It’s undeniable that the attack in the Orlando night club shooting was evil. Outside of a few twisted individuals out there, everyone realizes this type of thing is indefensible. Regardless of what moral objections there may be over a person’s life, murder is never justified. One does not oppose wrongdoing by doing wrong. Yet, sometimes there are extremists who cross that line. Whether they act from mental illness or from dangerous views, there are people out there who will respond to things they don’t like in a disproportionate and dangerous way.
I think that when something like this happens, people sometimes start drawing the wrong conclusions. Some find scapegoats. Others, seeing some sort of similarity with the wrongdoer, feel they have to tone it down and sometimes appear to cave in on what is true due to fearing guilt by association. Nobody who feels revulsion over evil wants to seem guilty of supporting it, but they do want to root out the cause of the evil. That’s natural, but it can do more harm than good.
The problem is, it’s not enough to go with our emotions. We have to use our minds as well to find out what did happen and respond to the reality of the situation. In the course of less than 24 hours, claims shifted from the shooter being a rage filled Muslim extremist enflamed by the image of two men kissing to a claim that the shooter was a regular at the gay nightclub where he carried out his massacre. Today’s news may debunk this. Or maybe we will find more that proves it true. Who knows? Right now, the answer is “not us." The point is, we need to slow down and learn what happened before declaiming on “What Ought To Be Done."
Conservatives are blaming Islam. Liberals are blaming guns and intolerance. Rhetoric gets ramped up so high that whoever questions one of these causes finds themselves accused of blindness, or even supporting this crime. But few are asking the question, “What is the truth?” But the moment we stop asking that question and instead start blaming the groups we dislike, we stop searching for meaning and go into “It’s your fault!” mode. People want vengeance, not justice and they seem to want a hated foe to take the blame.
Some of the claims are contradictory. For example, if it does turn out to be true that the shooter was a patron of this club, then “homophobia” seems less likely and we need to find a new motive to help us understand it. If it turns out he was mentally ill, then perhaps the claims of this being a planned terrorist attack are false. So, I think there are some things we need to learn here.
First of all, we cannot guilt ourselves into silence over right and wrong. When the Church says we must speak against wrong in evangelizing the world, then we cannot shrink back from speaking the truth. That doesn’t mean we can be tactless or judgmental about it. As Pope Francis has made clear in his pontificate, we do need to show mercy and understanding. We have to show compassion and love.
Second, we need to remember that God wants the salvation of all. His respect for our free will may mean some will speak or act wrongly. But we can’t abandon them to damnation. That means both we can’t be harsh and drive them to despair and it means we can’t be so wishy-washy that people can’t find out whether a thing is wrong or not.
Third, building on God’s desire for our salvation, even if some victims have done wrong themselves, that does not mean they “got what they deserved” in this case. We should not say such things. God sent Old Testament prophets to exact punishments that were bloody by our standards. God did not send this shooter to do it.
Fourth, the actions of an extremist do not indict the whole unless the crime is explicitly what a person’s professed religious or value system obliges. It does not indict all Muslims, gun owners, people who believe homosexual acts are morally wrong unless the evidence inescapably proves this.
So as we begin today with new developments and continued recriminations in this evil, let us remember our obligation to speak truth with love and compassion. Let us also remember our obligation to search for the truth before blaming our favorite scapegoats or backpedaling on what we believe about right and wrong.