Rather than cast aspersions upon religion, as CBC reporter Neil MacDonald has done, in the wake of the Orlando tragedy perhaps a more profitable approach is to consider how we might be able to get along on the same real estate while maintaining our deeply held convictions on how we ought to live. Mr. MacDonald questions what responsibility organized religion bears “for the pain and misery and death inflicted on gays for so many centuries in the name of god.”
MacDonald suggests that religious groups are involved in “anti-gay activities” by “going to court to ensure their right to discriminate against gays in hospitals and schools and other religiously affiliated institutions.” This is part of creating a culture, according to MacDonald, that makes it possible for the Orlando bloodbath.
However, that suggestion is, in my view, overstating the case. As one scholar noted, “Contemporary mass media often interpret particular events as emblematic of bigger problems.” MacDonald did just that. Scholars will be debating the Orlando massacre for years to come. It is not as simple as MacDonald suggests. As time goes on we will find out more about the complexity of the Orlando killer – recent reports suggest he was a troubled individual, violent to his wife, and had his own sexual identity issues within a complicated matrix of radical religious views.
Christian institutions are an extension of their religious communities. They carry out their religious beliefs in the practical day to day affairs in an attempt to alleviate human suffering. They are motivated by the Christian principles of serving unconditionally. Are they perfect? No. Can they do better? Of course. Yet, it must be said that to suggest that such religious communities who want to maintain their religious views of marriage within their communities in accordance with their religious practices are implicated in the Orlando mass shooting is a stretch too far.
Consider for a moment, because X does not agree with how Y lives her life does not give X the right to kill Y. In other words, my right to exist and live my life without fear is an inalienable right as a member of humanity. It is not dependent upon my identity nor my religious beliefs. Religion never has a right to justify such killing.
There has been so much killing on this planet over religion that it is mind-boggling. It is nauseating to the extreme. Because of the violence experienced in the religious wars and persecutions of Europe in the 16th and 17th Centuries we have developed a form of government that we refer to as “western representative democracy.” Our western democracies have been, to date, the most successful form of government that has allowed the greatest amount of individual freedom while, at the same time, providing for civil peace.
Our society is not perfect. We have a ways to go but we have been moving forward. One of the chief cornerstones of our method of building community has been the right to believe or not to believe, practice or not to practice, religion.
The very core of who we are is identified with what we hold to be true as we struggle to answer the fundamental questions: “Who are we?” “Why are we here?” “What are our responsibilities and duties?” “Where are we going?”
We do not all agree with the answers of those fundamental questions. We give ample room for disagreement. But even then we have accepted a certain level of dissonance as the price we pay to live peacefully in our free and democratic society where minorities are protected against majorities’ whims.
The heinous crime of Orlando is that: heinous. It goes against all that we have come to appreciate about living in our society. Violence against one group is violence against all. The racially motivated violence committed against the church members gathered for a prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina is no different than the anti-gay violence of Orlando, Florida. It is hate. Since the time Europeans burned heretics at the stake we have, as a free and democratic society, said such violence was evil. And so it is. And so it will remain.
From the moment the Orlando tragedy came to light religious communities swung into action not only to condemn the carnage but to assist with the care of the grieving. That is when we see religion at its best – caring for all despite our differences on life. Everyone deserves to be treated as we would want others to treat us. Love, not hate, is the motivator of true religious expression.
Our society has always struggled to find a place for people of very different views on how we ought to live and what it means to be human. It is a struggle worth having. If we are going to be successful in having a multi-cultural community where everyone is given the same opportunity to live out our understanding of the deep, conscientiously held convictions, then we will require respect for the humanness of the other.
The Orlando disaster is a time to lend a helping hand to alleviate the pain and suffering of our neighbours. Neighbours who may think differently Neighbours who may live differently. But neighbours all the same.
 Joel Best in his book review of The Montreal Massacre: A Story of Membership Categorization Analysis by Peter Eglin, Stephen Hester, in the American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 110, No. 2 (September 2004), pp. 520-521, online: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/425399
 Pastor says victims’ families are mostly Hispanic http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-nation-live/liveblog/live-updates-orlando-shooting/?tid=ss_tw#934c610e-c6cc-40fa-80f8-edf20e319819