We are fans of death.
We don’t want to admit it. But it’s true.
In the same exact scrolling session in which I learned that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, I also saw multiple posts from supposedly Jesus-loving people celebrating the news. I don’t mean to over-generalize, but these were almost surely folks who endorse a pro-life perspective (as do I).
I engaged with a couple of them, and they offered up defense for their exuberant posts.
They’re not happy she died, they explained — only happy that the seat could now be filled by someone more conservative. Of course, the seat could not be filled if it was not empty, and the only reason it was empty was because she had died. That, and their social media celebrations, replete with exclamation marks and happy emojis, made clear to me the sad truth:
They were, in fact, happy she died.
Other lame attempts to explain their position followed.
“It goes to show there should be term limits,” they offered.
Justices take on a life appointment. It’s not their fault, my right-leaning friends argued, that the only way they could get a more conservative court was when a liberal died. I agree we should re-think the life appointments of justices, but their reasoning doesn’t negate the sorrow of death. It only serves to distract from their seemingly callous reaction.
(A seemingly callous reaction offered before even two hours elapsed after Ginsburg’s death.)
We are pleased by death when it is the death of our enemies. We wiggle and reason and justify our position, but the bald-faced truth is that we’re glad when death comes to those we despise.
I’m not sure this needs to be said, but it is a problematic take for a Christ follower.
Ginsburg’s passing is not the lone example of this.
Just a few days after we learned of Justice Ginsburg’s death, a grand jury pursued no charges in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor. Well, there were some minor charges, but none related to Taylor’s death itself. There was predictable and warranted outrage, met in turn by a small army of (in my circle at least) Christ followers yet again attempting to reason their way out of simply being sad that Taylor had died.
Many engaged in philosophical gymnastics to defend the shooting. They drudged up her whole life history, engaged in debate around the details of the killing, and even cited other similar cases as a good reason that in this case it was understandable that she died.
That it was acceptable.
“If people would just stay out of trouble, cops wouldn’t shoot you,” they reasoned.
Of course, Taylor was not resisting arrest or reaching for a weapon or even under investigation herself. But this did not deter those who sought to justify her death.
“If you don’t want to be shot, don’t hang out with people with guns,” they explained, as if their reasoning was full proof.
The strides taken to demonize a victim these days is notable. Breonna was, by every indication, a woman without that sketchy of a past, so they attempted to make her guilty by association. She wasn’t sleeping, you know — she was in the hallway. The hallway! That settles it.
She clearly deserved to die?
Why is that when a person of color is gunned down we have to portray them as negatively as possible — as if it explains away the lethal event that ends their life? Why is that when a person of color is killed we have to vilify them in order to couch our celebration in some sort of justification?
No, not many openly celebrate. But the extent to which many of us attempt to justify such tragedy — starting sentences with “Her death is unfortunate, yes” but then ending them with “what do you expect to happen…” — is remarkable.
More than one commentator insisted she was to blame. A victim of circumstance, maybe, but not a victim of police brutality. And certainly not as squeaky clean as some made her out to be. Therefore, why would we even consider her death that big of a deal?
I am confident there are many who will read all this and want to dive deep into the details of the death of Ginsburg and Taylor. We have well-rehearsed lines fed to us in preparation of these kinds of debate. But just for a moment I’d prefer to not be bogged down in the minutiae of term limits, no-knock warrants, and the like.
Just for a moment I’d like to make this not an issue of ideology or political affiliation.
What if we thought about this through the lens of humanity?
I don’t think most people celebrate death when it’s someone they know — even someone they don’t like. The permission we feel to not only not lament but rather to celebrate death in cases like RBG’s and Breonna’s comes from our reflex (I think) to objectify one another.
Most of us don’t see RBG or Breonna as a human being at all but rather a prop, an idea, a fixture in a philosophical debate we want to win. And we want to win it more than we want to love people. We’re more thirsty for blood if it means us winning an argument than we are for justice. We fight our ideological proxy wars leveraging human life as the battle ground, forgetting that when one of us loses, we all lose.
When one of us suffers, we all suffer.
I don’t know how anyone can claim to be pro-life in one breath and celebrate death in the next. I don’t know how anyone would even want to go through all the trouble to defend such a position, claiming it as a necessary means to an end. And I’m not sure if we’ll ever emerge from the toxic milieu that is our present state, one where our thirst for blood — if it serves our purposes — supersedes our ability to be empathetic, humble, and kind.
To be human.
When will be human again?