How far up the chain of command does an insanity plea go? Back in 2005 Boyce Singleton Jr. admitted stabbing his girlfriend to death because “God told him to do it.” An appellate panel has just decided that the guilty verdict must be thrown out because the jury had not been instructed in insanity plea etiquette. “But, the appellate panel said [Judge] LeBon should have told jurors that they could acquit Singleton by reason of insanity – even if they found Singleton knew killing Michelle Cazan was wrong – if they believed he felt God compelled him to act,” according to the New Jersey Star-Ledger. A former colleague at an institution plagued with insanity once told me, “humor the mental.” That may be the best advice a weary nation might hope for. While political rulers from the privileged caste whittle, hack, and bludgeon away at the meager benefits of their underlings (previously known as constituents), those who refuse to pull back hands and feet endanger a digit or two. In the name of God, why doesn’t somebody do something?
There was a time when saying God made you do something evil was considered blasphemy. In today’s America it is an open justification for just about any war crime or personal vendetta you may want to implement. You see, God is freely available for those who know that a mere human committing their heinous acts would be clapped in irons. Long generations of televangelists have given the public the divine American Express card number. Do you hate this particular group? So does God! Do you want to declare war on that country? So does God! Do you want to stab your spouse? So does God! The rhetoric is so normative that a president can declare a personal quarrel a national crusade because God told him to. No one even bothers to look up from Facebook.
It is time to remove God from the equation. When I was a child Flip Wilson ratcheted up the laugh meter with his catch phrase, “the Devil made me do it!” Classic transference was funny because everyone knew it was a bogus excuse. Not long after Flip’s demise the catch-phrase spread to the White House with only a simple title change. Are not the Devil and God interchangeable? Once a president claims divine precedent, doesn’t it trickle down to those lower in the social order? That’s the way of democracy, and God has been very democratized. Who needs an insanity plea when you’ve got the creator of the universe in your back pocket?