Thursday 22 September 2011

The “Christian" Killing of Troy Davis

At 11:08PM (03:08 GMT), Troy Davis was pronounced dead following his execution by the state of Georgia for the murder of police officer Mark MacPhail.

Despite claims from Amnesty that there “was serious doubts about his guilt", the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency.

The current members of the State Board of Pardons and Paroles that approved the killing of Troy Davis by lethal injection are listed here. The board members biographies include the following quotes:

“He is involved in a local Baptist Church and takes part in many community events and activities.”

“He is an avid supporter of his church and community activities, and serves as a member of several government and civic boards.”
In fact the Hinterland Gazette state that all 5 members of the board are Christians “Who hold the word of God true and close at Heart”.

I would hope that if any UK government agencies where staffed solely with members of a particular religious persuasion, then a few flags of bias concern would be raised. However, I suspect that in the state of Georgia, the fact that the State Board of Pardons and Paroles is exclusively representative of one specific religious viewpoint is no more surprising than the fact that the Georgia Right to Life, anti abortion organisation is also dominated by Christian dogmas.

To a non Christian it may seem rather paradoxical that Christian ideology is both the driving force behind anti abortion and euthanasia organisations as well as common trait in those that appear to support a barbaric death penalty willing to take the life of a fellow human being.

However any perceived paradox is merely a misunderstanding of Christian ideology. Where there is unquestioning faith in an all powerful supernatural being with the ultimate power and divine right to both grant, and ruthlessly take away life, it is inevitable that there will be mortal accomplices willing to assist.


In answer to Michael Grayer's excellent comment below the fold...

I have indeed mined the two quotes from the biographies of the 2 board members that include a statement of their Christian faith on their official State Board biographies.  The other three board members do not include a statement of faith in their biographies. There seems however little doubt that all 5 members are practicing Christians as can bee seen from the following links that I apologise for not including in the original post.

L Gale Buckner is "an ctive member of the Holy Creek Baptist Church"

Robert E. Keller is a "Sunday School teacher, choir member and administrative board member of the Jonesboro First United Methodist Church"

and (not quite so conclusive I admit) Albert Murray's background includes the use of faith based programmes for at-risk youths.

I think my original point stands, the killing of Troy Davis was sanctioned by 5 Christians. Of course I would expect most moderate Christians to oppose the death penalty, hence my supposed paradox, however there remains an uncanny correlation (not necessarily a causation) between right wing christian views and the support of the death penalty. I was therefore simply musing that the worshipping of a deity who frequently demonstrates scant regard for human life my influence similar thinking in his followers.


alirichards said...

Fab post!

Anonymous said...

If this man was innocent, then innocent blood was shed and God will one day judge those who rushed to end his life without sufficient evidence for his guilt. The Bible pronounces a woe on those who condemn the innocent (Prov.17:15). Funny how Christians preach unconditional forgiveness for all then rush to endorse the death penalty. Until guilt can be absolutely PROVEN, it should be revoked!

Brian Clegg said...

I think there's the usual danger with these kind of statistics of confusing correlation with causality. In the US it would be surprising if a fair number of people on the board weren't Christians, but I can't see any causal connection between the decision, based on the US cultural support for the death penalty and the board members religious beliefs. (Any more than there is any evidence for a causal connection between their bizarre gun laws and their religious beliefs.)

Acleron said...

You are probably correct Brian.

More concerning for me is that America has a disregard for life approaching that rightly or wrongly associated with under developed countries.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous:

If a man walked into your house and shot your wife and kids would still be saying "God will one day judge him" or would you demand justice here in this world, the real world. Not the delusional "my invisible friend based on bronze age myths will judge you" world but the real world right here in reality.

It's time for this country to grow up and toss religion in the trash bin where it belongs.

Michael Grayer said...

I think this is a classic case of "Mined quote (slightly truncated to remove context) conveniently confirms my pre-conceived opinion."

The Hinterland Gazette actually said "The common thread in all their biographies is that they are Christians who hold the word of God true and close at heart. Then how can you let this man die with so much doubt swirling in the atmosphere?" That's rather different to them saying that "all 5 members of the board are Christians 'Who hold the word of God true and close at Heart'". Particularly as, well, there is no such thread running through the biographies.

The two quotes that you mined are the *only* two mentions of the church in all five biographies, and even then, only in the same way as someone might write "in his spare time, he runs a skeptical website/sits on the local golf club committee/volunteers at the community centre". There are several more prominent and consistent threads running through all five biographies: serving on law enforcement agencies, earning a graduate degree, having a family, for example. Shall we take a pop at those demographics too?

Where we do agree though, is that the Troy Davis case is a dreadful travesty of justice, regardless of whether religion was involved or not.

Crispian Jago said...

@Michael Grayer

Valid points. Now addressed in the postscript

Alice said...

Can I suggest that those whose "right to life" is worshipped, and put above all else at the expense of others, are a very specific group: namely, a group of people (or otherwise) who do not talk. In other words, foetuses, and God and his gang (Jesus, angels and stuff).

Those who do talk, like people already there and causing a problem - for example by being wilfully and persistently black, or by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or indeed real criminals, or people terminally ill and in horrible pain with no hope of getting better - it is OK to ignore because listening to them is just a pain in the arse.

You can worship someone who never talks because a) they never challenge you and b) you can invent for yourself what they are saying.

