by many, loathed by some.)

Dennis Lynn Rader was born March 9, 1945, in Wichita, Kansas. After graduation from Wichita Heights High School in 1963 he did a 4-year stint in the Air Force, 1965-1969. Two years later he settled in Park City Kansas, married to the former Paula Dietz.

Dennis Rader and his wife proceeded, like nearly everyone else, to lead a very normal life. The surface details of the life of the man who is now known to the world at large to be the BTK Strangler are notably unremarkable. He worked. First at an IGA Grocery Store, then Coleman Manufacturing. Coleman was one of the main links between a number of BTK victims – likely the place where he quietly targeted one or more of the women he eventually killed.

His stint at Coleman was over in 1973. In January of 1974, the BTK committed his first known murders, four members of the Joseph Otero family. He killed the Oteros in the middle of the day, spending a number of hours at the house, but leaving little usable evidence behind (at the time) as to who he was.

Dennis Rader and his wife had two children. Rader worked for ADT Security, a plum job for an active serial killer, where at least one news source today reported he was thoroughly disliked:

“…’I don’t believe the gentleman was well liked at all,’ said Mike Tavares, a former co-worker at ADT, where Rader worked from 1974 to 1989, when most of BTK’s victims were killed…”

– from the Eagle article linked above.

He left ADT in 1989 and worked for the government of Wichita’s satellite city, Park City, in one capacity or another, until yesterday.

An online journey already can take one through bits and pieces of Rader’s life on the web – much of it at this point incidental – his daughter Kerri Rawson, whose DNA provided the initial confirmation that Rader was the killer, had a blog and an online photo album at one point, and from there some message board posters at one of the many forums devoted to the subject of BTK were able to find a few photos of Rader at Kerri’s wedding. There were initially many photos on Christ Lutheran’s site, but they were quickly removed. They showed a smiling, benign-looking man, a man much like any number of middle-aged men attending churches where I’ve sung through the years, the polite nodders, the Sunday morning hand-shakers. On Park City’s Government pages you could find photos of Rader smiling blandly, wearing a faux-military style uniform in his exalted position as Dog Catcher and Codes Enforcer for the city.

He was a man most of us would not notice. I observed that in every photo of Rader I was able to find, he never quite looked the same. As if there was some subtle, invisible psychic shifting that threw the camera lense off, distorted the film or the digital card holding the image.

He was like Mike Brady or Ozzie Nelson, if you just added in multiple murder by strangulation, stabbing, and gunshot, compulsive masturbation over the corpses of his kills and gleeful taunting of the Press and Public at large.

And he sat in his church’s sanctuary and prayed. He attended City council meetings – one online document, minutes from a Park City Council meeting, details his appointment to a position, another, two years later, details his resignation.

And he sat through services at Christ Lutheran, singing the hymns.

A Kind of Mid-Life Crisis?

In this entry in my ‘true crime’ blog, www.planethuff.com/darkside about Rader/BTK, where I detail the beginning of the news of his capture flooding the news, I found a link to a video at ksn.com of an interview Rader gave back in 1999 in his capacity as “animal control officer” – read dog catcher – for Park City. It’s the kind of thing I would not have noticed at all, had I been a local there in Wichita, watching the news that night.

That voice that prayed at Christ Lutheran, that joined in singing hymns, that probably spoke the words and issued the verbal prayers that opened and closed congregation meetings in his capacity as President, that voice that it turns out was not disguised in the least when it said “Yes. You will find a homicide at 843 South Pershing. Nancy Fox…” – it was right there, spouting blandly useless info about dogs in Park City attacking cows. No one noticed.

Why would they? Dennis Rader’s gift of camouflage so buried the worm that until March of last year most people familiar with the BTK case thought the killer dead.

March, 2004 – just a few days after Dennis Rader turned 59 – he decided it was time to let Wichita know that the worm was still somewhere in the city. He sent copies of photos of one of his secrets, Vicki Wegerle, to Wichita Eagle Reporter Hurst Laviana. Photos of Wegerle dead, before police and EMS arrived.

