Sometimes, hell comes to breakfast, as the old saying goes. And sometimes it stays for brunch, lunch, dinner and hangs around for the day after, and the day after.
It's summer, and here in Oklahoma that means the closest thing to hell that even old Cotton Mather could imagine. We have actual heat of more than 100 and heat indexes of easily 110 to 113.
I've been thinking a lot about Mather, the Salem Witch Trials, and the peculiar blend of theology, self-righteousness, arrogance and mob hysteria that led to the torture and murder of innocent people. I've regretfully--and begrudgingly--admitted that we aren't past Salem yet.
It's the Year of Our Lord 2010 and lynch mob fever, the failure to think rationally and analytically, sanctimoniousness and a need to punish someone, somewhere for something to make ourselves feel superior still roam our towns and countryside.
Don't believe it? Listen closely to what's around you.
I've been following the tragic case of little Kyron Horman, who's been missing from his elementary school near Portland, Oregon, since just before school let out. I've hung out on some websites dedicated to "true crimes" and have been appalled by what I've read.
So far, no arrests have been made. The stepmother, Terri Horman, has been the cops' sole focus since the first day. They rushed to assure the community that they had no need to worry about their children.
Three months later, there's been no arrests but a lot of web-based speculation. The land is aflame with rumor, gossip, innuendo, and cyber villages piling up the logs to throw on the witch fire.
Today I learned on one website that the wicked stepmother has....gasp! An over-sized criminal history. And they figured it out.
When she was 18 years old, she got a ticket for speeding. Not her only ticket either. And not only that--at some point she was ticketed for...failure to use her seat belt.
Well, that certainly convinces me that she's evil (not). But watching the self-congratulatory high-fiving of those who ferreted out those bullet-proof indicators of Horman's murderous proclivities has been a nasty experience.
The thing that amazes me is that every minute part of her life has been pored over. The overwhelming consensus that she's guilty has been formed by self-righteousness and "feelings".
She's been slammed for some inappropriate sexual behavior--while the inappropriate sexual behavior of her soon-to-be ex-husband has been well, excused. That's the past behavior--and one website notoriously doesn't allow any discussion about those they put on the protected list, so any current behavior by anyone other than Wicked Stepmother doesn't count.
Right now there's a lot of lascivious lip licking over speculation that Horman, not yet named as a suspect, may--they titter--have been involved in a lesbian relationship (which of course proves she murdered her stepson). There's nothing to prove that, of course, other than she has a loyal female friend.
At this point, I don't know who took little Kyron Horman. I don't know what happened to him. I hope that if the cops ever figure it out, that the case against whoever is solid and that the worst possible punishment is levied after a fair trial and conviction. In fact, I'd vote for hanging, drawing and quartering for anyone who harms a child.
But I'd like to have proof. Solid evidence.
And in some deep way, I really wish that I hadn't had a long-term question answered: how the hell did Salem ever happen?
Well, now I know. Salem lurks within our deepest psyches, waiting only for a spark, fanned by the hot air of smug,loud voices preaching, sans pulpit, about someone else's lack of righteousness.
I've listened to people allege that only the guilty get lawyers, that anything that the cops or a DA does is automatically right (Counterpoint: see The Innocence Project, or meditate on Richard Jewell). I've learned that to question authority or their methods makes you a "supporter" of an obviously-guilty child killer (and slut), and that makes you yourself an evil person.
I've listened to people avow that the protections of our Constitution should be tossed aside. I've learned that there are far too many who think that their "morality" platforms (note, no discussion of their perfect lives required) trump fact, logic, or evidence.
We think she's a witch, so burn the witch. She's not as good as I am, as proven by....fill in the blank.
Among the problems that come from renewing and celebrating Salem--and there are too many to list--is this:what happens when it's your turn to be the witch? Funny, the witch hunters don't see that as a possibility, for themselves or anyone they care about.
It's all those tacky other people, you understand. So to hell with them, to hell with the Constitution, to hell with evidence, to hell with facts, let's burn the witch.
This isn't the first resurrection of Salem, nor will it be the last. But now, I know how it happens.
And I wish I didn't. Because frankly, it scares me.
As it should scare a lot of us.
When weighed against the continuation of Salem, even Oklahoma summers suddenly seem less hellish. You can turn on a fan or the air conditioning during summer, but there is no known appliance that will control the blood-letting lust of the self-righteous.
In that environment, we are all at risk.