RIP Troy Davis. I am so sad to be living in a world where this happens. Although I have never spent a single day or even hour of my life believing in God, in this case it sounds like he had his faith to comfort him and I'm glad of that. I bet his God wasn't at all the same one as the one of his killers.

julian cheyne said...

'Where there is unquestioning faith in an all powerful supernatural being with the ultimate power and divine right to both grant, and ruthlessly take away life, it is inevitable that there will be mortal accomplices willing to assist.'

'Unquestioning', 'ruthlessly', 'inevitable' 'assist'?

Why assume that Christians are so unquestioning or indeed that this is the case in the tradition Christians would ascribe to? There are many occasions of questions being asked of God of which Job is the best known. Even Jesus questioned the point of it all on the Cross. Modern western philosophy and science grew out of Europe's medieval theological schools and universities.

Ruthlessly? you may well wish to rely on other quotations but both Old and New Testaments are full of statements about how God does not wish to see the death of a 'sinner'. I put 'sinner' in inverted commas as you may object to such a characterisation, it is the term used. And Christianity does rest on the sacrifice of God for man, an idea which may be fanciful to anyone who rejects a belief in God, but neverthelss is central to the Christian faith.

'inevitable', belief in a supernatural being, etc, does not make anything inevitable given that another idea at the heart of Christianity is that people have free will to choose. Indeed Chritians are often criticised for disagreeing with one another and this includes differences on the death penalty. Christians come in all shapes and sizes and most believe in a supernatural being, etc, yet they do not 'inevitably' believe in killing people in the way described and there is no 'inevitable' connection between the two attitudes.

'assist', of course there will be Christians who see themselves as 'assisting' God by executing 'the guilty', inverted commas as these individuals probably do believe Troy Davis was guilty. You quote, in bold, a statement from a newspaper which makes a claim about these individuals' beliefs. How that helps to actually validate those beliefs in unclear. Given the fact that at the heart of Christian belief lies the idea of forgiveness of the guilty it is hard to see why their opinion, if they do indeed hold it, or yours, that this represents assisting God in ruthlessly taking life, should be ascribed to Christians as a group or Christianity as an ideology.

To generalise in the way you have and to use the indiscriminate language you have hardly seems an example of 'scientific', 'reasonable' or 'critical' thinking or indeed thinking of any kind. It sounds closer to prejudice and an attempt at ascribing guilt to a larger group by association.

Marky Mark said...

What many here are ignoring is that in order for one to be Christian in the first place, it tells us that they are delusional and lacking critical thinking skills that are essential to understanding science and factual data. So when confused with such data they will resort to pray in making important decisions as apposed to truly considering all the factual evidence.
This can be a problem as it is in this case when the voice in their heads that leads to their decision is thought to be the word of some magical deity, and not considered as ones own delusional thoughts. This leads to the thinking that god is right and is always right, and since he speaks to me I must always be right.
I seriously doubt that these five ever truly considered the evidence of innocence or the dynamics that would cause a witness to commit perjury on the stand…after all they swore upon a bible.

This is a problem, and not that much different than the witch burnings of centuries ago. Once one was accused they were certainly bound to be found guilty, after all, it was the church that was doing the accusing and the church is never wrong. Replace church with state and we have the same problem in this day and age, especially in the southern states of this US of A.

julian cheyne said...

'to be Christian in the first place, it tells us that they are delusional and lacking critical thinking skills'

More extraordinary generalisations and inability to exercise critical thinking!

Regarding the 'five' the writer assumes they never 'truly considered the evidence of innocence' or the possibility of perjury. It has to be pointed out in their defence (even though I disagree with their decision despite being a deluded person - ie a Christian) that Troy Davis' appeal had been turned down by two Supreme Courts, at State and Federal levels. The problem for the accused is that the burden of proof at the level of appeal in the legal system shifts from the prosecution to the defence meaning it is no longer a matter of the defence showing 'reasonable doubt' but of proving innocence. So to load all the blame on five allegedly delusional Christians at the end of the process seems pretty close to the kind of witch trial he condemns.

Scientific thinking!

Shadeburst said...

Julian Cheyne I like the gist of your comment.

The five board members did not condemn Davis to death.

That action was carried out by a judge and jury.

Crispian Jago I normally love your blogs but in this case I think you took a cheap shot at the individuals concerned. Your reason was overwhelmed by your emotions.

Crispian Jago said...


Thanks for the comment.

The aim of the post was not to vilify the board members per se, but merely to use them and the Georgia Right to Life group as two examples of how Christian ideology can sit so comfortably with both a pro life and capital punishment.

Michael Grayer said...

Thank you for taking the time to respond.

It's still a bit of a Greenfieldism if you ask me.

You point to their participation in church activities and you point to their inability to overturn a death sentence.

Julian's points about the legal remit within which they were working and the reversed burden of proof are particularly salient in my opinion. This suggests that it is not the religion(s) of the individual board members we should be directing our anger towards, rather, the legal system in Georgia. Now, I'm sure someone with better knowledge of American history, politics and law will correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that constitutionally separated from the church (and indeed, any other religious organisation)?

The correlation that I think is noteworthy here is between right wing views and the support of the death penalty. "Christian" is a red herring; lumping the two together is disingenuous as Christians span the whole political spectrum.

Shadeburst said...

"It takes a big man to admit he was wrong."

Ball in your court, Crispian.