Jewish World Review Sept. 5, 2003 / 8 Elul, 5763

Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.
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Moral weight of pro-life movement is compromised every time it produces a zealot like Paul Hill | Paul Hill died happily Wednesday night.

He went into the afterlife with taxpayer-supplied poisons leaking into his veins. In the hours before his execution, he told reporters he expected to receive a grand reward upon arrival in Heaven because he had done what G-d told him to.

I am a religious man, and it is pretty common in my circle for people to report conversations with the Almighty. One friend says G-d told him to organize a crusade to stop people in his city from killing one another. Another says G-d steered her away from making $8,000 a week as a television writer and told her to study for the ministry instead. My mother used to tell us how G-d consoled her when doctors said my sister, a tiny infant, prematurely born, was probably going to die. Mom said she stopped weeping immediately. My sister will be 39 this year.

So I'm used to G-d talking to people. Still, I am, shall we say, perturbed by the idea that He told someone to procure a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun and commit double homicide.

But that's how Hill - a former minister turned anti-abortion extremist - always justified his actions in July 1994. He said he killed an abortion provider, Dr. John Britton, and his bodyguard, James Barrett, outside a Pensacola, Fla., clinic because the Lord wanted him to. The Lord ordered him to whack a guy.

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Sounds more like the Godfather than G-d.

I'll tell you something else that strikes me as strange. Every person I've ever known who says G-d told them to do something has struggled with it, usually because what G-d wanted was not what they did.

The guy who leads the anti-violence campaign dithered about it for years, concerned about how much of his life it would consume. The woman who turned her back on TV riches revisited that decision when overdue notices began piling up in the mailbox.

Small wonder. You feel that nudge at the rim of consciousness compelling you to take a leap, pushing you toward something you could never have conceived on your own, and it's only natural to feel stirrings of doubt. To say, Hey, G-d, is that really you? Are you sure about this? 'Cause it doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

Hill, however, seems to have been a stranger to doubt. The idea of committing the murder first came to him shortly before he actually did it, he told a reporter once, "and as each day passed, I became more certain."

Indeed. Certain enough that he shot two men to death to express his reverence for life.

Now Hill is gone to what he was sure would be a great reward. And one wonders if it ever occurred to him - if it occurs even now to those who seek to wrap his corpse in a martyrdom flag - that his reasoning is identical to that of a Palestinian suicide bomber, those pious lunatics who commit murder in the assurance that they will be awarded virgins in Heaven.

As if G-d were not just a hit man but also a pimp.

For the record, I find it chilling to think government could force a woman to bear a child. And I am galled by those people who seem to think the only purpose of sex is procreation. I'm honest enough to admit, though, that the pro-life folks get to me sometimes. There is a certain moral weight to their observation that abortion stills a beating heart.

But that weight is compromised every time the movement produces a zealot like Paul Hill.

I don't mind telling you, people like him scare me. People who have every answer and never a single question, people blessedly assured that extremism in the defense of their cause is no vice ... such people seem less righteous than self-righteous. And dangerous.

Doubt is not a sin. It is the product of a rational mind, a fail-safe against arrogance and error. Against creating G-d in our own image. All of which Hill was emphatically guilty of.

Someone once asked him if Jesus would have pulled the trigger on that 12-gauge.

"Absolutely," he said.

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