Pleased to Meet You, Hope You Guess My Name

I have a very low threshold for stories about people putting their babies in microwaves. That’s the odd thing about me—I stayed awake during my own biopsy once and even asked to see the lump of bloody tissue the doctors removed from my neck, I force myself to watch gruesome footage from the occupation of Iraq so I can feel informed, and I tend to watch violent and gory movies more often than a man with a PhD should. In short, I don’t think my sensibilities are particularly delicate. Nevertheless, the coverage of the Joshua Maudlin story turns my stomach in a way nothing else does—in fact, last night Emily and I were talking about the story, and I had to ask to change the subject because I was afraid I was going to throw up.

Nevertheless, I want to write about some of the more bizarre aspects of this case and the public’s reaction to it. I’m particularly struck by young Joshua and his wife’s response to what he’s done. Joshua’s initial explanation for why he did what he did was simply “I was stressed.” (Presumably, watching a baby rotate has the same soothing quality as watching fish in a tank). Later, Eva Marie Maudlin claimed that, in fact, her husband was not responsible for the abuse—Satan did it through Joshua, because Joshua was a committed Christian who was looking to establish himself as a preacher. “He [Joshua Maudlin] would never do anything to hurt her,” Mrs. Maudlin told reporters, adding that she plans to stand by her man and try to regain custody of the infant (Good luck with that, by the way).

I don’t mean to perpetuate the discussion of a story that already seems sensationalized and blown out of proportion by the mainstream media (really, a couple of religious crazies in the middle of Texas abusing their kid aren’t really going to have any impact on any of us), but I’m struck by Eva Marie Maudlin’s understanding of Christianity, and how in her conception of the universe, people are not responsible for their own sins. The Bible (and Milton) tells us that God gave human beings free will, and the ability to make sinful decisions with dire consequences. But, it seems to me that Eva Marie Maudlin illustrates a particular type of fundamentalist mindset that says that Christians are only capable of doing good—unless Satan comes around and takes control of them. In which case, it’s still not really their fault, is it? In fact, one could say that Christians sin not because they’re flawed, but because they’re so perfect Satan just has to ruin them.

Now, to be fair, the Evangelical community is not rallying to this guy’s support—I haven’t heard of any Focus on the Family types proclaiming that this woman is absolutely right, and that this guy is Satan’s innocent dupe, so free him already! It seems that most fundamentalist Christians still believe in free will, and the accountability inherent in the concept.

But…

I don’t mean to be flippant here, but many of these people who—through their silence and refusal to come forward and support him-- indicate that they believe that Joshua Maudlin needs to be held accountable—that his professed faith does not absolve him of his responsibility—don’t seem to hold the president of the United States to such high standards. George W. Bush received 78% of the white Evangelical vote in 2004. Though he’s not nearly as popular now as he was then, he still enjoys the support of the Pat Robertsons and the James Dobsons and their followers—despite the fact that his bad decisions have resulted in death , injury , and disfigurement on a much, much larger scale than anything Joshua Maudlin might have imagined while his kid was “stressing him out.” How, I wonder, can people of such strong moral fiber turn a blind eye when the sins of one of their own result in so much suffering and anguish?

The Joshua Maudlin story makes me nauseous, but if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that this occupation and the people who allowed it to happen are much more sickening. And the worst part of it all is that we can't blame this disaster on some type of mythological, supernatural force of evil carrying a pitchfork and walking on cloven hooves.

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