The Nightmare of Christianity | The Nation


The Nightmare of Christianity

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Having refused one of the last means of human contact available to him, Murray plunged into a sinkhole of loneliness. His online postings now read like death wishes. In one of his final screeds, dated July 7, 2007, Murray offered a garbled attempt at death metal lyrics that captured his sense of complete despondency:

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Max Blumenthal
Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles...

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Reform legislation has stalled, and the private-prison industry is making obscene profits from a captive population.

In a bloody career that spanned decades, he destroyed entire cities and presided over the killing of countless civilians.

... I am crying here in a buried kennel
I have never felt so final
Someone help me please, losing all reserve
I am f***ing gone, I think I am fu**ing dying
You all stare, but you ll never see
There is something inside me ...
Cut me! beat me! molest me! abuse me! @#%$ me! hate me!
break me! Rape me! kill me! show me!
Here is my purity ......
Enter this nightmare....

Murray's desire to realize his emotional and intellectual aspirations had become completely blocked. His self-esteem and sense of spontaneity evaporated into a heavy cloud of hopelessness. At the same time, his destructive impulses grew. The self-described "rejected sheltered Christian boy" openly contemplated suicide, cutting his arms with sharp objects when his anxiety seemed unbearable. He burrowed himself into the mass-marketed aesthetic of goth culture, from Satanist screeds to plastic pagan chum to the calculated gloom of commercial death metal, still finding time to download literally thousands of fetishistic porn images on his computer. Murray had become what Erich Fromm called the "necrophilious character," a personality whose fixation on death leads them to acts of malignant destructiveness.

As Murray nourished his death obsession, his behavior grew increasingly aggressive. On July 22, he posted a diary entry boasting about haranguing his mother and mocking her "favorite pastor," Ted Haggard, or, as he called him, "Ted Faggard." "Hey, bit,ch [sic]," Murray said he barked in his mother's face, "using drugs, alcohol and having gay sex, I'm just trying to do what any Christian pastor would do, at least I'm not doing meth like Ted Haggard...but maybe I will try it and maybe I'll just OD on stuff just so I don't have to deal with you anymore..."

The violent rage roiling inside Murray overwhelmed his sense of self-pity. He was intent on suicide, but first Murray wanted to kill as many tongue-talking Pentecostal zealots as he could. Those who constantly invoked the wiles of Satan to frighten him into submission, or impelled him to wage "spiritual warfare" against the secular Enemy were the true spawn of the Devil. "You Christians brought this on yourselves," Murray proclaimed. "All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you...as I can especially Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world."

As winter approached, Murray acquired a fearsome arsenal of assault rifles, including a Bushmaster XM-15 ("Beltway Sniper" John Lee Malvo's weapon of choice) and an AK-47. At a local UPS store where Murray maintained a mailbox, employees observed that he was ordering "boxes and boxes" of ammunition. Murray's bogus tales of preparing to deploy with the Marines quelled whatever suspicions burned-out UPS employees might have had. Meanwhile, Murray's parents, who were adept at ferreting secular media material from his desk drawers, had no idea his stockpile even existed.

Late in the evening on December 8 (the same day that a psychotic young man named Mark David Chapman killed John Lennon in 1980), Murray suited up in black military fatigues, gathered two automatic rifles, three semiautomatic pistols and 1,000 rounds of ammo, then jumped in his car. Besides his weapons, Murray carried in his pants pocket Aleister Crowley's The Book of the Law, a tract the author claimed to have transcribed from messages dictated to him by ancient Egyptian gods, and which he summarized in one phrase: "Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law."

In the back seat of Murray's car was another of his favorite books. It was I Had to Say Something, by Mike Jones [a former escort who had an affair with Haggard].

Murray sped toward Arvada, where the Youth with a Mission complex stood. The time for spiritual warfare had come. Upon arriving at the complex, he stomped to the front desk and demanded to stay overnight. A receptionist calmly refused his demand. Without hesitation, Murray whipped out a .40 caliber semiautomatic Berretta pistol and opened fire on a group of staffers chatting away as they wandered out of a Christmas banquet.

Tiffany Johnson was caught in Murray's fusillade. An affable 24-year-old who said she spent one night every week ministering to adolescent skateboarders involved in "drugs, cutting, branding, and hurting others," Johnson fell and died instantly. A studious 26-year-old named Philip Crouse, who spent part of a summer vacation constructing a house for impoverished residents of the Crow Indian reservation in Montana, was also hit while rushing to stop Murray. Crouse crumpled to the floor and died beside Johnson. Murray fled the blood-soaked complex, fired up his car, and sped away to complete his mission. Days earlier he seethed, "God, I can't wait till I can kill you people. Feel no remorse, no sense of shame, I don't care if I live or die in the shoot-out."

