Last year in September, one of South Dakota’s kindest months, a Sioux Falls mother murdered her husband and 7-year-old son, then turned the gun on herself.
Although the event was horrific and sad in every respect, of particular relevance to this blog is why Stephanie Hoover, 35, the mother of three other pre-teens, including a 1-year-old, decided Zachary, among all her children, must be the one to die.
A ‘beautiful soul’
Zachary, a “beautiful soul,” as his mother described him in a suicide note, was “a struggle to deal with” because of difficult behavioral issues, according to a May 6 report in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader newspaper.
“[Zachary’s] better off with his momma in heaven where I can take care of him and be at peace,” Stephanie wrote in the note.
There were also extenuating material circumstances that led this troubled woman to make such a homicidal decision in the first place. The most unnerving one apparently was panic that her embezzlement of tens of thousands of dollars would be discovered by her employer, Southridge Healthcare, where she worked as an accounts receivable specialist.
She also claimed in her note, vigorously disputed by her husband Rob’s father, that Rob didn’t make enough money in his job as a group-home manager to support his surviving children and would also be unable to care for them properly in her absence.
Heaven: a religious myth
Though irrational in their extreme resolution and, in any event, tragically wrongheaded, Stephanie’s concerns could certainly be termed “real-world.” But her magical thoughts related to Zachary involved a nonexistent realm that is unfortunately almost always considered real in our majority-Christian culture. In truth, our eclectic visions of “heaven” are as diverse and populous as people on the planet, and each is completely trapped within an individual minds, forever safe from material scrutiny.
To argue that Mrs. Hoover was simply struggling with emotional or mental issues is a cop-out, however true that may be. The ever-present American narrative of divine redemption is the deeper motivator and, more importantly, perceived justifier. Indeed, how can choosing the godly path ever be misguided?
The road to perdition
Every time a legal, constitutionally authorized abortion doctor is murdered by Christian pro-life zealots, that is people following the ostensibly godly path.
Every time Christian Identity white supremacists motivated by fears of supposedly imminent (but never occurring) Armageddon kill people while fighting the anti-Christ (government), they are following the same path.
Whenever devout Pakistani Muslim domestic terrorists kill outspoken religious skeptics, they are following the exact same godly path as murderous Christians.
Which is never to tar all the faithful with the same brush. The vast majority of human beings, enthralled with gods or not, are good, decent, kindly folk.
The point is that believing in things that cannot be substantiated can lead directly to tragedy. It’s irresponsible, sometimes even criminal, not to think through our intuitive beliefs rationally before acting.