Back when I was young and unbearable, back when Richard Nixon was president, I took a couple of philosophy classes from Dr. Joe Barnhardt. He was extraordinarily casual for a professor of philosophy, habitually singing in the halls before class. I remember him as possessing the kind of intellect that cut through foggy issues and set a course towards clarity, a pragmatic thinker, that is.
I just learned that Prof. Barnhardt was one of the victims of the shooting Sunday at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, TN. Linda Kraeger, who co-wrote Trust and Treachery (a historical novel about Roger Williams, an American leader in the cause of religious tolerance) and an examination of first century Christianity with Barnhardt, was killed in the attack. From what I've been able to learn, she was sitting next to him at the children's play they were attending. When she slumped over, Barnhardt leaned down to help her and was shot. Because he had moved, the shotgun blast hit him off target. Reports tonight indicate he is expected to recover, although his condition is not reported in any of the news items I've scanned online. He is 76 years old. His brother Jack was also shot and is in critical condition. Joe Barnhardt's daughter Linda Chavez is also in critical condition. Her daughter was performing in the play.
The man accused in the shooting is said to have been motivated by a hatred of liberals. It seems he despised their tolerance of gay and lesbian people in particular. Published reports state that police found copies of The O'Rielly Factor, Michael Savage's Liberalism is a Mental Disorder, and Sean Hannity's Let Freedom Ring in his house. The Unitarians who were attacked Sunday belonged to a church that sponsored support groups for area gays.
Once while we were talking after class, Prof. Barnhardt told me "I believe in God, but sometimes I wish nobody else did." He was talking about the terrible crimes committed by people, institutions and governments in the name of God. He was talking about the stupid intolerance that demonizes people who disagree with dogma. Sunday morning, his granddaughter watched as an armed man critically wounded her mother in the name of intolerance.