One of the best biographies I read in years

The Terrible Beauty of the Evil Man

By Finis Leavell Beauchamp

Finis Coronat Opus, 2014, 395 pages

ISBN 978-0692237885

Cost $12.49

 

This is one of the best biographies I read in years. Finis’ experiences are unusual, even bizarre, but fascinating and thought-provoking. The book is written in language that reminded me of William Faulkner and was a pleasure to read.

Finis writes at age 30 about his experiences since childhood until he converted to Judaism at age 22. Finis was brilliant. He could recall events that transpired soon after he began to crawl. His parents, especially his mother, were from well-known and respected families of fundamentalist Southern Baptists living in the Deep South and leaders of the Movement. It was assumed that he would follow family tradition and be the Movement’s future leader.

Yet, as far back as he could remember he asked questions about his family’s beliefs and practices. His parents were shocked. No one in the community asked such questions. Everyone had the same notions about God and the New Testament. His parents brought an exorcist to drive out the devil who was “obviously” controlling the child. When this failed, his parents beat him an average of three times a day with leather straps and then heavy boards until he was in his mid-teens. Finis had problems at school because of his questions and had to be home taught for part of his childhood by his mother who hit him more fiercely than his father who cried after striking him, until he discovered how to stop them.

As a child, he had an acne problem and girls found him unattractive. When the condition cleared, girls were drawn to him. At age fifteen, while at a party, a thirteen year old girl from a prominent rich family jumped on top of him and tried to have sex with him, but he refused. She was enraged and rushed to the police alleging he raped her.

Finis’ experiences in the Deep South following the charge were horrendous. Although innocent and although a medical examination showed the child wasn’t raped, the judge and later corrupt appeal judge found him guilty. The appeal judge obeyed the girl’s enraged father’s directions because the man was rich and the judge needed his help in getting reelected to his judicial position. Finis’ treatment in a predominantly black prison environment by fellow-prisoners and staff was atrocious and unbearable. He couldn’t defend himself. He had to avoid fights prompted by he being white and good looking, for the judge told him that if he got into any trouble in prison his incarceration would be extended. The judge, prodded by the girl’s father, made him serve longer and in more miserable conditions than his sentence mandated.

Upon release, he had problems because of his criminal record and because his mother rejected him entirely and his father on most occasions because Finis questioned the Christian faith.

Finis abandoned fundamental Christianity and became an agnostic, and then decided to become Jewish. His history of mistreatment continued with the first rabbi he contacted, but then he met a rabbi who helped him.

The story of Finis’ travails is horrifying but interesting. So too are the questions he raises about Christianity and the kind of Judaism that he adopts.

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