This week another crazy person with a gun killed a lot of innocent people. And to compound the tragedy Americans started pointing the finger of blame at each other almost immediately after news of the incident broke.
Let’s examine some of these very predictable attempts at finding a scapegoat as we try to make sense of an inherently senseless act.
▪ “It’s the gun lobby’s fault.” The Orlando shooter chose a semi-automatic “assault rifle” to attack his victims, as many mass shooters have done in the past. Although it’s certainly valid to debate what kind of weapons should be legal for private ownership versus what should be reserved for the military, guns like the one used in the Orlando shootings have been legal for so long and are already owned by so many people there is no way to put that genie back in the bottle. Plus, crazy people who want to commit murder will find the tools to do so no matter what the laws say.
▪ “It’s the anti-gay, religious fundamentalists’ fault.” I’m not a fan of the people who like to quote Old Testament verses that call for the stoning of homosexuals, but we live in a society that values freedom of speech. It would be great if this tragedy caused people to think twice before they said hateful things about those who are different than them, but strongly disagreeing with someone else’s lifestyle does not lead to violence unless a person is also seriously unbalanced.
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▪ This was God’s punishment for our country’s acceptance of homosexuality.” This is sort of the flip side of the previous item. There are those who claim God is using Muslim extremists to punish our country for its increasingly tolerant attitude toward what they see as sexual perversion. The problem with that thinking is that homosexuality has become a special sort of sin in our culture for purely political reasons. The Bible says that to God, sin is sin, and every one of us is a sinner. As such, it really makes no sense to suggest that God tweaks reality every once in a while to punish one particular type of sin and one class of sinner. This line of thinking is particularly suspect when this targeted divine wrath is aimed at people whose behavior happens to be the subject of political controversy at that particular moment in time.
▪ “It’s Obama’s fault.” Perhaps the most predictable reaction to this tragedy was that the president’s many critics would hold him personally responsible for it and that Donald Trump would be leading the “blame Obama” parade. Within hours of the shooting Trump was graciously accepting congratulations for being “right on radical Islamic terrorism” and claiming that Obama was either too weak or too stupid to deal with ISIS or that he has some sinister agenda that caused him to look the other way while we fall victim to their campaign of terror. He’s playing to the “Obama is secretly a Muslim and wants to hand our country over to the terrorists” crowd, a demographic that he does very well with, I’m sure.
To that I will just say that I find the situation in the Middle East to be hopelessly complex and, though I don’t think Obama has an effective policy for dealing with it, I have yet to hear anyone (especially Trump) suggest any coherent alternative to our current policy of diplomacy and airstrikes.
I don’t think any of the preceding points hold the key to understanding what happened in Orlando, but when we take them all together a larger truth emerges — we cannot disagree with each other without vilifying those who hold different opinions than us. People who disagree with our religious/political views are not just wrong, they are evil and dangerous. They are the enemy.
That visceral enmity towards anyone who doesn’t share our political philosophy and religious beliefs has created an environment that helps encourage acts of blind rage like the one that occurred in Orlando this week. These are the troubling, deadly symptoms of what Abraham Lincoln called “a house divided against itself.”
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.