Less than one week has elapsed since the massacre and we’re already seeing it take on a defined role in American culture: as a petri dish for indignation. For political conservatives, the massacre has come to exemplify the decadence of the Obama Administration and the scourge of political correctness. On television, you hear conservatives complain that our President has refused even to say the words “Islamic Radicalism,” let alone to take a strong stance against that cancer. But behind the scenes, conservatives are complaining that the problem isn’t simply the “radical” form of Islam but Islam itself. They note that all religions have their fundamentalists, but only in the Islamic world has violence spread like a common weed. And where, ask the conservatives, is Obama in all of this? Why does he use the strongest of language to attack Netanyahu and Trump while at the same time treating the Muslim terrorists with kid gloves? Why does he suck up to the Iranians? Whose side is he on, anyway? It’s not the narrative you’re likely to read in the Washington Post or hear on MSNBC, but in Red America, it’s exactly what people have been talking about for a while -- and even more so after Orlando.
And then there’s Blue America, where I live. Here, Orlando is a reminder of our feckless Congress, and by that, I mean the Republicans. Increasingly, liberals have come to despise that word. Republican politicians are no longer seen as individuals; like the Borg from Star Trek, they’re viewed as deadly automatons participating in a hive mind. They take their marching orders from nefarious organizations and individuals who prevent them from voting their conscience, if indeed they have a conscience left to vote. In this case, liberals assume, the Republican Congressmen will surely be following the directives of that evil organization known as the NRA. As a result, even though we’ve seen another instance where dozens of people were killed as a result of assault weapons that civilians don’t need to hunt or protect their family, we can count on the Republicans in Congress to make sure that this nation continues to be awash in these weapons and that future acts of domestic terror will be as bloody as possible. Thanks a lot, Borg.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of Orlando is that it has done the impossible; it has succeeded in making an extraordinarily polarized country even more polarized. That’s one reason I find it so difficult to share my own perspectives; I hesitate to throw more bacteria onto the Petri Dish. We should be healing with love, not heaping more hate. Nevertheless, at the risk of compounding the problem, please allow me to express the part of this tragedy that most sticks in my craw. It’s exemplified by a single sentence – one that was uttered on a Facebook video by Seddique Matten, the father of the Butcher of Orlando:
“God himself will punish those involved in homosexuality.”
Those are not the words of an extremist Muslim. Those are not the words of a violent Muslim. Rather, they reflect the views of a large segment of traditional Muslims, Christians and Jews – peace-loving, law-abiding citizens who simply try to take their Scriptures seriously. And it is precisely those words – and the attitudes they breed – that have made life unconscionably miserable for homosexuals over the centuries. Yes, American society has made major strides in recent decades in accepting gay people for what they are, but don’t fool yourself – this country will reek of homophobia for a long time. And tragically, we largely have religion to blame for that.
As a religious person, I feel a sense of responsibility for the abuses of faith. I feel a sense of shame that the “One God” who I adore is seen by so many as a law giver who punishes the loving acts of consenting adults. The people of faith who despise homosexuality are simply taking literally the words of Scripture. How can I not feel compassion for these people? Maybe they are the ones who are authentically religious, and I’m just trying to have it both ways.
Nevertheless, when I reflect on the Orlando Massacre, it is indeed difficult for me to feel compassion for Seddique Matten. In fact, I find myself seeing him as one of the causes of the massacre, despite his “non-violent” philosophy. What would have happened, I ask myself, if Seddique had adopted a different approach to religion? What would have happened if he hadn’t raised his son in an environment that spoke of Divine Retribution? Or if he had told his son that faith should not trump the voice of reason? Or that it is reasonable to affirm homosexual love no less than heterosexual love as legitimate expressions of the human heart? What would have happened if when Omar asked his father what it meant to “fear God,” Seddique responded that he fears that he will not do enough to show compassion for his fellow human beings and otherwise heal the world, that this will dishonor the Name of God and cause him to lose some self-respect?
After weeks like this, I still believe in democratic government, organized religion, and MLK’s line that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” But let’s not fool ourselves. Voters can frequently elect legions of uninspired and corrupt politicians, organized religions can breed one form of bigotry after another, and advanced industrial societies can devolve into moral swamps. In other words, if you think you’ve seen the light at the end of this tunnel, you really are dreaming. Until we do something about the awful divisions that are eating our society alive, we condemn ourselves to more and more Orlandos. So let the finger pointing stop, and the unification begin. Or better yet, let the finger pointing continue – only now, we had better point those fingers at ourselves. All of us.