He probably came home from a busy Sunday at Christ Lutheran and avidly picked up the paper, knowing his poison was now seeping afresh to the surface of the city’s collective consciousness.

Did Rader suddenly see 60 closing in, and something unravelled inside? A discipline he’d honed for years, keeping his giant vault of darkness locked inside, smiling, saying prayers, compulsively lining up pens in notebooks, dusting, sorting, arranging? Had Denny the Deadly Dog Catcher suddenly had enough of just fantasizing, carefully tending to his hidden trophies, his memories, lovingly wrapped in heavy plastic freezer bags?

Or was it some perverse need for atonement?

From his messages in the 70’s it was well known that BTK liked wordplay, poetry, puzzles.

The words that head the second part of this blog entry, “Dennis Sinned”, form one of the simplest palindromes you can find – sentences or even phrases that spell exactly the same thing in reverse.

I wonder if in Rader’s compulsive mind – for I think it’s no stretch to conclude that the man was, among other things, an obsessive, compulsive personality – if that particular palindrome ever occurred to him. Over, and over. And this welter of needs surged beneath his placid, nebbishy dog-catcher façade…the need for that old burst of power, the pleasure of being the puppet master, holding a city in thrall, and maybe, deep down, some grain of need to end things – and he started divesting himself of his props, his totems, his memories.

He saw 60 a year away, and for once the psychopath tasted the actual possibility of his own demise. He needed his old shot of power.

Just as Dennis Rader’s very presence in the house of God, praying and singing as if he cared, while blood turned his daydreams crimson – BTK’s presence – was much like the presence of that worm that flies in the night in the heart of Blake’s rose, so the presence of mortality in the obsidian heart of the killer gnawed.

And brought, finally, a reckoning.

Links of interest:

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About Steve

  • Eric Olsen

    thanks Steve, very nice to see you back – excellent job on a horrifying, troubling story – “always the quiet ones” and all of that

  • Thanks Eric – I’ll be hanging around these parts more often. I appreciate the note. And yep, he’s actually par for the course in many ways where serials are concerned.

  • Eric Olsen

    glad to hear it Steve – not about the killer, you know what I mean

  • what a hand-wringing dick you are.

  • MYOB

    The man was a monster to be sure, but don’t you think your writing is a bit over the top in regards to his church activities? I see the perverted irony in a man who is a serial killer and a churchgoer. It is not lost on me. However, I feel we need to focus more on the factual details rather than the “maybe’s”. We don’t know what he was like as a parishioner. We don’t know if he lead the congregation in prayer. Frankly, I could care less. The thing that troubles me at this point is that this monster will probably escape the death penalty.

    He, and others like him, are a scourge on this earth and ought to be removed.

  • I think I’m in LOVE! My favorite comment ever on blog critics!

  • Eric Olsen

    apparently your post found its way to a serial killer’s board

  • “…We don’t know what he was like as a parishioner. We don’t know if he lead the congregation in prayer. Frankly, I could care less. The thing that troubles me at this point is that this monster will probably escape the death penalty…”

    I’m afraid you are wrong. He was an usher, he was the congregation president. Those are facts. His last trip to the church was to drop off spaghetti and salad for a fellowship meal. When congregation meetings that are outside the normal service are held, this person will typically lead the prayers, so that is no stretch on my part. In one interview I read someone mentioned how he’d said in a casual conversation on the street to another person that they needed to attend church like he did.

    I agree with you completely about him and others like him being a scourge.

    But the statements in the news about his behavior at church and his position in the church are already well-documented. The only guess I made was whether he led prayers, and frankly, that wasn’t an uneducated guess, factoring in my own 20 years of churchgoing, mostly as a part-time staff member.

    The favorite comment ever was for the “hand-wringing dick” commenter. People like that are one of the great joys of blogcritics.org!

