Thursday, July 19, 2012

George Zimmerman and God's Plan: American Civil Religion Walking, Talking, Shooting

All day, I've been trying to put my finger on what appalls me most about George Zimmerman's statement that "it was all God's plan" for him to shoot Trayvon Martin, and to second-guess or judge that plan, because, well, who crosses God?  Pressed by Sean Hannity to speak to Martin's parents and the American public about what he did and why he did it, Zimmerman went on to say, 

I do wish that there was something, anything that I could have done that wouldn't have put me in the position where I had to take his life. 

God's plan.  Not to be second-guessed or judged.  A plan that put him into a position where he "had" to take the life of Trayvon Martin.

As I say, I keep asking myself why these observations particularly disgust me, and this is the closest I can get to understanding: with an unreflectivity that borders on the pathological, Zimmerman assumes that where he walks, God walks.  George Zimmerman steps in the footsteps of God and "God's plan."

And it was the misfortune of a 17-year old boy going about his business, a member of a stigmatized racial minority, to cross the path of George Zimmerman and of "God's plan" on the fateful night on which Zimmerman shot Martin to death.  There was just nothing that George Zimmerman could have done to stop the unfolding of "God's plan," which demanded that he "had to take" Martin's life.

What appalls me about this line of "thought" is that it epitomizes the lazy, self-absorbed, arrogant entitlement with which many Americans approach questions about God.  And about American identity and the American role in the universe.  And about the "plan" by which God places some of us in charge and others in servile positions--to the extent of placing some of us at the mercy of others wielding guns because it's "God's plan" for those others to have the guns by which they end of the lives of unfortunate ones.

Zimmerman's response suggests to me, frankly, that he has never much thought about anything at all.  And that he has never been in a position to question his own entitlement much at all.

That he unreflectively assumes that God is on his side and he represents God.  Because he's George Zimmerman.

And because the young man he shot was an African-American teen.

Zimmerman has sociopathically apotheosized his behavior on the night of Martin's shooting to the extent that he now states that he wishes there might have been "something, anything" he could have done that night so that "God's plan" wouldn't have demanded that he "had to take" the life of Trayvon Martin.  

But the tape recording of his conversation with the Sanford, Florida, police department on the night he shot Martin indicates that the following exchange occurred:  

Dispatcher: Are you following him? 
Zimmerman: Yeah 
Dispatcher: Ok, we don't need you to do that. 
Zimmerman: Ok

The tape also clearly indicates that Zimmerman was running and was out of breath.  This exchange occurs after he had identified Trayvon Martin as black and had characterized him as an "asshole."  Though he had never met the young man.

As Eric Marapodi points out in the CNN article to which I link at the head of this posting, George Zimmerman comes from a Catholic family conspicuous for its piety.  He was an altar boy as a youth.  

Zimmerman grew up receiving Catholic catechetical instruction and listening to Catholic homilies on a routine parish.  And, somehow, all of that religious training and liturgical activity has translated into a message that he is part of "God's plan," and that God's plan can require him to shoot an unarmed African-American teen in an act of self-appointed vigilantism that the police authorities whom he's called to report his concerns specifically instruct him to avoid.

For me as a Catholic, and quite specifically as a Catholic theologian, the unanswered question of this little story is how a solid Catholic upbringing that involves catechesis, routine Mass attendance, and serving at the altar can result in the astonishingly arrogant, astonishingly entitled and self-serving, and  lamentably unintelligent analysis of his involvement in the killing of an innocent unarmed teen that George Zimmerman offered the American public last evening.  If George Zimmerman represents what's happening with the catechetical formation of American Catholics at this point in history, then whatever that is appears to be woefully inadequate and seriously off-track.

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