The Jury is Out

I have disappeared for a few days… OK, maybe more like a week, because I had become consumed by a court case I was selected to serve as a juror on. I have never served on a jury before, so this was a completely new experience for me — one that I thought I wanted, but now, in hindsight, realize that no one should ever want. Ever.

r620-caf28fc922350a27f51ce3f6661c0b51I promise I am not trying to be dramatic. Hear me out. The case I was on involved a man who shot his wife of 8 years in the head because he was jealous that she was texting another man on her phone (doesn’t matter he himself was actually sleeping with another woman and seeing another on top of that at the time). They were planning a divorce but were waiting on tax money to come in so that they could afford it. The worst part? They regularly locked their 5-year-old child and 3-year-old child in their bedroom and after he shot his wife, he left the house with his roommate and his dog and left the young children locked in their room all night long with no one but the corpse of their mother to look after them. Yes, you read that correctly — he took his dog with him, but not his children.

Initially, he tries to play it off as a suicide which the police quickly find to be a lie, but for his defense strategy he claimed that it was an accident — She had the gun, pointed it at him first, he wrestled it away from her and it went off and shot her in the head. The evidence that the DAs presented did not match the story of there ever being a struggle and after 5 days and 37 witnesses, we found him guilty of attempting to persuade a public servant (he lied to the police), 2 counts of child abuse and ultimately of 2nd degree murder.

We were shown endless amounts of pictures of her body, the crime scene, her autopsy, the disgusting state of their apartment and the little boys’ bedroom that detectives said smelled so badly of urine it was unbearable to be in there for long. I don’t know if you know this about me (how would you, I suppose) but I work for an organization called Head Start. It is a federally funded, nation-wide organization in America that provides free preschool to families living under the federal poverty guidelines. It is not just a preschool program, though, the program focuses on the entire family and provides support, resources, advice, classes, services, etc. to families in our communities with the most need. The idea is that if you can get a child learning and educate their parents to continue that desire to learn in their children while also supporting the parents by teaching them about parenting and budgeting, the child will have a stronger/better foundation to grow on and ultimately will become more successful in their lives. So, needless to say, I care A LOT about kids. I would say most decent human beings also care a lot about kids but, the overall health and wellbeing of children has become a sort of passion of mine so this case was incredibly hard for me to listen to objectively. I did it, but it was emotionally draining and awful.

One of the things that surprised me the least about this case came when we were watching the first interview that was recorded with the defendant and the detective. About halfway through the hour-long interview, the detective leaves to go take care of some business (i.e. he wants to see his reaction while he is out of the room) and as soon as he leaves, the defendant gets upset and starts to cry. He puts his head in his hands and says, “God, please help me. Please forgive me of my sins.” Despite it being a really emotional, human moment I couldn’t help thinking, “REALLY?!” Of course. Of course now, when you have murdered your wife and you are about to get caught in your own lie, you turn to god.

We see it time and time again — awful people doing awful things and then praying/begging for forgiveness so that they can bask in the glory of heaven in the afterlife even though they were a piece of shit on Earth. Why does this phenomenon occur? It occurs because only a sick person could believe in a god sick enough to allow a murderer into eternal paradise because he/she asked for forgiveness at the last second. It’s desperate and selfish and allows a person to squirm their way out of personal accountability because ‘it is in god’s hands’ or ‘it was god’s plan’.

While religion (and I’m speaking mainly about Christianity although I am sure it can be applicable to other religions as well) does “teach” a lot about the ways humans should live a good life, it also leaves a lot of wiggle room for those that choose to do bad things. I can’t tell you how many episodes of MSNBC’s Lock-Up I have watched in which they showed a “reformed” prisoner who found god. Is he really reformed? Or does he just appear to be reformed since he has a newfound faith in god? People with faith in god are automatically viewed as being good people at first glance and first judgement by most. People take comfort in being around fellow god-fearing citizens, they feel safer for some reason. This is part of the reason atheists are demonized and viewed as not much more than a menace to society (speaking in generalities).

This phenomenon also further concretes my opinion that religion is nothing more than a crutch used by the weak in order to get through this hard life we have here on Earth. This defendant probably never even spoke once of god in his entire adult life, but now that he is presumably at the lowest point in his life, he wants/needs god. He wants/needs someone on his side, to look after him and help him through this. And, according to the Bible, if he truly believes in god in his heart, he will be forgiven and will walk through those pearly gates alongside those that went to church every Sunday and waited until marriage for sex.

So fine.

Lots of people need a god to feel safe and looked after and loved even if they didn’t just murder someone, but how can this not be viewed as a weakness? Is it always a bad thing? Absolutely not — to each his own. Most believers need this ‘big-brother’ god to look after them all the time, while others only need him/her/it in their time of need. Atheists just never need it. We take responsibility for our own actions and we hold ourselves accountable when we do things we know we shouldn’t do.

