Sunday, June 12, 2016

And Again

The "deadliest shooting in American history" happened yesterday, presumably not counting incidents in the American Civil War or Revolutionary War. We know what it means--it's the deadliest of the familiar series of the past few decades where a small group of people, in this case one person, opens fire on a larger group of civilians. President Obama has delivered another speech and seems beyond tired now. Everyone expressed condolences and sorrow, Donald Trump and a few assholes like him took the time to say they told us so. That the attacker identified as Muslim and affiliated himself with an Islamic terror organisation is proof enough many need that this is the evil of Islam, the horror of the recent event helping them to evade the fact that most of the people killed by Islamic terrorists are peaceful Muslims.

That said, part of the horror of last night's attack is the realisation that there have been fewer attacks on the LGBT community reported in media than one might expect with anti-gay rhetoric in the air like Pat Robertson partly blaming Hurricane Katrina on acceptance of homosexuality. It's interesting reading reports of law enforcement unsure whether to call yesterday's shooting an act of terror or a hate crime. Ultimately the distinction is surely entirely rhetorical. It's easy enough to blame religion because believing in things on faith seems absurd when they're not the things you believe, so absurd that it seems only a crazy person can believe them. So to say a religion is at fault is to attack only one expression of the human capacity to fall down false paths of reasoning. The same capacity in the human mind that leads to blinded resentment and hate.

It's particularly strange for me to hear Islam called a religion of exceptional hatred when I've been studying the Reformation and England in the 17th century for the past year and a half. I could mention that Parliamentary forces in the 1640s took to massacring some citizens in England without restraint on the grounds that they were Catholic. Or I could just mention the Thirty Years' War where millions were killed in the conflict between Protestants and Catholics.

. . . it is disgraceful and disgusting that the Christian religion should be supported by violence. Without this freedom [to express alternative opinions], we are still enslaved: not, as once, by the law of God but, what is vilest of all, by human law, or rather, to be more exact, by inhuman tyranny. There are some irrational bigots who, by a perversion of justice, condemn anything they consider inconsistent with conventional beliefs and give it an invidious title--"heretic" or "heresy"--without consulting the evidence of the Bible on this point.

The above quote is from John Milton's Christian Doctrine (translated from Latin by John Carey). One of the fascinating things to me about Milton is his evident capacity for great rational thought in conflict with a persistent religious faith. He wrote beautifully both here and in Areopagetica on the necessity for people to be allowed to express "heretical" ideas without fear of punishment yet even he maintained a hatred for Catholics and was persistent in condemning them, partly in support of Cromwell's government which massacred people in Ireland on what was arguably religious grounds.

Condemning a religion is much too easy and filled with the potential to exacerbate the problem. The best thing is to remember that people were killed yesterday for no good reason and therefore to help cultivate empathy and sound reasoning.

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