  • Eric Olsen

    I am contemplating the relative merits of being a “hand-wringing dick” vs. a “dick-wringing hand”

  • Excellent point, Eric. I mean – the second is actually much more logical, isn’t it? Probably more descriptive of the person who left the comment as well 🙂

  • Eric Olsen

    that’s my thinking

  • The interesting thing about the “hand-wringing dick” comment is that the IP traces to Comcast in Detroit, which is where some very close relatives of Dennis Rader’s now live and some others may be staying.

  • MYOB

    Steve –

    I agree we know “some” things about this killer. We know he was active in the church. I am active in my church as well and have been for all of my life. I have met a lot of jerks in that time. The point I am making is that just because he was active in his church does not mean that he posessed any thing remotely resembling piety. It seemed to me that you were implying this. If you were not then I have no quarrel with you, good sir knight.



    Saddest part about all this is that the killer will get far more attention than any of victims did.

  • “…The point I am making is that just because he was active in his church does not mean that he posessed any thing remotely resembling piety…”

    OMG, yes, you most CERTAINLY misunderstood me on that score. No one who did what he did has any piety, charity, or love inside them. The whole point to the use of the Blake poem is to compare Rader to the worm, and Blake’s use of the worm was similar.

    The church as a “planted” flower – Blake’s Rose, which itself could symbolize passion and blood.

    BTK shamming as a man of faith – the worm, which represents death, all that is vile and contemptuous.

    And I was saying in the end, inside Rader’s shrivelled heart, he suddenly realized the only fear psychopaths ever seem to have – death. My contention is basically that with the newspaper last year revisiting the BTK case and Dennis Rader himself turning 59, one year shy of 60, he realized how much time had passed since he wielded that kind of power over the public mind. He realized he was only getting closer to death, that he wasn’t satisfied with his life now. Children grown, out of the house, a dead-end job. So he re-emerged, and finally, got his comeuppance.

    I didn’t even conceive of impugning any actual feeling or anything positive in this man. He was called a ‘worker bee’ by some fellow churchgoers in a news report, meaning that he was constantly inserting himself into the life of the church. But there was never any piety, only the malignant narcissism of the psychopath. Clever, well-concealed, pure evil.

    Glad you let me know there was a misunderstanding there.

  • I posted this at my blog Saturday

    Poetic end for BTK killer

    In Kansas 1973
    Someone mentally started a killing spree
    Mete out in metered death
    Was a frustrated author’s awful breath
    Blowing down in short sharp puffs it stank
    Yet for more than 30 he beat the rank

    Bind. Torture. Kill.
    Blinded. Thoughtless. Thrill.

    Though their work had a long fuse
    Law enforcement needed clues
    Sputtered burning and burned
    Finally the investigation turned

    A shallow man of patient religion
    Became self-incriminating stool pigeon
    No longer scared at all, no longer wary
    He no longer cared at all, sung like a canary

    Mystery man must have felt rejection
    It won’t take long before the injection
    “Waiting in the dark, waiting, waiting”
    Caught in last act, no longer creating

    – 2005 Copyright, Temple A. Stark. 2.26.05

  • Kenboe

    That BTK is a right-wing fundamentalist christian makes sense. Look at how Bush can wage into war without guilt under the same false meta-narratives. Look at how ruthless fundamentalist muslims can be, for that matter. Right wing fundamentalist christianity has been tagged by BTK for what it is. A closet full of nonsense. But in this case it’s not the common adultery, it’s murder, and since Dennis the sinner has taken Christ as his savior, he’s got a free meal ticket in heaven waiting for him, just like all the other right wing nuts out there who have sinned, right?

  • Unfortunately, Ken, many people I grew up with would answer your rhetorical question with “of course. Jesus forgives.”

