"Devout," "born-again" killers

riaramkissoonjpgHere we go again. We may need to start some kind of petition to the Associated Press to ask for some kind of warning in the stylebook about use of the word "devout" when used to describe religious believers. We have seen similar issues with the word "practicing" in front of the word "Catholic."

The story that pushed this button again is over at CNN and focuses on an utterly bizarre courtroom drama right here in Baltimore. While we are at it, note that this story also uses the loaded word "cult" over and over, although I think few will argue that it is inappropriate in this case -- in terms of religion or sociology. Trust me on that. Here's the top of the story:

A Maryland woman involved with a group described as a religious cult pleaded guilty in the starvation death of her son, but insisted that the charges be dropped when he is resurrected.

The condition was made a part of Ria Ramkissoon's plea agreement, officials said. She entered the plea ... in Baltimore, Maryland, to a first-degree felony count of child abuse resulting in death, her attorney, Steven Silverman, said. ... Ramkissoon, a member of a group called One Mind Ministries, believes Javon Thompson, her year-old son, will rise again, and as part of her plea agreement, authorities agreed to the clause.

"She certainly recognizes that her omissions caused the death of her son," Silverman said. "To this day, she believes it was God's will and he will be resurrected and this will all take care of itself. She realizes if she's wrong, then everyone has to take responsibility ... and if she's wrong, then she's a failure as a mother and the worst thing imaginable has happened. I don't think that, mentally, she's ready to accept that."

There are more details here than you would ever want to know about the tragic death of the child and the storage and transporting of the body while the group's leaders waited for his resurrection. The term "brainwashing" is used several times and that certainly sounds accurate, too.

What did the boy do wrong?

Ramkissoon and the others are accused of denying Javon food after the group's leader, a 40-year-old woman who goes by the name Queen Antoinette, decreed the boy was a demon since he refused to say "amen" after meals, Silverman said.

Finally, here is the passage in the story that simply begs for some kind of explanation, some timeline that puts the vague words into proper context.

Court documents say Ramkissoon joined One Mind Ministries after Javon's birth in 2005. Silverman described her as a petite, soft-spoken woman who rejected her family's Hindu religion, became a devout Christian and wanted to raise her son in that religion. ...

The group insisted she wear a uniform the colors of royalty: white, tan and blue; give up her cell phone; stop referring to her family members by name; and not leave her home on her own, among other things. ...

Say what? To be blunt, does One Mind Ministries sound like a congregation that can be called a traditional Christian body of any kind? So in what sense did Ramkissoon become a "devout Christian" by joining this cult and swearing life-and-death allegiance to Queen Antoinette? The story, of course, gives us no information at all that would link this group to Christian faith in any way. Does it? Did I miss something?

Did this young mother become a Christian and THEN get pulled into this group? Is there a missing stage of this story?

By the way, readers have raised similar questions about another CNN report about another legal battle, this time in Cambodia. Check this out:

Kaing Guek Eav is an elderly former math teacher and a born-again Christian. He is also -- prosecutors contend -- a former prison chief with Cambodia's Khmer Rouge movement who oversaw the torture and killing of more than 15,000 men, women and children three decades ago.

That's it. That's all we are told.

So this man was a born-again Christian at the time he tortured and killed people? Or did he embrace Christian faith later in his life, perhaps as some kind of repentance for his deeds? What, pray tell, is the timeline here? What happened when?

I mean, was the infamous Khmer Rouge movement just packed with born-again Christians? Is this a major story that reporters have been missing for decades? Oh my. That would be news.

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