Murray's next stop was the New Life Church.

While police fanned out through Arvada in a frantic search for the still-unidentified YWAM shooter, Murray pulled into the New Life parking lot. At 1 pm, as worshippers filed out of afternoon services, Murray sprayed a hail of bullets at the crowd with his Bushmaster rifle. He struck two teenaged sisters, Stephanie and Rachel Works, who had recently returned from missionary trips to Brazil and China, killing them instantly. He then charged into the church's main foyer, unaware that Haggard's replacement, Brady Boyd, had authorized as many as thirty parishioners to carry concealed weapons into his spiritual sanctuary, presumably to guard against hell-bent invaders like him. One of Boyd's volunteer guards, Jeanne Assam, an ex-cop who became born again after the Minneapolis police department fired her for lying, sprinted toward Murray, shouting, "Surrender!" again and again. Murray refused to comply. Assam leapt forward, directly in the line of Murray's fire, and peeled off a clip from her pistol, lightly wounding the black-clad shooter in the leg. He retreated. Moments later, he shot himself in the head and died.

All four of Murray's victims were youthful, mostly home-schooled and extremely idealistic. They could have been his roommates at YWAM or could have joined him in a Christian youth fellowship. They seemed so much like him, at least on the surface. So did he single them out? Although there is no conclusive answer, Murray's acknowledged grievances hint at his motives. Each of his victims represented to him the obedient, unquestioning religious automaton he was required to be but never could become. They had embarked on the exotic foreign missions he had been rejected for, discovering friendship and even (nonsexual) wholesome romance while he languished in his room--his "buried kennel." The blithe everyday existence of these shiny, happy Jesus people was Murray's "Christian nightmare."

Like the sadistic antagonists of William Golding's Lord of the Flies Murray's violent impulses had been constrained only by what Golding called the "invisible yet strong...taboo of the old life...the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law." When he mowed down his peers, Murray hoped to demonstrate his complete contempt for the civilization of adults, along with all its corruption, cruelty and internal contradictions. His victims, then, were no more than "littluns" he sacrificed to exact his revenge, to make Colorado Springs weep for the end of innocence long after order returned. Murray's real targets were his rigid parents, their draconian childrearing gurus and the prying pastor who raided his room--the architects of his "Christian nightmare."

The evangelical hierarchy's handling of the Haggard scandal had hardened Murray's murderous intentions. Both Murray and Haggard were unable to fulfill their essential selves within the strict confines of Pentecostal culture, so each of them sought an escape through drugs and illicit sex. But whereas Murray openly embraced his turn to decadence, Haggard concealed his secret life behind bombastic expressions of religious fervor. After Haggard was unmasked as a fraud, however, he was pronounced "completely heterosexual" by the movement's elders in only three weeks. Murray, who had been irrevocably rejected for abandoning his faith, was stung by this spectacle of cheap grace. "I want to know where was all the love, mercy and compassion for my supposed imperfections?" he wrote despairingly.

The mainstream media made little effort to analyze the trauma-wracked mentality that drove Murray to violence, opting instead for a tight focus on the more sensational aspects of his killings. When cable news arrived on the scene of the crime, it sketched a haphazard portrait of Murray hardly distinguishable from that of Eric Harris [one of the two Columbine High School shooters], Cho Seung-Hui [the Virginia Tech gunman], or John Lee Malvo. He was just another young male nutcase with a gun, or, according to CNN anchor Rick Sanchez, a killer motivated exclusively by "his hate for certain Christians." When Sanchez interviewed Marlene Winell, the psychiatrist who attempted to counsel Murray, her attempts to assess the impact that Murray's religious indoctrination had had in shaping his destructive behavior were brushed aside.

During the brief moments in which Sanchez allowed Winell to speak, she attempted to explain the obvious, that Murray's destructive actions were influenced at least in part by what she called "a crazy-making system that has all sorts of circular reasoning. It's got bottom line rules like, 'Don't think, don't respect your own feelings in any way.' Small children are told they're going to burn in Hell. And if it doesn't work for you...[you are told that] it's your fault."

Sanchez crinkled his brow in deep indignation. Finally, he cut in on his guest. "While I disagree with much of what you said as a Christian," he snapped at Winell, "I certainly respect your right to say it." Sanchez suddenly became exasperated. "You're not blaming the faith for this, are you?" he wanted to know. "I mean a man has free will!" Before Winell could respond, Sanchez terminated the interview.

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