A call for more compassion, even if this asshat doesn’t deserve it.

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There’s been a fascinating, if somewhat troubling, story floating around recently.  A man in Utah has decided to go on a hunger strike to fight the legalization of gay marriage in his home state.  Trestin Meacham has announced that he will continue his fast until Utah overturns the court’s decision overturning the state’s ban on gay marriage.  He suggests that state nullify’s the court’s ruling.

Before I get to my main point, there’s a lot that I need to unpack here.  Meacham has no idea what he’s talking about.  He’s convinced that the state of Utah can just ignore a federal court’s ruling and reinstate their ban on gay marriage.  He said,

“They don’t have to go through the legal court battles and waste our money, they can end it tomorrow with the act of nullification,”

Unfortunately for him, he’s only showing that he doesn’t even have a basic understanding of American history.  Meacham points to Thomas Jefferson’s objection to the power of the courts in the US, saying,

“Jefferson made clear that the courts are not the supreme arbitrators of what is and what is not constitutional. The states also have power.”

Which is true, Jefferson did first develop the doctrine of nullification.  However, just because Jefferson said something doesn’t mean it actually has any legal authority.  The validity of the nullification doctrine has been rejected time and time again by the courts.  The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution establishes that federal law takes precedence over state law.  States have no more right to nullify or ignore federal law then civilians have the right to nullify state law.

Meacham’s shoddy understanding of constitutional law is, for the most part, irrelevant.  What’s disturbing, though, is how he is using a hunger strike to attempt to limit the rights of other people.  He’s so convinced that two consenting adults getting the same legal rights as he has harms him that he feels the need to make a dramatic stance against it.  And as I discussed the other day, only religion could make somebody believe that two people loving each other could possibly harm anyone else.

Which leads me to my main point.  Since Meacham’s opposition to marriage equality is religiously motivated, his story has been widely discussed in the atheist community.  To put it lightly, those of our community have had some pretty nasty things to say about him.  Some of the language used when discussing Meacham has been disturbingly fierce.

Usually there’s some firebrands who take an extreme view, or trolls who are just trying to stir the pot with any story like this.  This time, though, the hatred and vitriol is pretty ubiquitous throughout the atheist community.  The vast majority of people taking part in the conversation seem to share the opinion that Meacham’s imminent death from starvation is something to celebrate.

Normally when I quote somebody on this page I include their name, and when possible a link to my source for the quote.  Today, however, I’m going to do something different.  I’ve collected a sampling of the quotes I’ve read about Meacham.  I’m not sharing names here because my purpose is not to call out specific people, but rather to demonstrate the general tone I’ve encountered.  Here’s some of the quotes I’ve found around the web:

“Honestly I hope this piece shit starves himself to death. Good riddance. The world would be a better place without the likes of him. I sincerely hope he kills himself”

“Lets hope he goes all the way and starves to death. One less bigot in the world. We’d all be a little bit better off.”

“I hope that his gay friends and relatives will get over Meacham’s self-inflicted death-by-starvation without too much mental anguish.”

“I almost agree with you. I do hope he dies though. He’s a big boy, if he wants to go out like that then I say more power to him. One less ass-hat trying to take away peoples rights. Even though I disagree with his beliefs I will still support his right to go out in a blaze of hatred as long as he doesn’t harm anyone else in the proses [sic].”

There’s a lot more like that.  I find it difficult to read.  I can’t remember another time when so many atheists, humanists, and freethinkers seeming to take so much joy in someone’s potential death.  Even the deaths of Sylvia Browne and Paul Crouch didn’t inspire this level of vitriol.

To me, it seems that all this anger is misdirected.  I’m appalled by Meacham’s protest, but I don’t think he’s so terrible a person that I would take joy in his death.  I instead grow furious at the religious foundations with which he grew up that would corrupt thinking process to the point he would want to put his health at risk to restrict the rights of others.  There are so many better causes Meacham could apply this kind of passion.  He should have spent his fifteen minutes in the spotlight reducing the amount of suffering in the world, but because of his religious beliefs, he only acts to increase it.  His sense of morality is so deteriorated from religion that he can starve himself to stop others from enjoying the same rights and societal benefits he himself receives, and compare himself to Gandhi because of it.

Meacham also seems completely oblivious to the sad irony of his situation.  As another blogger pointed out, according to his facebook page he’s engaged to a woman of a different race than him.  Luckily for him, nullification didn’t work fifty some odd years ago when the court declared that laws prohibiting biracial marriage were unconstitutional.

Meacham’s problem is one of indoctrination, though.  And that’s the real enemy.  That’s why I, and all my other atheist brethren fight against superstition and intolerance.  As Greta Christina once wrote, this is why we get angry.  It’s not for our own sakes, but for those who have their sense of empathy and morality entirely turned upside down by religion.  Religion finds a way to harm people where there’s absolutely no sense in it.

I, however, am not entirely unwilling to listen to other viewpoints, and I have to give credit to Sam Mulvey specifically, and the crew of Ask an Atheist in general for a short, but interesting, discussion on the topic at the end of this week’s show.  Sam was honest and up front about his opinion, saying, “I’m gonna be the jerk here.”  Co-host Becky Friedman, on the other hand, eloquently handled the side of the argument that I’m advocating, saying,

“…his religion has warped him so greatly that he actually feels a personal affront – he actually suffers in the face of two men getting married, or two women getting married.”

Sam, however, insisted in reminding us of Meacham’s agency in his decision, saying, “I’m not going to take away his choice… that is his decision.”  Which I must admit is a valid point.  To put it another way, in a personal discussion he and I had, he explained that when someone who grows up abused starts abusing their own family, you still arrest them.  They may have reasons for becoming who they were, but that doesn’t change the fact that they made the decision to harm others.

Sam – and others I’ve read – have brought up compelling arguments about why Meacham is undeserving of our sympathy, I still can’t bring myself to look forward in gleeful anticipation to his demise.  And the fact that the atheist community, which can be so compassionate, has no compassion for Meacham is disheartening to me.  I’m proud of my community, but this is one spot I think we can do better.

Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly a number of people that I think will make the world a better place by departing it, but I still can’t bring myself to take joy at the prospect.

As a final note, I did want to mention this little tidbit.  While researching this post, I read quite a bit of what Meacham had to say, and I stumbled upon this quote that he wrote on his facebook page.

“The homosexual movement is less tolerant than the Nazis and if [gays] had the power of the Nazis, I have no doubt they would not hesitate to march people of faith into ovens.”

So there’s that.  I still won’t celebrate his impending death, but yeah… fuck that guy.

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