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Published: Friday, 8/15/2003

The search for balance in faith

BY EILEEN FOLEY

I, for one, was glad to see that 29-year-old Catherine Nicole Donkers, the woman who breast-fed her baby while driving on the Ohio Turnpike, was found guilty of violating child-restraint laws, driving without a valid driver's license, and fleeing police.

I hope she spends all the jail time the judge can give her reflecting on the perversity of the influences that led to her plight.

She said she broke the law, you'll recall, in pursuit of her religion, which apparently requires her to be her husband's puppet, in keeping, he claims, with Mosaic law.

They are not Jewish, but members of the relatively new First Christian Fellowship for Eternal Sovereignty, which has rigid takes on the U.S. Constitution and both Judaic and Christian scriptures. Among other things, they oppose federal law and one of their own philosophers calls Social Security numbers the Mark of the Beast.

Ms. Donkers has said, in effect, that she will take society's punishment, but won't bow to it. But she thrilled to the showboating involved in her well publicized trial. Society's punishment could have come quietly with a $100 fine. But no, she and her husband insisted on a spectacle. He said he should be in the dock in her stead. I liked the idea of tandem better.

To my mind, any woman who lets anyone put her child between herself and a steering wheel, with virtually no protection, while she's keeping up with traffic on the Ohio Turnpike, is as guilty as she is incompetent to be a parent.

Those who want to use public roads must do it on the public's terms. And if they want the rest of us to believe that their way is the way God wants it, they'd better find a way to get God on a loudspeaker. No ex parte dicta, thank you.

There's a lot of politically correct claptrap surrounding the free practice of religion and how everyone ought to respect other people's beliefs. Most is easy to agree to. But not when beliefs are over the edge and anti-social. Not when they're dangerous. Not when they require sovereign individuals to forfeit individual rights, freedoms, and responsibilities, and those conferred on them as citizens of the republic. What if her husband told her to slay the child, or to crash her car? Or hand out Jim Jones Kool-Aid at a picnic? Would she do it?

Is there a real Catherine Nicole Donkers, or a husk on strings manipulated by a man whose need for such extensive psychological control can only measure his own insecurities.

Like Ms. Donkers and her common-law husband, Brad Barnhill, who is 15 years older, there are narcissistic people who think their antisocial mindsets, if they say they are driven by their take on God or scripture, entitle them to be exceptions to society.

The Mormon polygamists fall into this category. And the Muslim woman in Florida whose bizarre thinking led her to believe she was entitled to have a driver's license picture that didn't show her face. So do black Americans who embrace Santeria and other Caribbean and African primitive religions that sacrifice animals more akin to us than we imagined.

Like them, Ms. Donkers insists that because she was following her husband's orders, one of the tenets of their faith, she did no wrong.

At least the American Civil Liberties Union, which has promised an appeal in Florida, hasn't bought into the Donkers' foolishness. Yet.

Religion has, at its best and its purest, had a benign and civilizing effect on individuals and society. When its followers, whoever they are, get rigid and try to politicize doctrine, they tend to turn cruel. The search for balance in faith is as eternal as efforts to balance personal beliefs and behavior against the demands of the larger society. There is no respite for any of us.

Note: I must correct two errors in my last column, both related to a Haaretz article in which I quoted Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas recalling President Bush's remarks to him.

The quote and its attribution were accurate, but the date of the piece was June 24. And Mr. Abbas did not quote Mr. Bush in an interview with Haaretz. The paper took his remarks from minutes of a meeting with other Palestinians.

A mile of mea culpas to all, and special thanks to Grant Hicks who has moved me from double-checks to quadruples.



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