At the mention of 473 people executed in Texas, more than four times greater than the next highest state, Virginia, at 109, a Tea Party audience burst into applause even before Rick Perry could defend this grisly record. Emboldened by the applause, or perhaps not needing to be, Perry brushed off the notion that even one of those 473 might have been innocent.
Many cultures worshiped gods of death: the ancient Greeks had Hades, lord of the underworld; the ancient Egyptians had Osiris, and built temples to death—the pyramids. The ancient Hebrews had a fierce tradition of blood sacrifice and a Destroying Angel, who was enlisted to smite the Egyptians’ first born. In European cultures, death was personified by the Grim Reaper, the Hangman, the Angel of Death.
The inevitability of death gives it such power that some see it as a malevolent god to be appeased. Western medicine places avoidance of death above quality of life; people who do not wish their bodies to be kept alive by pumps, tubes, and breathing machines, must put a legal document into a doctor’s hands, and even then may not be allowed to die with dignity.
Abraham proved that he feared God by his willingness to sacrifice, Isaac, his son. Does some mix of fear, faith, and tortured logic goad the Tea Party to worship death, to offer blood sacrifice in the form of condemned criminals, relieving themselves of any need for personal blood sacrifice? Does it drive them to create this special caste—criminals—whose loss they are permitted to celebrate, at the same time that they placate their god? If that is the case, then innocence of the victims is not important.
Wise minds are needed to ponder such behavior. But it does not take special wisdom to recognize the threat they pose to a nation that prizes its rationality, its tradition of justice, and its sanity.