March 10, 2006 | 20 Comments
Before the suspects in the recent Alabama church fires were caught, the Anti-Defamation League suggested that whoever was ultimately apprehended be prosecuted under the Church Arson Prevention Act. That statute was enacted in the mid-1990s in response to racially-motivated crimes — but because the targets were churches, the focus of the statute is upon the protection of religious worship. Specifically, the law’s special penalties apply to whoever “intentionally defaces, damages, or destroys any religious real property, because of the religious character of that property.”
There will doubtlessly be some debate over whether the Alabama suspects torched the buildings “because” of their religious character. At first glance, it seems difficult to argue otherwise — the nine structures were all churches, and that obviously was no coincidence. But on the other hand, nobody seems convinced that the arsons were “hate crimes” or that any particular religious animus was involved. The kids just decided to burn down the same kind of building each time, and the first couple of them happened to be churches; their crime was one of consistency, not hate. As to what the people who used the buildings thought or said and sang about, they couldn’t care less.
Which to my mind, is even more of a crime. Indifference is something that burns more than any fire — far worse than damning with faith praise, it’s damning by not caring enough to pay attention. A man who burns down a building because he despises the ideas preached within shows a form of respect for those ideas. They matter enough to him to merit a response, albeit violent.
In short, it is a crime of passion. Such offenses are ordinarily punished with less severity than others. A man who kills a woman out of love receives a lesser sentence than the conscienceless stranger who shoots her in the course of a convenience store robbery. The stranger is cold and inhuman, a kind of misanthrope.
How could those kids not care about the idiocy brewing within the church walls? A virgin birth, a risen martyr — what??!?! I suppose it was all just “kewl” to those agnostic bastards, a “different strokes for different folks” kind of thing. It’s that kind attitude that merits life without parole.
It brings a tear to my eye to watch you all, atheist and theist alike, go at each other my comments. If you ever met, I know you’d burn each others’ houses down — and I wouldn’t blame you at all. Because I know it would be for the best of reasons — because you cared.