    Not accounting for the fact that Rader’s pose as a churchgoing God-fearing man was a malignant narcissist/psychopath’s way of getting the attention and admiration they so desperately crave. People need to understand that conscience-free creatures like Rader will behave in a positive manner for usually one reason only – to garner the praise and admiration of others. They are kings in their own mind, with divine rights, and the King always loves sycophantic courtiers – treats them the best. I can’t help but cynically see Dennis Rader’s ardent churchgoing as a manifestation of the same. And, it was GREAT camouflage.

    Highly appropriate poem, Temple.

  • Anthony

    Ken..while it’s tempting (and barrels of fun) to slam right-wing fundmentalists, you’re way off-base in this case. While I’m not sure where you get that DR is a right-wing fundamentalist (being that and a church-going registered Republican can be vastly different), I won’t argue that point. The point is that religion had nothing to do with DR’s involvement in church. It was all a part of his mask.

  • Anthony, don’t A LOT of people say they are religious when they aren’t at all? A mask, if you will.

    Steve: Thanks. It’s first draft rough draft, done in about 10 minutes. I may rework it some.

  • Temple, Anthony’s an old friend of mine, and he was raised in a southern baptist church in Tennessee. I think he and I – I first attended a Church of Christ with my grandmother as a little boy, and some churches in that denomination (they are very different from the more mainstream DISCIPLES of Christ churches) are a little to the right of Heinrich Himmler – but I think both Anthony and I can tell you we categorically know that there are a lot of people who cloak themselves in bein’ churchified to mask their inner demons. I know he and I have both had the experience of having peers who got to a “revival” and suddenly all come back saying they’re “saved”. It wasn’t a religious thing, they were just kids following their friends.

    So, yeah, it was Denny the Deadly Dog Catcher’s mask, and the only difference between him and a million other hypocrites is the degree of hypocrisy.

    I think he might just win the contest there.

  • 🙂 i should make statements instead of ask questions. At least mix it up a little more, right????

    We agree.

  • Wren523

    I am appalled by the non-action of the pastor of the Christ Lutheran Church. He says that Dennis Rader will remain as church president, w/changes to some duties. C’mon— he’s arrested w/ criminal charges of murder of men, women and children. He should not be a leader in the church! Whether he’s had his day in court yet or not, to have those serious crimes leveled against him, his leadership in the church should end.
    I have a question. Is there a Dennis Rader who has a conscience, who loves his wife and children or is a psychopath incapable of caring about anyone but himself and just uses his family as a mere tool to help mask his true self so that he is able to do his horrific crimes unnoticed? Thanks

  • Paul of Tarsus, one of the first leaders in the Christian church, had a history of sanctioning and abetting the murder of Christians specifically. Granted, he gave all that up and spent years studying after his conversion before rising to a position of leadership, and eventually paid for his conversion with his life, but I guess I’m saying that Christ’s message was that He came to save sinners, and Dennis Rader is certainly that. As am I.

    As easy as it is to make quick assumptions about people and say that Dennis Rader is somehow less than human, it misses what I find most horrifying about this case, and yet not shocking at all: he could be any one of us. Not that I’m going to go kill people, but I think history has shown us time and time again that people can and do live conflicted lives, shifting back and forth between disgustingly violent actions and normal living. Rather than dismiss Rader as a psychopath and his pastor as naive, it would probably be good for us to consider how and why Rader got to where he is, and how or whether he can be brought back.

    Yes, leaving Rader in a position of leadership is simply stupid. But ensuring that he isn’t thrown out of the church just when he needs it most is very Christ-like. I hope what we’re hearing are reports of the latter and not the former, when all is said and done.

  • Phillip, I for one do not condemn his pastor. You are absolutely correct in your pointing out that the pastor is doing the Christ-like thing.

    However the monster who committed the BTK murders is a hollow shell of man, a psychopath devoid of emotion or conscience. The pastor is following Jesus’s example, and it’s an affirmation of that particular man’s faith that he do so in the face of such evil.

