In the Peter Lorre horror film The Beast With Five Fingers, the disembodied hand of a private secretary's dead boss returns to kill his enemies. But the secretary might merely be imagining the killer hand.
In yet another Peter Lorre murderous-hand movie, Mad Love, a concert pianist loses both his hands and has the replacement hands of a dead killer sewn on. The hands, of course, miss their old habits. Or has the pianist gone mad?
If you caught either of these films when they aired on Turner Classic Movies last month, you might've found yourself suspiciously examining your own hands. Look at them hanging there innocently off the end of your arms. Tell them to do something and they obey. But what if the wiring in the mechanism that connects thought to action went haywire?
Earlier this month it happened to a man in Idaho. Believing one of his hands bore the “mark of the beast,” he cut it off and microwaved it.
Maybe you missed the story. The AP reported that the unnamed young man, now in protective custody in the mental-health unit of Kootenai Medical Center, had cut off the offending hand with a circular saw and then immediately dialed 911, presumably with his remaining hand. Sheriff's Capt. Ben Wolfinger said the hand “had been somewhat cooked” by the time police arrived. Police did not reveal which hand had been cut off, but I am going to go out on a limb here—oh no I di'int!—and suggest it was probably his right hand.
Why right? Consider the young man's motivation. Then consider two Bible passages: In the Book of Revelation, an angel is quoted as saying: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink the wine of God's fury.”
And from the Book of Matthew: “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go to hell.”
Let's call the young man “Peter.” Peter is clearly a Bible literalist, drunk on the wine of God's fury that convinces the fearful that a collection of medieval fairy tales is the history of reality.
Peter is just like another young man who recently cut off his hand. Last summer, this also-unnamed young man in Nepal used a kukhuri, a traditional curved Nepalese knife, to chop off his right hand as an offering to the multi-armed Hindu goddess Kali. Depicted as having as many as 10 hands, Kali would likely have preferred a different gift, but it's the thought that counts. Nepalese national news agency RSS reported that the man “offered special worship at the temple this morning.” Let's call the young man “Kukhu,” after the knife he used to appease her terrible majesty.
Notice the main difference between these two nearly identical stories: In the West, Peter is considered insane and rushed to an asylum; in the East, Kukhu is treated with respect and honored for his religious sacrifice.
I suppose there are the superstitious among you who would like to inspect Peter's severed hand for the mark of the beast, demoted in 2005 from 666 to 616—much to the chagrin of Christian numerologists, badass tattooed bikers and fans of The Omen movies—after scholarly inspection of a fragment from the oldest surviving copy of the New Testament.
But a Bible literalist, I suppose, would have to have a grudging respect for Peter akin to the Nepalese treatment of Kukhu, regardless of whether the beast's true area code were visibly emblazoned on the skin of the misbehaving metacarpus.
Religious revelations, after all, tend to be nearly impossible to verify. The True Believer never knows for sure wheather the Beast with 616 Fingers is controlled by the Devil or the mind of the man.
Absent any other factor that would help determine his sanity, you've got to hand it to Pete: Now only his hand is going to Hell. Yes, microwaving is not exactly “throwing away,” but the evil extremity wasn't even done when the cops nabbed him. Perhaps Pete believed cooked meat had less of a chance than fresh in a battle against the blades of his garbage disposal.
Will they honor his profound religious commitment and bury the hand? Or will they selfishly pickle and shelve it for display in an Idaho forensics lab? Or have they already attempted the cruel reattachment of the monstrous mano?
We may never know. Weird news rarely warrants a follow-up.
If only Peter had gotten schooled at the last minute by one of those watered-down selective literalists like Joyce Rogers, author of the Khristianity for Kids Manual, “Do I Really Have to Cut Off My Hand?” I haven't read it yet, but I'm guessing the answer is: “No, children, when you beat the bishop you don't have to actually cut off your hand. God was fucking kidding, alright?” Aspects of Biblical nuttiness that can't be reconciled within a modern lifestyle must be overlooked, expunged or neutered so the contemporary fundamentalist won't have to move to the desert and start a creepy cult.
Today's Christians need not, for example, sacrifice animals, throw rocks at their kids or cut off their hands to please God. Only a primitive exotic god like Kali could appreciate the offering of a chopped-off human hand in the 21st century. Our God has totally mellowed out and would probably be satisfied if you just offered him, like, a Switchfoot CD.
Feel sorry for Pete and Kukhu? You might also want to extend some of that empathy to the unintentionally limbless. They are the only remaining group of modern Westerners whose sacrifice of limbs supposedly still pleases God—the more than 500 U.S. soldiers who've had them blown off in the Iraq War. After all, wasn't it God himself who asked Bush for a hand?
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