Last night I saw "Killer Joe" at Profiles Theatre. "Killer Joe" is a play by Tracy Letts. Letts won the Pulitzer for drama this past year for his play, "August, Osage County". He writes about themes of self deception, denial and ultimately murder. The murder could be overt, as in "Killer Joe" where a desperate and resentful son seeks out his mother's insurance money so he can rid himself of her insults, avenge the fact she stole his cocaine, and safely reconcile his debt with the drug dealers he owes for the absconded cocaine he couldn't sell. The murder could be covert, as the unseen patriarch who serves as the dramatic catalyst in "August, Osage County" whose mysterious absence (a murder or a suicide?) brings together a dysfunctional and far-flung family which ignites psychological murder in the form of deceit, addiction, verbal and sexual abuse. The characters in both plays embrace a self-centered righteousness that allows them to nurture their persecution complexes rooted in real or imagined torment. They both take place in the American Southwest, Pentecostal country. The action of "Killer Joe" happens in a trailer in Texas and "August" in a home in Oklahoma. The idea of fixed "family values" seems to be challenged as the home becomes an arena where the righteous contemplate the gains murder can bring.
This brings me to the Texas Board of Education.
The past month has shown that Letts' imagination of the righteousness formed by Pentecostal superstition in the American Southwest is not just good dramatic fodder. How the righteous murder is on full display as the Texas Board of Education seeks out a protection of family values that will kill the last 500 years of scientific advance and the last 225 years of democratic enlightened liberty. They seek to kill modernity for biblical authority as a means to protect their children from the creep of secular advance.
But, like Letts' characters they fail to see the irony and self-defeat their actions invite. They want to teach their children freedom by emphasizing John Calvin over Thomas Jefferson. The former enforced a Christianity that made it criminal for one to choose the bible he or she read while the latter liberated the American mind from Christian superstition when he invoked the promise fate provides all with "unalienable rights". Calvin dictated, for the sake of social order, that all members of Geneva embrace the doctrine of total depravity, or "slaves to sin", while Jefferson encouraged the self-evident truth that people are born into liberty. Calvin sought the persecution and murder of all those that disagreed with his doctrine while Jefferson hoped the people would be encouraged to over-throw his constitution with a new revolution every generation.
The only reason the Texas Board of Education can diminish the good son of enlightenment Jefferson for the "religious right icon" (their words) Calvin is because Jefferson ensured their personal religious liberty would be protected. They don't see that their desire to seek revenge for imagined danger has invited the murder of the ideas that generate the freedom they wish to protect.
The frightening aspect to the story, and why I use the term murder, is that Texas' size creates a power in public education with national reach. The curriculum they decide holds sway over the country's curriculum. Demand for text books is driven by what the Texas Board of Education decides should be in text books so, if Texans think that the agreed upon and well founded scientific principles of common descent are anathema to the creation story then "well-educated" American children may seek to publish sermons on how the triple-threat Intelligent Designer of Yahweh - Jesus - Holy Spirit created an opportunity for humans to walk with the dinosaurs rather than launch animal studies to initiate safety trials in service towards a cancer cure.
How the righteous murder the ideas that allow their righteousness to flourish is predictable. In "Killer Joe" the murderous son ultimately realizes that his plan to kill his mother was never his. He sees that his righteous reaction to given circumstances allowed him to be manipulated by crueler men (his step-father the beneficiary of the insurance policy; Killer Joe the hired murderer) and, he seeks to abandon the plot too late to change the dramatic action. He threatens Joe to back off and stop the plan. Joe sits in silence and calmly sips coffee while watching the son rage. The son threatens Joe that if Joe follows through then Joe will be sorry. Joe simply laughs, walks off-stage and re-enters dragging a Hefty bag full of something about the size of a dead body. Joe tells the son, "Don't open it."
The future of the Texas Board of Education will be as dark, heavy and impenetrable if they are allowed to shape education in favor of their superstitions. At the very least, emerging nations like India, China, and Thailand will surpass our collective scientific IQ and will continue the march towards technological advancement, leaving us behind in hopeful eschatology awaiting the bloody monarchy of "King Jesus" but, a darker turn could be made. The ideas of the enlightenment existed as a push back to Theocracy because Europeans became tired of suffering holy wars. They craved evidence and reason, rather than obedience to superstition, to lift them from totalitarian manipulation. If world religious trends continue and more people convert to the preferred religion, Islam, then the Texas Pentecostals will see the fruits of their righteousness. Sharia Law will not allow the expectation of a super-hero King Jesus to lift Christians from imagined persecution. It will enforce real persecution in the form of dhimmitude, the Islamic system of governing populations conquered by Jihad wars, which amounts to majority rule and slavery. The righteous don't realize that it is only the secular protections they see as evil which allow their "family values" to flourish. They don't understand that protection of the individual starts when we put aside superstitions like the obedience Calvin sought while burning heretics and instead, embrace the mind of Jefferson when he honestly said,
"Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity."
One can only hope that honest Texans will challenge the authority of those wishing to murder the ideas that allow the righteous their protections.