    But the cynic in me has to say there is no coming back from what’s wrong with Mr. Rader – who is still technically only alleged to be BTK, though I’m beyond thoroughly convinced that he is. Jesus won’t save him, because Jesus never had him.

    Even the hard-nosed FBI agents who write these profiles sometimes will say that the bottomline is that perhaps evil is real, intractable, and exists in the persons of people like a BTK.

  • wren523

    Good point about Paul. Of course, the crux ( no pun intended) is that he realised the error of his ways, asked for forgiveness and turned his life around. I agree that DR not be shunned or ostracized by his church, just removed from leadership. Unfortunately, our church has had a series of weirdos, and it caused much turmoil. Two of the three molestors, were genuinely sorry and their actions spoke it. The third would not admit and did not believe that sex w/ a fourteen year old girl was anything but showing love. Our minister got in hot water with our members by testifying at the trial of one of the molestors asking the court to not send him to prison. He had a wife and 3 children and if he were sent to prison, the wife had told our pastor, that their lives would be destroyed as well as the family of the abusers. So that’s why he spoke up, for the wife and kids. The molestor did not go to prison. He came back to our church – for awhile- till he and his family moved to Canada. There was outrage at our church. I’ll always remember a sermon the minister gave, he said “don’t you think I would have preferred to pastor to the victim and her family? But, I wasn’t given the choice and this man has asked for forgiveness and Christ has told us to accept it and him- not the crime. Who believes BTK is able to trully feel sorry for what he did? I do not.

  • Ken Boe

    While there is something beautiful in the forgiving and the ritual of publicizing the forgiving of Rader, or Paul, or you might as well throw in Hitler(who knows his prayers in his last minutes?) the problem is that maybe right-wing Christianity(maybe Islam, too) are so easy to hide behind because they are so obviously false. So you go to a community that celebrates falsehood and you have a sancuary for conceiling all kinds of falsehoods. Like, instead of pews, why not sand, that people may put their heads in? Well, there is beauty and art and prayer and sermons and music that are all worthy in their artform, but the more right-wing the sanctuary of fiction, the more these art forms are cast out. The difference between Bush Senior’s church and Bush Juniors Church are striking in this respect, and Bush Junior, whatever his outcome, seems capable of more evil, likewise. Look at the horrors of war he can so easily ignore and go home and kiss his wife. Did you read how those poor children looked through the keyhole and watched Rader murder their mother? Where is the evangelical’s heart for those washed out souls? Christianity plays a shell game, offering redemption for its coffers with one hand while throwing away the key for the “others” with the other hand. In this respect, I think Rader is symptomatic, but that his crimes are more difficult than usual for intellectual reconciliation.

  • Wow, Ken – way to link Hitler, George W. Bush and the BTK criminal in one paragraph! And you managed to bash Christian churches at the same time – I’m in awe.

    I’m snickering off-screen, but it’s an awestruck snicker, I do assure you…

  • Eric Olsen

    what Christian church bashers seem to miss is that since the church is made up of, and run by, humans, it is inevitably faulty. And though the horrors are real and many over the centuries, I also do not believe the church has done more harm than good

  • Eric Olsen

    even the Catholic Church (smile)

  • I haven’t seen anything that indicates one way or another whether Rader is penitent, so I’m a little curious about how it is that people can be so sure that Rader simply cannot possibly show any remorse. Perhaps you’ve all read things I haven’t, or looked into the heart of the man in ways I can’t seem to from where I sit.

    As I said, it’s easy to put Rader into the “other” column, but by doing so you miss out on the important fact that we are all capable of heinous acts given the right stimuli.

    I’ll say it again: Christ died for sinners. Even Rader. Even Hitler. Even me. I know I believe that, and will be saved as a result. I know Hitler did not. Rader apparently does, still. It really is that simple. From an eternal perspective, I think I’ve done things as heinous as Hitler, and deserve the same punishment. Because of what Jesus Christ has done, I won’t face that punishment. That’s the key to the Christian faith.

