Thoughts on Troy Davis and American Morality
This post was originally published at Crooks & Liars.
“I will always err on the side of life.”
Rick Perry, signed off on 234 executions
Dearest Web Log,
This virtual space has, so far, been dedicated to my slapstick encounter with the American police state. But with the execution of Troy Davis, a few false charges and a potential year in jail seems like such a white thing to complain about. Like my socks and sandals don’t match my cargo shorts or something.
Davis’s murder (may read differently depending on your politics) brings to light a profoundly darker comedy called American Morality. It’s funny in the way that absurd non sequiturs can be, like monkey pajamas, or Fox News.
As a nation, we don’t have a real good handle on the whole morality thing.
For instance, and this is not a joke, some people profess to know with absolute certainty that our moral code was dictated by an all-powerful space ghost, who sculpted us out of magic clay, and transcribed on stone by a mountain-climbing desert-hobo who looked a great deal like Charlton Heston.
The people who believe these things are called idiots. Maybe you’ve seen them infesting our politics and poisoning our culture…at last week’s Fox News #googledebate.
Bachmann and Perry are both – to varying degrees – Dominionists, which means they’re trying to conquer the “seven mountains” of cultural power by conducting “strategic level spiritual warfare” against the “higher level demons” who currently control eastern religions, witchcraft, Freemasonry, and the heathen souls of all non Christians around the globe, like PZ Myers.
Romney and Hunstman are Mormons, which means they ostensibly believe that God lives on the planet Kolob and, if they’re extra good Mormons, they’ll become Gods themselves in the afterlife. And don’t get me started on the Golden Tablets or the Jewish Native Americans.
Even Newt Gingrich has to pretend to be a good, God-fearing non-sack of walking excrement.
Ron Paul says he believes that life starts at conception, and that evolution is just a theory, but he only genuinely worships at the deregulated altar of Ayn Rand.
Herman Caine is a Baptist minister. And his 999 deal means that he’s is definitely not the pizza-slinging Antichrist.
And Rick Santorum is so religious he’s an obvious homosexual.
Troy Davis didn’t come up at the debate, which, in this blogger’s opinion, was a huge missed opportunity for the candidates to connect with the base by singing another patriotic rendition of “Let him die!” The crowd did boo a gay soldier, so there was that rare moment of Republican honesty – and when Mitt Romney said, “There are a lot of reasons not to vote for me.”
And that’s what morality ultimately boils down to: honesty. Intellectual honesty about what makes what moral and why. (Or about global warming, vaccines, etc.) It’s no longer good enough to say it’s in the Bible. In Psalms, God bestows his blessing on those who smash babies against rocks. We all know it’s wrong to do that, so the religious minded are forced to cherry-pick the Bible, for passages that justify their inherent ethical character – whether it’s giving to the poor or dreaming of stoning homosexuals to death while they masturbate.
It’s a real grab bag, across America’s political-religious spectrum, but the Republican field is on record as being firmly against giving to the poor.
Our economic morality, or intense lack thereof, is a nice example of religious thinking based on intellectual dishonesty. This is Ron Paul’s altar of Rand – not the Aqua Buddha guy.
All we ever hear about, and are impoverished by, is supply-side bunk. I mean, when’s the last time you heard something about demand-side economics? You shouldn’t have to because that phrase is redundant. The sad thing is that people don’t know that…word.
(Just a side note: I bought a $5 pizza the other day using Groupon. It was so cheap because enough people signed on to the deal, and lowered the price by buying in bulk. Apply this capitalist principle to government-negotiated prescription costs or single-payer health care, however, and God will punish the U.S. for being evil, atheist socialists. Probably with a hurricane. OK?)
The foundation of ethics erodes quickly on a ground of lies. From our religion to our news sources, we are not an intellectually honest people. The instances of untruth on Fox News are myriad, but here’s their spin on the last words of Troy Davis:
Convicted Cop Killer Troy Davis Told Family of Victim That He Was ‘Sorry for Their Loss’ Before Execution
And here’s what he actually said, according to an AP reporter present:
I’d like to address the MacPhail family. Let you know, despite the situation you are in, I’m not the one who personally killed your son, your father, your brother. I am innocent.
