Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Equally tragic is living your life in a constant state of inner turmoil.
I thought about this recently after reading an obituary in The New York Times. The obituary was for a man named Robert Skolrood. The name was familiar to me, but I have to admit I hadn't heard it in awhile.
Back in the mid-1980s, TV preacher Pat Robertson decided he wanted a form a legal group that would press his crabbed vision of church-state relations in the courts. He put together something called the National Legal Foundation and tapped Skolrood to run it. For whatever reason, Skolrood and Robertson did not get along, and Robertson soon abandoned the group. A few years later, Robertson founded a much more prominent legal organization called the American Center for Law and Justice.
The National Legal Foundation stumbled on post-Robertson, pushing the Religious Right's agenda in the courts. Skolrood argued in favor of religious displays on government property and sought to remove books from the public schools for allegedly promoting "secular humanism."
Like many of his Religious Right cohorts, Skolrood was rabidly homophobic and sought to curtail the rights of gay people. He helped draft a Colorado constitutional amendment curbing gay rights that was later struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Similarly, Skolrood helped write a Cincinnati City Charter provision denying gays certain rights.
How shocking it was, then, to read in the obituary that Skolrood was arrested in 2002 at a well-known gay cruising spot after making advances toward a male undercover officer. Skolrood was accused of exposing himself and grabbing the genitals of a Roanoke County police detective working undercover at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Skolrood denied the charges but pleaded no contest to a charge of disorderly conduct and agreed to pay a $125 fine. The Roanoke Times reported that during the trial, Magistrate Judge Glen Conrad told Skolrood, "That area has been notorious for problems of an unsavory sort. There's no question that you shouldn't have been there."
But perhaps I should not have been so shocked. How many times have we heard this story before? One of the saddest things about politically charged Christian fundamentalism is that it forces some people into a box. That box is tiny, cramped and dark. It allows no lights or truth to enter. It denies introspection. It forces people to live a lie.
Reading Skolrood's obituary, one gets the sense of an individual who dedicated his life to seeking ways to use the raw power of the state to promote a harsh and intolerant brand of Christianity. That is bad enough. We get only one shot at this life, and it is a shame that some people choose to use theirs pursuing schemes to take away the rights of others.
To live that way is indeed a wasted life. It is worse than what Socrates warned us against, because such a life is consciously examined but deliberately put on the wrong road anyway. It is a life of self-loathing and lashing out at others because of an inability to reconcile what one is with what an extreme theology demands one should be.
Better an unexamined life than one so sadly squandered.