Friday, July 24, 2009

Beach Killer Joseph Burgess: A Case of Horribly Warped Christianity

Joseph Henry Burgess is dead. So is police Sergeant Joe Harris.

They died in a shoot-out involving Burgess' efforts to burglarize a New Mexico cabin. Joe Harris was one of two New Mexico sheriff's deputies who were hiding in a cabin, watching houses across the street. Of the thousands of cabins in New Mexico, Burgess chose that one to enter. (ThePressDemocrat)

Sad, But What's That Got to Do With a Catholic Blog?

There's quite a grab-bag of topics here, including the propriety of theft (the Catholic Church is against it (Catechism 2408, 2412, 2534)); and whether or not it's okay to own property (yes, according to the Catholic Church (Catechism 2401), but we're expected to use property for the benefit of our family, and of others (Catechism 2404)).

Instead, I'm going to take a superficial look at Joseph Henry Burgess's religious beliefs, Catholic beliefs, and life issues.

The murders that Joseph Burgess is most clearly linked to happened in 1972, in Canada.
"...On June 21, 1972, the bodies of Ann Durrant, 20, and Lief Karlsson, 21, were found in their sleeping bag, shot multiple times in the head at point-blank range on Vancouver Island.

"Burgess was among hundreds of hippies on the island that summer, setting up their tents on the beach, [retired Royal Candadian Mounted Police officer Dan] Creally [who helped investigate the 1972 murders] said....

"...Creally said a woman on the beach told authorities that she had seen Burgess cleaning a .22 caliber rifle and said Burgess had told her he disapproved of Durrant and Karlsson's relationship because they were unmarried. It was not clear what kind of contact, if any, Burgess had with the couple before the killings.

He was gone by the time investigators arrived at the murder scene, but a police dog discovered his belongings, including an identification card and passages from the Bible he had written out, ripped up and discarded nearby, Creally said. His fingerprint was also at the scene....
I didn't discover which Bible verses had been written and ripped. It does look, though, as if Joseph Burgess had strong, if warped, religious views.

Having Sex With People You're Not Married to and/or Animals Isn't Nice

The Catholic Church has made no efforts to conform the Bible, Tradition and the Magisterium, to contemporary social fashions. One thing the Catholic Church is rather picky about is restricting people's sex lives to members of their own species - who they are married to. (Catechism, 2380; Leviticus 18:22-) (The Church's concern for animals doesn't end there: Catechism, 24172418, for starters.)

To hear some people talk, you'd think the Catholic Church was against people having any fun at all.

Murder isn't Nice, Either

As I've written before, "murder isn't nice, and you shouldn't do it." (July 23, 2009) Not even if you're killing someone who's doing something you don't particularly approve of.

From the looks of it, Joseph Henry Burgess had gotten it into to his head that pre- or extra- marital hanky-panky wasn't right. Okay, I can go along with that.

So he killed at least two - and maybe more - people who weren't living the way he thought they should. No way can I go along with that.

People who don't live absolutely one-hundred-percent-pure, upright lives are still human beings. Which severely limits what I think I can do with their lives.
"Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person—among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life...."
Yes, the Catholic Church does - in extreme cases - allow the death penalty. But it's far from recommended. (October 2, 2008)

As for 'what's the big deal with life issues?' - in one of the televised re-tellings of Agatha Christie's Poirot stories, a dreadfully soulful person asked Poirot, "if one is not alive, what is one?" Poirot answered: "Dead, madame."

The way I look at it, once you're dead your options - lifestyle and otherwise - get narrowed down rather drastically. So I don't have much of a problem accepting the rather definite teachings of the Catholic Church on human life. (November 2, 2008)

Why Pick These Articles out of the Week's News?

What got me looking up Joseph Henry Burgess was the headline: "Christian Drifter May Have Killed Two Couples in Separate Beach Murders, Police Say". I hoped this wasn't the start of another wave of 'Christians as dangerous people' journalism, so I started digging. And, it doesn't look like that's happening.

No "Former Altar Boy" Assumptions This Time

Unlike the old 'former altar boy' news stories (December 26, 2008), Burgess's warped version of Christianity actually does seem to be what motivated him to kill a couple at Vancouver Beach, British Columbia in 1972. There's pretty good reason to believe that he's responsible for another couple's death at Jenner beach, Sonoma County, California, in 2004, and there may be others.

Respecting Life: Even the Life of People Who Aren't Doing Nice Things

Burgess is what some people apparently believe is a typical Christian: a nut job who reacts violently when confronted with people who don't live according to his rules. Equating Christianity - and sometimes religion in general - with intolerance and ignorance was a none-too-rare belief when I was going through college, back in the seventies; and that 'sophisticated' belief seems to still be with us. (August 5, 2008, in another blog)

Over a hundred years ago, Chesterton wrote: "There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions." (G. K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News (January 13, 1906), via "Quotations of G. K. Chesterton," American Chesterton Society) Looks like things have slid a bit since then.

Anyway, back to life issues.

I'm not glad that Burgess is dead. I don't approve of murder, and it looks like he is responsible for the early deaths of two, probably four, and maybe more people. That's wrong, and a loss for all of us. But God gave Joseph Henry Burgess life, too: and now that gift is gone, along with whatever Burgess could have done with the rest of his life.

I'll freely grant that Burgess doesn't seem to have made the best possible set of choices about what to do with God's gift to him: but that's another matter.

I'm also sorry that Joe Harris is dead. It's quite a bit easier to work up emotions of loss and sorrow in this case, but again: that's another matter.

Related posts:
In the news:

I'm not allowed to pick and choose which Catholic beliefs I like and reject those which don't fit my preferences. While I'm on the subject, roll-your-own 'Catholic' doctrines aren't a liberal monopoly in America. (June 19, 2009)


Brigid said...

"There's pretty good reason that he's responsible for another couple's death at Jenner beach, Sonoma County, California, in 2004, and there may be others." Might want to take another look at this sentence.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...


Right you are.

>< ouch.

Fixed it.

Anonymous said...

I know for a fact that the couple in Jenner had made a vow to stay pure until marriage. That was proven to be true after the police report came back and said that the young lady was totally pure. Burgess made a mistake. Warped is so true and he was so wrong!!!

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...


You could be right. My second-oldest daughter and my son-in-law-to-be traveled overland up the Mississippi valley earlier this year. I'm confident that they are remaining, as you put it, pure until marriage. But they could have been victims of someone like this man.

I take teachings of the Catholic Church very seriously, so in my view Burgess made a mistake - both or all times he killed.

The corny old phrase, 'hate the sin, love the sinner,' has some wisdom in it.

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