The incident that happened that night is not my fault. I did not have a gun. All I can ask … is that you look deeper into this case so that you really can finally see the truth.
I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight…
How they got from that to saying he was ‘sorry’ is…confusing, like palm trees in Madison, Wisconsin, or how the tides work.
American morality is not only conflated with our primitive religion, it’s held captive by our political leanings, and actually confused for empirical fact via motivated reasoning. The modern news consumer knows what they want to hear before they hear it, so we cherry-pick news sources the same way we do the bible. It’s called confirmation bias, and the entire Murdoch empire is built upon this model. (And, yes, while this does happen for anti-vaccination nuts and 9/11 Truthers on the left, it’s not at all an equivalent phenomenon.)
Funny, these days the sentiments of an atheist are usually far more “Christian” than the thoughts of the religious. The aforementioned prominent atheist PZ Myers said this about Troy Davis:
As I said before, I don’t care whether he was guilty or innocent, the death penalty is barbarous and irrevocable. There was no justice this evening, only vengeance.
Bryan Fischer spokesman for the American Family Association, one of the sponsors of Rick Perry’s day of fasting and prayer, wrote an op-ed a couple weeks before Troy Davis’s murder entitled:
Is the death penalty Christian? Of course it is.
This was likely the longest possible way of saying that religion does not equate to morality. Religious people can be moral, and atheists need not be (GRRR STALIN!!!), but we just don’t seem to get this – unless we’re talking about Islam. As one small example of many, the town of Bay Minette, Alabama is now giving nonviolent offenders an option between jail time and church time. Seriously.
I left off Troy Davis’s final-final words because they’re the most depressing of all:
For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls.
And that’s the sad ironing of it all. The oppressed and the oppressors both live under God’s racist, murderous thumb.
(And, of course, I know that a) many of our leaders who profess religiosity are lying and b) corporate power structures may conveniently overlap with religious goals but they’re not intrinsically religious.)
Maybe it’s in poor taste to criticize the religious conviction of the victim, and religion has historically been a force of good in the civil rights movement, but I can’t help feel that religion in this country has reached its righteous limits. It’s a very old sentiment that religion keeps the masses obedient and docile, but as our understanding of the world has evolved, it seems clearer all the time.
As Sam Harris argues that the belief of religious moderates provides cover to religious extremists, it’s my contention that the righteously religious (yes, they exist) lend a similar credence to barbaric fools who want to “fix” gay people and find no moral dilemma in state-sanctioned murder – despite the glaring edict “Thou shalt not kill.”
Maybe I’m off entirely blaming religion for out contorted sense of morality. As labor writer Mike Elk recently pointed out in the context of Troy Davis, Don Blankenship, the Massey Energy CEO ultimately responsible for the death of 29 at their Upper Big Branch mine in’10, hasn’t served one day in jail. And NYC police dusted off a 150 year-old law against wearing masks to arrest protestors on Wall Street while the hedge fund, banking crooks who ruined the world economy have proven themselves immune to prosecution. This is, in essence, a continuing battle between the haves and the have-nots. (And as of Saturday, the police in lower Manhattan have gone into full-on gatekeeper mode, attacking and unlawfully arresting scores of peaceful protesters.)
But looking at those wackos up on the Republican debate stage in Orlando, it seems obvious that religion is not helping. Remember the “Seven Mountains” of cultural power sought by the Dominionists: home, church, business/technology, arts/entertainment, education, and media. They seek not a convenient overlap between corporate control and religious dogma, but literal dominion over the entire kaboodle.
The prevailing trend in countering our nation’s perverse, religion-infested, Republican-steeped sense of morality is to fight delusional fire with delusional fire. Democratic consultant, and founder of the American Values Network, Burns Strider is at the fore, fighting anti-social Republican dogma with the true values of Christianity (by hilariously pitting Jesus against Ayn Rand).
But it’s past time to decide whether we want to be Old Testament thugs or New Testament hippies. It’s time to decide whether we want justice based in reality or justice based in fairy tales — whether religious, moral, or economic.