The short-term meaning as well as the long-haul ramifications of the horrific slayings at the Pulse nightclub for LGBT people early Sunday morning continues to unfold and is shaking the nation.
Tuesday is normally the day we reserve here at Political Theology Today for “current events.” We also work with contributors who normally have at least a five-day lead time to put together their commentaries. Given the choice between waiting until later and weighing on what may be the most traumatic, morally outrageous, and politically mobilizing event since September 11, 2011, I believe it is incumbent upon me as the managing editor of PTT to make some kind of statement.
In making this statement, however, I want to stress that I speak for myself alone and not for the editors of PTT as a whole. Contrary to occasional criticisms which are sometimes vehement, PTT does not have an editorial “position.” Nor do we deliberately censor, or exclude, the views of certain commentators, simply because they happen to be out of the mainstream from the majority of our readership.
As our editorial policy states, the only time we draw the line is when aiming to “avoid posts that are clearly defamatory or disparaging to particular religious or ethnic groups.”
Those disclaimers aside, I would argue strongly that the larger issues surrounding the mass shootings of 5/12 demand that we all force ourselves to thinking reflectively and not reactively, which social media, the toxicity of present day politics, and the countless ideological, soundproof echo chambers in which conveniently situate ourselves make it about as hard for us as it for an alcoholic in recovery not to be tempted by friends in a loud bar to order a drink.
First and foremost, we must refrain from any rush to judgment about what the “causes” of this tragedy are, particularly if we are going to do nothing more than reactively push our own political world view front and center. There is no monocausal explanation for what happened, or what will continue to happen.
We know what happened in Orlando is only a surprise to those who have had their heads parked snugly in the sand. Ironically, both ISIS and the FBI have been predicting it for some time. If it comes as a surprise at all, it is simply because we have been unwilling to accept the reality that made it surprising in the first place.
Second, all the familiar ideological nostrums about both “what brought it about” and “what is to be done” that are floating about (as is always the case after these sorts of incidents) need to be re-examined and put in perspective. We are all blind men and women literally sensing only a portion of the elephant, and because of our sightlessness we misconstrue the greater reality. The paradox is that what we are experiencing is indeed correct within our own, limited context, but viewed without the “blindfold” – or ideological blinkers – the picture seems quite different.
I urge us all to consider the wisdom of lyrics of the half-century old song by The Buffalo Springfield entitled “For What It’s Worth”: everybody’s both right and wrong, and that’s the problem.
- Yes, making far more prohibitive private gun ownership, including ownership of assault weapons, might mean that 25 instead of 50 people are killed in an attack like the one in Orlando. No, it wouldn’t stop such assaults, which are ideologically motivated. In fact, yesterday an ISIS-inspired killing of a French police office and his partner, which the country’s president termed “undeniably a terrorist attack”, was carried out as a stabbing with a kitchen knife.
- Yes, restricting Muslim immigration, as Donald Trump proposes, to the United States would lower the number of potential “lone wolf” terrorists, disgruntled because they can’t assimilate to America, and by mere statistics lessen the sheer number of those disposed to undertake such attacks. No, such bans on entry into this country wouldn’t do anything to roll back the appeal of ISIS globally, as President Obama pointed out today, and might even radicalize some peaceful, law-abiding Muslims to the extent that we have more of a domestic problem on our hands among adherents of Islam, who happen also to be U.S. citizens.
- Yes, we can understand the Orlando shooting in the context of pervasive anti-gay bigotry. No, it isn’t really a matter of progress, or lack of progress, on giving LGBT people equal rights in this country, because such bigotry is far more extensive in the developing world than it is in this country, and as has been pointed out repeatedly, many Islamic countries make homosexuality a criminal, if not a capital, offense. Only a very small percentage of Muslims worldwide countenance gay rights, a recent Pew Study indicates. And even in the United States, according to the Washington Post citing the same research, “Muslims are less accepting of homosexuality than most religious groups.”
- Yes, we have to deal with ISIS forcefully and its accelerating worldwide campaign of terror against in ways that inevitably challenge our basic assumptions and call us to make hard choices between our most cherished values and our demand for safety and security. No, there is no easy, or even straightforward and intelligible, set of simple military, political, or legislative solutions, and for the time being the current moral idealism of this Western millennial generation may be in danger of going the way of our grandparents during the increasingly dark 1930s.
These daunting and often unpalatable options call for an end of the endless off-the-cuff name-calling and villification of the “other” in our political discourse as well as in our all-too-comfortable habits of seeing the world through the lens of identity politics. None of us are righteous, as the apostle Paul emphasizes. The way forward requires not so much a new politics, but a bold new kind of political theology and theorizing that many of us honestly will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into even even attempting.
In short, it involves a deep, almost paradoxical and God-inspired respect for the “other”, no matter how much we suspect or have even demonized them, in the midst of the chaos and strife that amid our fragmented and whimpering minute voices that are increasingly nothing more than pitiful emphemera tossed by helpless hands into the gales of history.
If we do not awake soon from this long somnabulism of self-indulgent, social stupefaction, the violence of the gathering storm will indeed wake us.
We cannot simply cry “enough” when we do not have enough insight, courage, or wherewithal to even make a modest difference. It will take deep thinking and even more profound self-discipline.
The well-known Vince Lombardi quip about the tough getting going when the going gets tough is quite apt on this day. Our “toughness” cannot be bluster.
And, as another famous song from the Sixties reminds us, we maybe need to stop philosophizing and take the rag away from our faces, so that we can really make a difference in the situations we will all encounter in the days to come.