    Leaving someone like Rader in any leadership position at all is just stupid, though. Testifying on behalf of unrepentant child molesters is stupid, too. The same Paul of Tarsus who became a leader in the Christian church after having spent years murdering Christians later was very clear about how the Christian church ought to treat unrepentant members: kick them out.

    Eric, IIRC, your background is Lutheran, and Luther was second to nobody in his declaration that Christians are, if anything, *more* liable to screw up than non-Christians. What should be different, he would say, is that Christians should be much more aware of their failings, and of their need for salvation independent of their own merit. Luther would not be surprised at a serial killer within the church.

  • bhw

    I’ll say it again: Christ died for sinners. Even Rader. Even Hitler. Even me. I know I believe that, and will be saved as a result.

    And this is part of the problem that nonChristians have with the religion: the fact that a guy like Rader [or Hitler] can torture and slay families and still be accepted into Heaven, as long as he accepts JC as his savior.

    I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t work for me. It’s a sweet deal, though, for people like Rader, I must admit.

    From an eternal perspective, I think I’ve done things as heinous as Hitler, and deserve the same punishment.

    Schweetie, I heartily doubt it. You and Adolf might both have lied to your parents or stolen gum from the market when you were kids, but the last time I checked, we didn’t have any megalomaniac fascist zealots rounding an entire population of civilians up and exterminating them in your neck of the woods. [And Texas is pretty creepy!]

    I understand that you believe that you and someone like Hitler are both humans with the same human flaws, but your ACTIONS — and I’m willing to out on a limb here — are not the same.

    What things have you done that you think are as heinous as what Hitler did? [Perhaps you should consult an attorney before answering that.]

  • Ken Boe

    Sometimes maybe what we desire is a fall guy for our sins? On the other hand, several leaders of that church Rader is president of have profiles that were predicted for BTK. One works or worked in the photo lab at The Wichita Eagle and one was a Wichita Police supervisor before going under cloth. Maybe, because Rader’s DNA was evidenced, he had to be the fall guy. I’m sure it was quite titilating for the investigators when they first cast their light on that church.

  • Ken Boe

    I regret that I would be called a church basher. I believe I commented on much of the beauty of the church, but it must be asked, if the meta-narratives of a religion, which are of course fictional, are preached and taught as truth, then one has created a sanctuary of living in lies, and so it’s only the most logical community for a serial liar to hang his hat. But if a church was honest, that it really doesn’t know the “truth”, it could still function by the power of art and the need for spirituality. Religions that insist on presenting and acting as if their fictions are truths are guilty of providing sactuary to people such as Rader, if not for grooming them in the duplicity of their lives.

  • bhw, you missed the essential four words at the beginning of that sentence, and they make all of the difference in the world: from an eternal perspective. Sure, we can sit here and look around us and apply some sort of moral standard or another, and we all tend to use one that happens to put us on the right side of things, oddly enough. So our favorite things to do are usually okay, while someone else’s favorite things are usually not so okay.

    Though so much of what passes for Christianity today in the west is far from anything spelled out in the Bible, the idea of Christianity, the message Christ came to preach, was that our own standards completely suck. I say I’m okay, while others are rotten sinners, while they say they’re okay, and I’m the rotten sinner. Still others might even claim that we’re *all* okay, but there always seems to be that Hitler exception.

    The highly-offensive message of the Gospel, the one that got Christ killed, was that we all suck, and it doesn’t have to matter. Religious folks like to get upset about such a message, because they want to think that you must live a certain way, perform certain oblations, and so on, but Jesus said it simply doesn’t matter. He took on the Pharisees, and they didn’t like it. He told them that their best efforts at living right made them nothing but whitewashed tombs, dead and rotten. Instead he embraced the losers, the really-rotten. Whores, thieves, the poor — those were the ones He spent time with.

