Dr. Boyd C. PurcellBy Dr. Boyd C. Purcell

There is no better example of spiritual insanity than the horrific case of Andrea Yates who killed all five of her young children in Houston, Texas, June 20, 2001. God, according to Biblical literalists, does not just command the execution of children, who will not obey their parents, (Deut. 21), God will do far worse—judge, condemn, and throw them into literal hell fire eternally!

Preachers, who are literalists and legalists, often quote Jesus, per the KJV, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). Children, who have reached the “age of accountability,” as well as adults, must accept Christ and live “right”—be spiritually perfect! Even if one has accepted Christ, dying suddenly without having confessed every sin, means being condemned to the fire of hell, on Judgment Day, where there will be eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt. 13:40-42).

Catholics believe in purgatory where they will go to suffer for venial sins [mortal sins are forever] and then go on to heaven. But with Protestants, who do not believe in purgatory, it is all or nothing—heaven or eternal hell! This crazy theology appears to be what pushed Andréa Yates over the edge to killing all her children: Noah (7), John (5), Paul (3), Luke (2), and Mary (6 months)!

With experience as a psychotherapist in a psychiatric hospital, my mind naturally asks, “What was it about Yates’ situation which caused her to murder her five children?” Even if she were not legally insane, Yates was certainly spiritually insane due to the insane religious teaching she had been receiving for years in Christian fundamentalism. After Yates killed her children, a psychiatrist came to see her in jail and asked her about what she understood her religious teachings to mean about her as a mother. She gave this response: “The way I was raising them they could never be saved. They were doomed to perish in the fires of hell.”

Kill them to save them? Of course, it is crazy thinking; that is why it is spiritual insanity! This is not an isolated teaching about children being in danger of eternal torment in hell. Frightened by a survey finding that Evangelical Christians, including one third of all college and seminary students, have rejected the doctrine of eternal punishment, the President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), in 1990, apparently encouraged John Gerstner to write a book in defense of this doctrine. The result was the publication of Repent or Perish. If this book only represented the extreme views of Gerstner, I would not even bother quoting any of his theological statements, but the NAE represents 30 million Evangelical Christians in 45 thousand churches.

President White wrote the foreword to Gerstner’s book in which he highly praised him for such a fine work. He concluded, “The Evangelical community needs the clarity, logic, and forthrightness that have always been the style of John Gerstner. Dr. Gerstner, we are again indebted to you and we say—‘thank you.’” White claims that this book expresses Evangelical theology. Gerstner contends that it is the “right” interpretation for all “true” Christians. Is this quote wise counsel or spiritual insanity? Readers, you decide:

Why, then, do almost all seem to oppose frightening children with hell? The answer is obvious: they wrongly fancy that children are not in danger of hell. There are three imagined reasons for supposing that children are in no danger of hell. Some think children are innocent of sin and guilt. Some admit that they are not innocent, but are saved from sin by being born again in infant baptism. Some fancy that though little sinners, not regenerated in baptism, children are, nonetheless, safe in the covenant of grace. Infants are not innocent, but born in guilt and sin. So until children are born again, they are in imminent peril of eternal damnation and should be made aware of it as soon as possible.

Forget theology, just plain common sense and basic logic says that this is a case of horrific spiritual insanity! Such theology defames the name of God, insults the love of God, and negates the grace of God!

Update on Andrea Yates

On March 27, 2012, various media reported that Yates might be released by the court from the mental institution, where she has been confined, since winning her guilty-verdict appeal, to be able to attend Sunday services at a church in the Houston area. It has been almost 13 years since she murdered her children. Andrea is now 49 years of age, and is not going to be having more children, so she is no threat to kill children she might have. She will be no threat to other people’s children, since she would feel no responsibility for them. George Parnham, her attorney, said that the teachings of the church she wants to attend are 180 degrees different than the hell-fire teachings of the evangelist, which caused her to kill her children. According to Parnham, Yates just wants God to be a positive factor in her life.

In the Christian Universalist’s Newsletter last month, I wrote an article on the prevention of spiritual child abuse. If Andrea Yates had heard the message of God’s everlasting unconditional love for all people whereby God will, ultimately, destroy sin and reconcile each and every person to God’s self, Yates children would probably still be alive. Let us not be hell fear mongers as almost all are who identify themselves as “Bible-believing” Christians. The plain truth is that when fire is understood metaphorically to symbolize purification, rather than literally as eternal torment, all major religions teach universal salvation. Therefore, let’s be ambassadors of peace for Christ (II Cor. 5:17-20) to prevent child abuse and bring peace to our troubled world unnecessarily torn by religious strife.

Boyd C. Purcell, Ph.D., Author of these books:
Spiritual Terrorism: Spiritual Abuse from the Womb to the Tomb and
Christianity Without Insanity: For Optimal Mental/Emotional/Physical Health
Websites: HealingSpiritualTerrorism.com and ChristianityWithoutInsanity.com
April 20, 2014