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What the Orlando Murders Say About America


We were without internet at our house over the weekend. On the one hand, it was a super-frustrating first-world problem. On the other hand, it meant that we weren’t on social media for the first couple of days after the shooting in Orlando. All things considered, I’m sort of grateful that our connection chose to fail when it did.

When we finally heard about the killings, all I could feel at first was a great sense of weariness. Exhaustion at watching this pattern play out once again. So many young lives taken, families left in tatters. Ideological battle lines drawn – about terrorism, gun control, race, and religion. So many senseless murders in America, and we’ve learned to cope with it by racing immediately to our familiar camps. So much pain, and we numb ourselves in a cycle of outrage and finger-pointing.

These mass murders are starting to feel normal, even inevitable. It’s like having a nightmare where everything is moving in slow motion. We know exactly what comes next, we can see how this all ends, but we can’t find any way to stop it.

Except we do know how to stop it. It’s no mystery why 49 young people were able to be obliterated by one sick individual. We live in a nation that has enshrined access to lethal firepower as a constitutional right. Can it really come as a complete shock when someone given over to evil chooses to use that right to take the lives of his brothers and sisters? When we as a country value the right to bear arms more than the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, what do we expect to see happen?

What happened in Orlando is not an aberration. It is a reflection of who we are as a nation. Our country has been at war continuously for longer than many of our citizens can remember. Before the AR-15 assault rifle was used by civilians for depraved mass shootings, it was first used by the United States and its allies to “project power” across the globe. For generations, black Americans, LGBT folk, and many others have been brutalized by a culture of police brutality and mob violence. Random acts of hatred and terror aren’t a new problem; it’s a part of our DNA as a nation.

In the face of what happened in Orlando, many of us are tempted to rush to easy political fixes – for example, advocating for moderate changes to US gun laws. Others of our fellow citizens are succumbing to racism and fear-mongering, calling for bans on religious and ethnic groups. Both of these responses are predictable, but neither address the root of what is ailing our country.

I believe that it is time to move beyond the superficial politics of the Democratic and Republican echo chambers. Debates over gun rights, “radical Islam”, and the differences between a hate crime and a terror attack are noisy, and it’s easy to get sucked in. But a deeper question remains, and it must be answered before we can truly begin to heal as a nation.

Are we ready to acknowledge the spirit of domination and hatred that has gripped our society, which is the source of the cancer of murder that is spreading into our schools, churches, and night clubs?

The horror of Orlando is a mirror on our spiritual state as a nation. Are we ready to look? Are we prepared to engage in the personal and social transformation that will be required for us to emerge from this culture of death?

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  • That was my immediate reaction to the news as well: I could just hear sound of everyone… I like the way you put it: “racing immediately to our familiar camps”. I can totally see your point about the violence that appears to be baked into our DNA (although my own take was to focus on the nobility that is part of our shared heritage as well: see http://www.oneforjesus.net/50-dead-lets-keep-being-america/ ). But however you view the question of what it fundamentally means to “be America”, what is not in question is that we will either turn away from the demons in our heads and begin to follow the angels of our better nature, or we will, in the words of Abe Lincoln, “die by suicide”.

    • barbara.hrrsn@gmail.com

      praying