    It is one thing to say that “those Pharisees” didn’t get it, but it’s quite another, quite a scary thing to realize that we do the same thing, every day. I look at someone and assume they’re not a Christian based on nothing more than what I see them doing, which is just what those Pharisees were doing.

    I guess what I’m saying is this: Christianity is both far less ridiculous and far more offensive than what you’ve been exposed to, if you’re at all typical for North America. The hypocrisy of churches in which pastors pretend to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ while still having their own list of rules by which you must live in order to be “in” is simply appalling. The rules don’t work — nobody can live up to the simple ones, let alone the hard ones.

    And that’s the offensive part. The Gospel requires that each of us do no more than recognize our own failings, to acknowledge that we cannot possibly live up to the standard of a holy God, that we are ourselves sinners every day. Once we see that, then we can depend entirely on the work of Jesus Christ for our salvation, instead of trying to meet some standard laid down by someone else that we can never meet.

    And yes, that leads to the misconception that someone can live however they want and have some sort of magical deathbed conversion. Does it happen? Sure. Is it possible in a case like Hitler’s? I’ll answer that one by mentioning that by all reports, Dahmer died in prison a fully-repentant Christian, which would offend the heck out of me if I thought that being an inch closer to a goal a thousand miles away really mattered.

    So that’s what I’m saying: are my actions equal to Hitler’s? Of course not, by any reasonable standard. Are my actions enough to save me from just punishment? No, no more than anything Hitler might ever have done as long as he lived. Adolf and I were in the same boat: entirely dependent on the work of someone else to save us.

    I know this is trite, but I would say that the beauty of the idea that someone can be a heinously evil loser for a long period of time and then turn to Jesus to save them is that you or I can turn to Him just the same.

    It is also worth noting that the subjects of theodicy and soteriology are slightly more complex than I’ve let on, and I frankly don’t believe Hitler *could* have turned to Christ, but I can’t prove that beyond pointing out that he didn’t, and therefore couldn’t.


  • bhw

    Phillip, thank you for your very earnest and and informed response.

    The highly-offensive message of the Gospel, the one that got Christ killed, was that we all suck, and it doesn’t have to matter.

    A.k.a., Hitler’s bad deeds are no worse, eternally speaking, than Phillip’s, even though they’re entirely different bad deeds?

    And yes, that leads to the misconception that someone can live however they want and have some sort of magical deathbed conversion. Does it happen? Sure.

    This happened with my friend’s 80-year-old father, after he learned he was terminally ill. He’d been the only one in the family not a Christian. Before he died, my friend told me, he accepted Jesus. The cynic in me thinks he had a good plan: live the way you want for 80 years and then when your time comes, make a little acceptance speech and up you go.

    I’ll answer that one by mentioning that by all reports, Dahmer died in prison a fully-repentant Christian, which would offend the heck out of me if I thought that being an inch closer to a goal a thousand miles away really mattered.

    I’m not sure what you mean. I thought that accepting Jesus put you not only closer to the goal, but over the goal line, in the eternal sense.

    I know this is trite, but I would say that the beauty of the idea that someone can be a heinously evil loser for a long period of time and then turn to Jesus to save them is that you or I can turn to Him just the same.

    But only if we were chosen by God to do so in the first place, as I understand it. Some were chosen, some not, as your reference to Hitler indicates [if he could have, he would have].

  • bhw, it’s all in how you look at it. Were Hitler’s bad deeds worse than mine? Heck, yeah! Were mine bad enough? Yes. The difference between missing the mark by an inch and missing the mark by a mile is still missing the mark, is the point.

    Put another way, we all come out looking pretty good when we compare ourselves to Hitler. How do we look when we compare ourselves to Jesus Christ?

    I’m somewhat skeptical of deathbed conversions, frankly, but I’m not the one who gets to decide these things. To anyone planning a deathbed conversion, I would only point out that a startling number of people don’t get to have a protracted death scene — that’s mostly for the movies.

