I can’t shake the wave of sadness that hit me with Saturday’s verdict in Sanford, Florida. If I was religious it might have shaken my faith but because I’m not it might have strengthened it. Let me explain.
I was raised by an angry atheist. My father blames God for the death of my little brother and I can’t blame or judge him for that reaction because I don’t have kids and can’t fathom the pain of wrongfully losing one. But here’s how it played out. Growing up in my household, people who need the Bible to make decisions about right and wrong were ridiculed. That’s what brains are for. You shouldn’t do the right thing only for fear of eternal damnation. People who do bad things and then ask for forgiveness on Sunday are hypocrites. Religion caused all wars, yada yada yada.
I rebelled, as all teenagers do, and got a full scholarship to a Church of Christ college and found my religion classes to be the most meaningful of my entire academic experience. I’ve come to realize that my father’s objections to God essentially pivot on the problem of evil, which is not that different than where I part ways with organized religion.
But stewing over the Trayvon Martin verdict yet again this morning, I realized that my secular worldview is equally incapable of solving the problem of evil. I like to think that the principles of democracy can preserve human dignity and promote collective consciousness. I accept the rules and laws arrived at through this secular system even when they are personally inconvenient or overreaching. Basically I’ve substituted one rule-book-and-punishment approach for the one ridiculed by my father.
The problem is, the secular system of right and wrong failed Trayvon Martin. Rules and laws written by fallible men made it possible for a lawyer to defend George Zimmerman in open court by calling a teenager, walking on a sidewalk, “armed” with concrete. Our secular system justifies one man following another, hiding a weapon and shooting to kill when he begins to lose a fight with someone half his size.
Even if Zimmerman has not a racist bone in his body, he couldn’t see that if everyone behaves the way he did it would end civilization. He showed no evidence of an internal moral compass, at least the kind you need to make decisions without the aid of religious beliefs. Zimmerman couldn’t see how wrong his actions were because he had a rulebook to rationalize them.
I’ve read the Bible in its entirety. I don’t refer to it everyday or consider it infallible, but what I remember of its commandments makes much more sense than the laws that allowed Zimmerman to escape any consequences at all.