Occasionally, the truth has a way of making fiction seem rather banal. The recent “face eating zombie” attack in Miami has the internet abuzz with everything from zombie apocalypse humor to very serious demands to blame society’s ills on yet another drug. However, there is a conversation we probably won’t hear on the mainstream media, and it’s arguably the most important discussion when it comes to improving our society and minimizing horrific crimes like this one.
Let’s pretend for a minute that we’re apolitical, non-religious, and that we all have the same goal — to do whatever is most likely to make society better for everyone. Let’s suppose that we’re not going to argue about money just yet. We’re just going to try to discover the best way to make the best society we can.
Next, let’s ask a very basic question about crime and punishment. If we have the choice between preventing most crimes from ever being committed or sending more people to jail for longer after they commit crimes, which would make for a better society? The answer is a no-brainer, right? We want as few crimes as possible, and as many people out of jail as possible, right? Is there anyone who believes society is better when there’s more crime and more people in jail? Anyone at all?
Now that we’ve established that it’s better to prevent than to punish, let’s talk about why America has gone in the complete opposite direction. Miami is among the worst of the worst when it comes to drug treatment and prevention. House Republicans, shilling for even more austerity despite the most austere spending increases in 60 years, are recommending further cuts for the nation’s second worst mental health care spender. (LINK)
Let’s just go ahead and state the obvious. We cannot hope to prevent or treat drug addicts if there is no money to treat or prevent drug addiction. It’s the most basic math possible. Republican austerity measures are most certainly not designed to create a society with less drug users and more treatment options for those who do get addicted.
Let’s talk about how this relates to Christianity. Bear in mind that whatever the nay-sayers might suggest, Rudy Eugene was a devout Christian. (LINK) Did his Christian beliefs cause him to use “bath salts” and eat a homeless man’s face? Maybe, and maybe not, but that isn’t the relevant question in this conversation. What is incontrovertible is that millions of American Christians (and even some non-Christians) believe it’s a good idea for Christian institutions to take a miss from paying taxes, despite scant evidence that churches contribute anything uniquely beneficial to society.
At this point, we need to return to our original question: We are non-religious, apolitical, and looking for the best way to improve society. We can choose to give tax breaks to churches, whose best talent is building mega-churches on tax-free donations, or we can choose to give tax breaks to community mental health clinics, drug prevention programs, drug education programs, and clinics offering treatment to low income addicts. Which makes the most sense? Rudy Eugene was a drug user, and possibly mentally ill, but in either case, his government let him down.
We also need to address the psychological similarities between religion and drugs. It doesn’t take much of a mental stretch to recognize that both religion and drugs are coping mechanisms for people experiencing various life stresses. Hard drug use and religious fervor are both most common in the poorest, least educated segments of the population. (Do we need to point out the obvious? That poor people have more problems than rich people?) They are also among the least effective cures for life’s problems. One wonders why it’s so difficult to propose better education and economic relief as solutions for under-education and poverty. But let us not digress…
There’s another less talked about similarity, as well. Both synthetic drugs and religion adapt quickly when faced with opposition. If you don’t know what I mean, think about how quickly drug manufacturers invent new and stronger synthetic drugs after the government declares war on the current one. Thirty years ago, our worst concern was crack cocaine, which seems a trifle in comparison with methamphetamine. The temper tantrums of cranksters and tweakers pale in the face of… well… faceless victims of methylenedioxypyrovalerone zombies.
Religious belief is equally shifty. Ask any Christian who grew up in the 60s and 70s, and they’ll tell you about when the idea of a drum kit in church would have sent almost any Jesus Devotee into fits of holy rage. If you’ve ever tried to reason with a Christian about their beliefs, think about how deftly their minds deflected, obfuscated, ignored, and denied any and all arguments, no matter how compelling. The religious mind is nearly infinite in its capacity to adapt to contrary evidence or the whims of pop culture.
The real world is fuzzy around the edges, and we cannot pin it down to platitudes or solve its problems by political grandstanding. And while it might be difficult to draw a straight line between any particular Christian doctrine and bath salt zombie attacks, when we put the whole picture together, we see Christianity’s smothering influence on America’s effort to reduce the frequency of this kind of execrable crime. Our faith in Christianity has led us to sacrifice funding for effective social programs while granting extravagant economic privilege to churches peddling their own version of mental snake oil. Let’s ask the question directly: If we taxed every church in America, and gave all that money to drug prevention and treatment, would the country be a better place than it is today?
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we ought to begin a campaign to do this. Certainly I would like to see an end of the tax-free status of churches, but this thought experiment is meant to illustrate just how far down the rabbit hole we’ve descended by drawing a stark contrast between what these mountains of money are currently doing, and what could be done instead. Though some may object that this isn’t really about Christianity, we must also ask: If not Christianity, then what else causes the belief that Christianity deserves tax-free status while social services are cut?
The Christian Right’s belief in the immorality of the poor, and the failure of the impoverished to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps runs contrary to all the science on the subject. (LINK) Christianity itself is an ineffective remedy for either poverty or drug use, and yet America wastes hundreds of millions of dollars by refusing to tax churches. Drug treatment and prevention is seen as a waste of money that could be better spent preaching the virtue of prayer as the solution to mental health problems.
Oh… There’s one more thing… If we may permit ourselves the slightest bit of macabre whimsy, we can find one more gruesome connection between Christianity and America’s ineffective efforts to prevent drug abuse: Devout Christian zombies who practice their own communion ritual, feasting on the flesh and drinking the blood of homeless men with beards.