This is why I am proud to be an atheist. I may be weak in a lot of different ways compared to a lot of different people (for example, my involvement in this murder trial was incredibly hard on me but was the everyday job of the judge, the lawyers, the detectives, the coroners, etc.), but I know that I am not weak in my heart. I am on this Earth for some reason and dammit, I am going to enjoy it and treat others like I want them to treat me back. And if I ever find myself in a desperate situation, I sure as hell won’t be turning to any god to get me through it.


  1. I sometimes find myself wanting to pray. This happens most often at night as I am going to bed. I figure old habits die hard. But sometimes you just want to express thankfulness or see guidance from something somewhere in the universe. I don’t know that I’d say that “atheists don’t need it” but that atheists are mature enough to say, “even though I need it, I’m not going to pretend it exists just for me.” Most of us have outgrown our solipsism.

  2. Wow, interesting post. I don’t envy you; as much as I value due process and the rule of law, I wouldn’t want to be in the driver’s seat (so to speak).

    I found your reactions equally interesting and quite understandable, though I wouldn’t necessarily agree with all of them.

    “We see it time and time again — awful people doing awful things and then praying/begging for forgiveness so that they can bask in the glory of heaven in the afterlife even though they were a piece of shit on Earth. Why does this phenomenon occur? It occurs because only a sick person could believe in a god sick enough to allow a murderer into eternal paradise because he/she asked for forgiveness at the last second.”

    Maybe. Or maybe this man’s reaction is a visceral and desperate expression of the horror he feels as he recognizes his own depravity. Perhaps this man has an innate understanding that he has committed a great evil, and it has sickened him to the point that he’s clutching at any straws he can think of.

    I’m not suggesting that this man’s oucry absolves him of his guilt or evidences some previously unseen moral fortitude. I’m just struck by a contrast. He must be incredibly sick and hardened to be capable of shooting his wife and abandoning his children in a locked room; for such a sick and twisted individual to feel any guilt for his crime tells me that such horrendous crimes are more than inconsequential accidents of chemistry on a negligible iron sphere in a universe of chance: that they’re actually evil.

    Maybe that’s an important consideration too.

    “According to the Bible, if he truly believes in god in his heart, he will be forgiven and will walk through those pearly gates alongside those that went to church every Sunday and waited until marriage for sex.”

    I’d replace “according to the Bible” with “according to a handful of evangelical clichés”. The Bible certainly doesn’t say anything about sincere theism (“truly believes in god in his heart”) being a sufficient condition for entrance to heaven.

    There’s definitely something wrong with that perception. I wonder how we can work to correct it.

  3. That sounds like a bit of a traumatic experience. I can’t imagine being emerged in something that grim, cruel and downright negligent towards kids (nevermind the murder part) for a whole week. You know, I don’t know if I could cope listening to details of that kind of treatment, poor kids. One thing that I always wonder though, is how horrible was the guy’s life. I mean, what kind of childhood must he have had to have such little regard for his own children. And then I wonder why on earth do people have kids? I know it’s accidental a lot of the time, but still, why do people take such chances. I found having kids a terribly difficult decision because I’m lacking obvious biological urge, but also because responsibility for another being’s existence is just too much for me. I just don’t get what goes through people’s heads sometimes. Free condoms and education for men (and women) that that is as good as sex gets – take it or leave it … ramble, ramble.

    And or course I agree, atheism gives a much more responsible outlook on life, and it’s odd that this simple fact is so lost on religious people.

    1. I agree with you completely. I do not understand why some people have kids. How can they not possibly know what a huge sacrifice they are? I am so thankful that my husband and I have the common sense to realize that we are still too young and selfish to have children and therefore we take the appropriate measure to prevent it. I just wish more people in this world had the ability to think that way, too.

  4. Reblogged this on paarsurrey and commented:
    Paarsurrey says:

    A criminal is a criminal; he is neither a theist nor an atheist; and should be considered as such. There will be many atheists in the jails doing such things. Will you then blame Atheism for that? I don’t think that will be an appropriate thing to do. It was a psychological family or social trauma; both husband and wife were planning one against the other; very bad and very sad. It was a battle of nerves. And the children suffer! Very upsetting, indeed!

    These are the complex human problems; both Theists and Atheists should try to solve them jointly, in my opinion.

    No, religion taught them to do what they both husband and wife did what they did; so why blame religion or no-religion?

    1. I think you may be misinterpreting what I wrote. I am not blaming religion for anything. In fact, I don’t believe it had anything to do with this crime. I was merely commenting on the phenomenon of seemingly non-religious people turning to religion when they are at their most desperate moment in life. I believe they do so because of the perceived ability of a god to forgive them of their horrible actions when everyone else on Earth, and in the real-world, is punishing them. I was not attempting to imply that only religious people (whether closet or open) are to blame for all crime so I hope that you did not interpret it that way. Everyone is capable of crime (in my opinion) and I was simply commenting on the actions of religious or seemingly non-religious people after their crimes are committed.

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