In light of today’s horrible mass shooting in Orlando it should be important to talk about the role of religion as a motivator in violence. In today’s case we have seen the dark side of religion brought to bear on innocent people. We cannot solely blame Muslims as perpetrators of violent attacks on people outside their religion. Look back a few years and remember that Eric Rudolph bombed two abortion clinics and a lesbian bar. Additionally, there have been abortion doctors murdered, Planned Parenthood clinics attacked, and everything the KKK has ever done.
Don’t think that religion is only good for violence. In all religious communities there is a much larger core of good people who do good for their neighbors and for their community. However, within these religions, particularly in the fundamentalist branches of that same religion, there are those who are xenophobic and can be led to violence against those who are outside of the religion. Even practitioners of more liberal branches of the same religion have been attacked by those violent elements.
At the core of religions there is a kernel of humanism. The belief that you should treat others as you would yourself. Each major religion has a version of the Golden Rule and a vast majority of people use that as a good measure for how to treat their fellow humans. However, some branches of that religion teach that those who do not strictly follow the religion are inferior and, in extreme cases, teach that these people are not worth treating as human.
Another concern that I have seen in fundamentalist branches of religion is ignoring mental health issues or trying to “pray them away” or use faith to cure mental or emotional problems. Too many times mental or emotional instabilities are ignored or swept under the rug. In the case of the Chattanooga mass shooting in July of 2015, the shooter likely had either depression or bipolar disorder and was medicating himself with drugs and alcohol. The shooter of the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs was found to suffer from a “delusional disorder/persecutory type” and found not fit to stand trial. This problem compounds the fundamentalist xenophobia by not treating a small portion of their population that is unstable to begin with and feeding them beliefs that it is ok to consider some classes of people sub-human.
I want to make clear that I have nothing against religious communities in general. I am concerned by a fundamentalist subculture within each of these belief structures that avoids recognizing mentally unstable behavior for what it is and feeding people beliefs that violence against some groups of people is acceptable.
As a community, no matter what religion, we should raise up the positive aspects of our fellows and take heed of those around us who speak of violence against people who are not like us. Regardless of what religious tradition you and the people around you are from, we should come together as a society to extinguish the flame of violent behavior that lies at the root of too many of our mass casualty events.