Did Dahmer Find God?
A solar eclipse darkened the sky in the middle of the day on May 10, 1994, the day that John Wayne Gacy was executed. To many, the astral event seemed appropriate, if not altogether supernatural. Some also deemed it a celestial condemnation of an event taking place not far away — the full-immersion baptism into the Christian faith of another notorious serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer. He sought to affirm his newfound faith and a minister, Roy Ratcliff, was accommodating him.
In the tradition of books that should have been articles, Ratcliff (with Lindy Adams) writes in Dark Journey, Deep Grace (Leafwood) about his seven-month experience as Jeffrey Dahmer's spiritual mentor, starting with his baptism. He provides a lot of filler with his own background, the tenets of baptism, and the details of Dahmer's arrest and trial, already rehashed in dozens of accounts. What will interest readers, which takes up only about twenty percent of the spare 174 pages, is Dahmer's take on a few Bible verses and his reaction to what Ratcliff teaches him. Even so, there's not much substance to it. Despite Ratcliff's statement that he had come to know Dahmer quite well, as a "friend and brother in faith," he fails to effectively convey it.
Ratcliff insists several times that he seeks no publicity, and yet he allowed a reporter to interview him after the baptism and People magazine to photograph him after Dahmer's murder. Now he publishes a book that sheds almost no light on Dahmer as a person. It's likely readers will see through his naivete especially when he claims that his meeting with the notorious killer was the high point of his week, apparently more exciting than ministering to church members. It's certainly not because of Dahmer's biblical insights or intellectual acumen.
Apart from this slightly disingenuous tone, one can't fault Ratcliff's decision to baptize Dahmer, since Dahmer admitted remorse and a desire to follow the path of righteousness. Ratcliff even knows that many prisoners will fake this or merely be attracted to the structure of religion after the complete lack of it in their criminal lives. Yet the tenets of his faith do allow for someone to be washed clean in the eyes of God once faith has been proclaimed. No matter who might criticize this, Ratcliff is following what he genuinely believes.
But the presentation of his book is nevertheless deceptive. There's very little about Ratcliff's face-to-face encounters with Dahmer, and almost no appreciation for the type of person Dahmer was. "After his arrest," Ratcliff writes, "a veil was lifted. He began to see order and design in the universe. He began to see the case for God." Maybe.
Throughout Dahmer's lifetime, he was an accomplished liar, and there's no indication in his discussions with Ratcliff that he has arrived at any profound insight about what he did. The appearance is this: Dahmer killed 17 young men, kept body parts around, cannibalized human remains, and enjoyed sexually violating the dead. He deprived these victims of their lives. He deprived families of their loved ones. And with baptism, he learns, he can undo all of that and still get to heaven. What a deal!