Hate, Religion, and Guns

Hate, religion, and guns. Those are the three words you see most often mentioned as causes, or contributing factors, to the massacre at the Pulse night club in my hometown Orlando, Florida yesterday when at least fifty were killed and more than that wounded.

It goes without saying that hate was the primary motivator. You don’t murder someone unless you hate them. I don’t really understand hate. I don’t know that I have ever hated anyone. I did not hate Richard Nixon. I did not even hate Osama Bin Laden. I can comprehend how oppressed people can hate — the Jews Hitler, African Americans white racists, women their abusers.

But otherwise, I think hate is caused by a combination of ignorance and fear. Omar Mateen did not understand gay people. He did not understand that a certain small percentage of the population is affectively oriented toward the persons of the same gender. And that there are other complex orientations and affections which are quite beyond anyone’s choice. LGBT and others. Mateen therefore feared what he did not understand. And that ignorance and fear was no doubt fueled by the second contributing factor to Orlando. Religion.

Oh, we will all proclaim that Islam was not the cause of this and that, while Omar Mateen has been described as an observant Muslim, extremists like members of ISIS pervert an otherwise peaceful religion. Yes, but. But let us be honest in noting that there are violent and imprecatory passages in the Qur’an. As there are in the Bible — Old Testament and New — and in the sacred texts of many (but not all) of the world’s religions. People have been, are, and will always be motivated by violence by a selective reading and understanding of religious texts.

And, finally, guns. Of course the NRA will trumpet the fact that apparently Mateen purchased his guns legally (although with his record of abuse and terrorist associations, it hard to understand how). Some gun enthusiasts will even postulate that had those LGBT victims been packing on Saturday night, there would have been far fewer casualties. Yeah, right.

So, what is to be done? Well, if hate is largely generated by ignorance and fear, we must continue our efforts to educate the population about the “normality” of homosexuality. We have made enormous strides in a very short time but, in this as in so many things, we have a “long way to go.” Enlightening the ignorance of so many about the realities of gender and human sexuality will do a lot to dispel the fear and therefore to mitigate against hatred of people who happen to be gay.

What about religion? Given my profession and lifelong commitment as a person of faith, you will not be surprised that I do not recommend giving it all up. What I do recommend is “growing it all up.” Our religious texts are ancient documents written by flawed people influenced, as we all are, by the cultural conditions of their times. However we may wish to understand our scriptures as being “inspired” by God, we have these treasures “in earthen vessels.”

Pastors, teachers, and parents must embrace critical and scholarly study of the various scriptures in order to understand, and teach those they mentor how the texts came to be written, what the authors’ original intentions likely were, and how they might be appropriately applied (or not) in our own day. God does not condone violence. “Holy” Scriptures often do.

And what about guns? I would ban them all. There is absolutely no reason why the average person needs to own a firearm in the 21st century. Hunting is barbaric. I wish the Second Amendment could be repealed and all firearms confiscated.

Of course, this will not happen. Especially in the still Wild West America where we — alone among the nations of the world — think it is our right to own instruments that are fashioned primarily to kill. So, failing this radical solution what might we do? Require extensive background checks, work on the technology of so-called smart guns which have mechanisms that only allow them to be fired by the owner, and absolutely ban assault weapons like the AR-15 rifle used by Mateen and any “conversion kits” that allow the transformation of any less-rapid-fire rifles or handguns into ones that have such increased firepower.

If we actually banned, and even confiscated, assault weapons, eventually it might not be necessary for even the police to be armed with such merciless machinery. They certainly did not used to be. Perhaps only the military should retain the right to use them in the extreme conditions of war. It goes without saying, though say it again and again we must, no deer hunter needs an assault rifle.

So, education and common sense gun control. These seem to me the only means to begin to come against the terror and hatred which so infects our land today. Join me, as you can, in advancing those ends.

There is no time to lose.


One Response to “Hate, Religion, and Guns”

  1. John Brooke Says:

    Enjoyed reading your thoughts, passed on to me by a friend. Agreed on so many of your points, but would add that the notion that the shooter’s fear was not of homosexuality but of the possibility that he was a homosexual.

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