    Anyway, still in your description I pick up a little of what I think is the tragedy of Western Christianity: the contrast is seen between those who “life the way they want” on the one hand and Christians on the other. But Christianity isn’t supposed to be about a list of rules for behavior, dos and don’ts. That’s an invention of the American church.

    The point with the goal was this: Dahmer was a horrible man who chopped up and ate people, while the worst I’ve done is, well, not very bad. I help little old ladies across the street, even. And yet the report that came from the prison chaplain indicates that despite all of that, Dahmer submitted to the Gospel and paid the price for it in prison, and he’ll quite likely be with God just as I will. In other words, while Hitler didn’t make it, Dahmer did, and that could be really offensive if I focused on the Dahmer part and not on the me part. The thing is, how far Dahmer was from the goal line doesn’t matter. He could never reach it, but neither could I, despite my *relative* lack of bad deeds. It isn’t our good or bad deeds that decide anything, but only the perfect live and atoning death of Jesus Christ. So Dahmer, believing, is “over the goal,” and I, believing, am “over the goal.” The first part seems offensive, but the alternative is that even my *relatively* tame bad deeds keep me out.

    As I mentioned, the whole business is more complex than I’m letting on, but the reason I feel I can do so safely is that the rest of it doesn’t really matter. By which I mean that the usual debate of who can and can’t and so on and so forth is all, in the end, irrelevant. Each of us is responsible, I believe, for our own choices, and for our own actions. You and I, each of us, we know only that here is the Gospel — Christ died to save sinners, of which I am one — and believing that simple fact means that I will be saved.

    Even if — when — I continue to do bad things.

  • Jimmy de Villiers

    Dennis Rader’s court confession, with a picture of his face, was on the front page of The Star newspaper in Johannesburg, South Africa, today. Fascinating, macabre stuff, which led me to do a search on the Internet, and I stumbled onto this excellent site. I’m amazed at Rader’s total lack of remorse, but I guess that’s part of the make-up of serial killers.

  • Nancy

    To tell victims of violence & crime that their assailants are “forgiven” and equal to them in God’s (supposed) love, and that they, too, should forgive, is adding insult to injury. It is for the human institutions here on earth to mete out justice, and if the perpetrator wants forgiveness, he can pray on his own; society has absolutely NO obligation to forgive or forget, and would be unjust & irresponsible in the extreme if it did so. As far as the church continuing to rally ’round the criminal, what about its a priori obligation to protect the innocent – or have they & the victims forfeited their rights & claims to protection and comforting – as well as their lives – to the person who brutalized them? To inflict this sort of spiritual blackmail on the victims as well is to keep victimizing them and add to their pain and outrage; it’s obscenely cruel, callous, and outrageous.

  • Nancy

    You’re right: it IS extremely offensive. And for a lot of us, it’s also unacceptable and patently false, at least in this world.

  • Confess, say a few hail Marys and the crime is forgiven- if only it was that easy.

    Atonement or forgiveness does not mean that one escapes the consequences of one’s actions.

    And since I don’t know what lies on the other side I cannot comment on whether Dahmer was greeted by Jesus, Satan or 12 gay virgins.

  • R.Johnson

    I think that Rader confessed only when he had finally acknowledged that he may never be caught.Isn’t attention the main
    thing that these sub-human scumbags are usually seeking one way or another? Why else would he draw attention to this/his
    case after so many years of not being in the spotlight? Also, even though I’m an atheist I find it hard to believe that “GOD” would be as forgiving of a mass murdering piece of human garbage as he would be of the common run of the mill “Sinner” such as you, me or anyone else who has committed much lesser offense against his fellow man. I don’t understand this concept at all. Not to be snotty about it I just honestly do not understand how this could be so.
    Isn’t “Religion” – The last refuge of scoundrels and criminals or something like that ???

  • Nancy

    What’s the difference? Really want to know. Thanks.