If you don't mind, I'd like to start your week off with a little self-examination.
Not the kind you give yourself in the shower, even though I would encourage my fellow middle-aged compadres to perform that task periodically.
No, today I'm requesting that you take a little inventory of your mental stockroom, maybe blow the dust bunnies off some of those old crates of conviction and boxes and bins of beliefs. Here's my question:
Throughout your lifetime, would you say that society's attitudes have slowly evolved, that our collective outlook has inched toward a shimmering beacon of enlightenment?
Or not? A lot of empirical data can be sited to support the affirmative.
Despite his sinister upbringing in the Islamo-Marxist madrases of Kenya and Indonesia, Barack Obama, our first African American president, presides over his second term in that roundish office, perusing our children's text messages with impunity and snickering at their profound illiteracy.
Nancy Reagan's best efforts notwithstanding, the war on drugs has shriveled up like her husband's leathery urethra. Finally realizing the futility of stifling supply by drenching forests of coca with flame throwing commandos, we're slowly shining a floodlight on the demand side of the equation. The coach has finally asked the healthcare sector to find its helmet and get into the game; oh, and make sure you high five the prison system when he heads to the sideline. He's been in for quite a while and he looks like he's cramping up.
And finally, after generations of gay people spending their entire lives sitting at a red light without one of those motion detectors, a few of our states have opened the metal box and manually switched it to green. At last, those who can look at each other eye-to-eye while urinating can stand together on the altar.
So, yeah, I definitely see a little progress, but I'd like to discuss an area where I don't see even a sliver of hope. I'll probably piss some of you off, but hey, opinions are like racist uncles, right? Everyone's got one.
My wife and I recently watched a documentary entitled West of Memphis. It's the story of the three teenage boys who came to be known as the West Memphis Three. In 1993, they were tried, convicted and sentenced to death for the sexual mutilation and murder of three eight-year-old boys.
Did physical evidence place any of the teenagers at the crime scene? No. Not one particle of trace evidence contained the DNA of the accused.
Did eye witnesses provide incriminating testimony? Um, nope. In fact, several witnesses vouched for the suspects' whereabouts at the time of the killings.
Did the police interrogate any other persons of interest? Once again, no. They arrested three kids who stood out in the sleepy little burg of West Memphis, Arkansas. Damien Echols, the alleged ring leader, was a black-haired "goth" kid, an introspective smart ass with a passion for the occult. Local law enforcement maintained that Echols held the other two boys, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, under his spell and manipulated them into carrying out his satanic blood ritual.
The three spent eighteen years in maximum security prisons before a groundswell of public outrage and the high-profile support of Peter Jackson, Natalie Maines, Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp, precipitated their release in 2011.
Just like Salem in 1878, just like the Japanese American internment in 1942, just like the McCarthy hearings in 1954 and just like the systematic corralling of Muslim Americans in 2001, the usual suspects were rounded up. It was yet another case of Bible Belt justice, and this belt again cinched around the necks of a group who dared to be different.
Here's where some of my Christian friends may pull the cord on this bus. I blame Christianity.
I don't blame Christ. Jesus' gang could have easily been dubbed "The West Jerusalem Twelve," judging by their ragtag credentials. He didn't organize angry mobs and he didn't threaten nonbelievers with damnation. I hold accountable all the pious and hypocritical white Christians who worship a Jesus who looks more like a member of Supertramp than he does a dark-skinned north African Hebrew, because you are perpetuating this endless cycle of mistrust and loathing.
If Jesus doesn't look like us, we don't understand him. If we don't understand him, we fear him. If we fear him, we hate him.