Thursday, March 12, 2015


Arkansas state Rep. Justin Harris (R-Northwest Wackoville) has been in the media recently.  The facts of his current fame are as follows:  Harris's day job involves running a nominally Christian day care center.  Harris and his wife adopted two young girls some time ago, in the process apparently applying pressure to the Arkansas Department of Human Services to complete the adoption.

Unfortunately, the adoption didn't work out, for reasons that have not been made clear.  Rather than getting help dealing with the situation, Harris and his wife "re-homed" the girls--in other words, abandoned them to the care of someone else--with a former employee...who proceeded to rape the older girl, 6.  The employee's now at the long end of a 40-year prison term; he pled guilty as part of an agreement that will keep him locked up for just shy of the maximum term.

Recently, some top-notch, maybe Pulitzer-worthy* reporting by the Arkansas Times's Benjamin Hardy brought these facts to light. Unsurprisingly, Harris has sought to cast himself in the role of victim, claiming that the two girls posed a danger to his older children, and that re-homing was necessary to protect his family.  He also claims that he could not go back to DHS with these problems because he was being threatened with a child abandonment charge if he did.

* - That's not hyperbole.  I hope his article series gets submitted for consideration.

At this point, I've lost my capacity for astonishment.  Whether it's Tom Cotton writing petulant letters to the Ayatollah Khamenei on Constitutional law, or the Legislature actively seeking ways to harm their constituents, I simply cannot be surprised by the depths of depravity to which the modern Republican Party has sunk.  (Maybe it's not fair to tar all Republicans with that brush, but, then again, they choose to be Republicans.)

And yet...the Harris case is world-class.  I find myself asking how this man can possibly plan to continue as a legislator.  I can't find anyone who's coming to his defense on the merits of anything he did.  The best anyone seems to be able to offer is "He made some mistakes."

Even so, I had gotten used to the idea that someone could (a) show little if any remorse for having turned over his children to a rapist, (b) continue to cash support checks provided by the State even after he had turned over this children, (c) portray himself as the victim in all of this, and (d) stay in office as a legislator.  That last bit may not be entirely up to him--he can be expelled by a two-thirds vote of the House--but it's the wanting to stay that ought to surprise us.

But then it came out yesterday that the principal reason he re-homed his children was that he thought they were possessed by demons.

Let that sink in just a bit.

I know, right?  Demons.

Now, people like Justin Harris have been hard at work trying to roll back the calendar.  The 1950s have been a popular target, aiming as they are for a time when discrimination was OK, and women were kept barefoot and pregnant, and abortion was a crime.  But Harris's reliance on the existence of demons as an explanation for behavior is more at home in the 1590s.

So, I never thought it would be necessary to say these things, but here goes:

Demons aren't real.

Nothing possessed those little girls, nor anyone else.

Perhaps they have some problems that caused them to behave poorly. Maybe they were even dangerous to themselves or to others, although it's hard to conceive of a 6-year-old doing much real damage to anyone.  And good grief, the fact that they were in the DHS system indicates that something has gone terribly wrong.

But they were not under the control of any supernatural force, because there are no supernatural forces.

I try very hard not to criticize people for believing in supernatural forces.  If you need that for your life to have meaning, or to behave the right way, or to keep yourself from abusing alcohol or drugs or whatever, or because you've been told that terrible things will happen to you after you die if you don't believe, then I'm not going to criticize you even though I don't believe in those things.  The truth is that there are a lot more people who believe (or profess to believe) in supernatural forces than who don't, especially in this state, and it is often easier to go along to get along, to believe rather than to do the hard work of living in the real world.

But mostly it's an excuse--an excuse for behaving badly, or for not doing something you should, or for doing something you shouldn't, or for general incuriousness about the world.

And when it results in the chain of events that led to this horrible outcome, enough is enough.  He's living in a dream world.

If you believe in the existence and influence of "demons" in worldly affairs, then you have no business making decisions that affect other people.  Not as a legislator especially.  If all of the other factors weren't enough, then that one ought to be. Justin Harris should resign.

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