June 17, 2016


‘Terrible, absurd violence’ sparks outrage, prayers

Americans woke up to devastating and heartbreaking news on Sunday morning, June 12. Once again, a lone gunman had taken the lives of innocent victims. Early indications were bad enough, but as the day wore on, the gruesome count grew to 50 dead, and the incident in Orlando was proclaimed to be the worst mass-shooting in American history.

Pope Francis immediately offered his prayers for the families of victims. He also expressed the profound hope that we will “find ways to identify and uproot the causes of such terrible and absurd violence.”

Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the killings “unspeakable violence.” He prayed “that the merciful love of Christ would call us to solidarity with the suffering and to ever greater resolve in protecting the life and dignity of every person.”

We have been here before. Unspeakable violence has become so common that we risk losing our perspective on it. The fact that the victims were homosexual and the perpetrator was Muslim with apparent terrorist sympathies can cause us to lose sight of what Pope Francis calls the root causes of this terrible and absurd violence.

What are the root causes? And more importantly, what can we do about them?

As Christians, we have no difficulty identifying the root causes of this and all violent acts as sin. But we do not simply mean the sins of the disturbed and angry man who committed this unspeakable violence. We also mean the sins of the world, the sins that are found in our culture and in the radical ideologies that oppose our freedom, our religious beliefs and our way of life.

We live in a culture that is saturated with violence—in our games, our entertainment and our media coverage. A visitor from another planet might well conclude that we Americans are obsessed with violence. It surrounds us and fascinates us at the same time that we abhor its consequences in real life. As a society, we need a radical conversion to turn us away from violence to true peace. As the Quakers say, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”

It’s also clear that we are confronted with ideologies that see God as angry and vindictive. To please this angry God, disciples are encouraged to destroy the lives of innocent people. This view of an angry, vengeful God is not authentic to Judaism, Christianity or Islam. We must all work tirelessly to eradicate this abomination in order to prevent anyone from committing horrific crimes in God’s name.

Unfortunately, our political leaders appear to be unable or unwilling to act in any truly effective way to enforce existing laws, or pass new ones, that respect our freedom while at the same time safeguarding individuals and communities. Bipartisan, common sense initiatives are desperately needed to break the cycle of violence that repeatedly forces us to deal with situations like the recent Orlando massacre and so many other horrific instances of mass violence.

Finally, we find ourselves today in the grips of a misguided “political correctness” that fails to make the important distinction between the human rights and dignity of every person, regardless of his or her religious views, political affiliation or lifestyle, and actions or speech that are hateful, vindictive and prone to violence.

If it’s true, as some have reported, that the gunman in Orlando had repeatedly threatened violence against gays or others, then this situation is even more disturbing. U. S. citizens are entitled to the presumption of innocence, and no one should be hassled just because they are Muslim or because they say inflammatory things. Still, we have to do a better job of identifying potential terrorists before they commit heinous crimes. That means that no one should hesitate to report suspicious activities to the appropriate law enforcement agencies. As in this case, the FBI may not be able to charge the individuals with a crime until one occurs, but they can (and should) maintain a level of vigilance that can help prevent unspeakable crimes from occurring.

Archbishop Kurtz is right to pray for “ever greater resolve in protecting the life and dignity of every person.” The root causes of this and so many other terrible and absurd tragedies include our inability to recognize and defend the inalienable rights of all women and men—whether gay or straight, Muslim or Christian, American, Afghani or any other nationality. We are all God’s children, and the God we believe in wants us to love, respect and defend the human dignity of all.

We are right to be outraged by yet another—even more terrible—act of absurd violence. But outrage alone is not helpful. As a people of faith, we must pray. And as citizens of a free country, we must act without hesitation or fear to defend life. Let’s say no to violence, to terrorism and to intolerance. Let’s protect and defend the human dignity and rights of all.

—Daniel Conway

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