Archived Opinion

Trying to make sense of Orlando

op frI don’t know what to tell my children, so I don’t tell them anything. Not yet anyway. It is the first day of summer vacation, and therefore, the mood in our home is one of revelry. The alarm clocks are off, the swimsuits are airing out on the railing of the deck, and the pancakes are whimsically sprinkled with chocolate chips, in the manner of a big, crooked smile. I don’t know what to tell them, so I don’t tell them anything.

The world is filled with love. The world is filled with rage. The world is filled with hatred. How can all of this be true? How can it be reconciled? How can it even be understood? Another mass shooting, this time in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Fifty people dead. Another young, male killer, and everyone trying, as usual, to assemble pieces of his life into a picture that will explain it, why he chose to go into a nightclub just around last call and start shooting until fifty people were dead. Maybe he had ties to ISIS? Maybe he was homophobic? Maybe he had a history of mental instability?

Before the picture has completely formed, the battle is already being waged in social media, in barber shops and diners, and, of course, in the political arena. These particular battle lines have long been drawn, so much so that the reaction now seems not just predictable, but sadly pro forma, as people slip into the same old roles and make the same old arguments on guns, on religion, on sexual orientation, you name it.

There is no real dialogue, no effort whatsoever to look for any solution that does not square precisely with hardwired political ideologies and rigid, wildly inconsistent religious beliefs. In the past couple of days, I have seen some truly repulsive posts, including one from a minister who quoted Galatians in an apparent effort to frame the attack as a form of divine retribution against the victims because they were gay, at least many of them. 

I am certainly no expert on the Christian faith, but it appears to me that divorcees and the affluent tend to get a pass these days, while the gay community continues to be widely condemned. Many Christians are curiously selective in their interpretation of the scripture, insisting on a very narrow, literal reading when it conforms to their prejudices, while allowing for a broader, contextual reading when that is more convenient, such as the biblical sanction for the stoning of children for being disobedient. Or the correct treatment of your slaves, as laid out in the Old Testament. Or under what very specific set of circumstances you can get a divorce. Or whether it is cool to cherish your money. Sometimes, it seems, scripture is viewed as absolute. Other times, this wiggle room appears.

One thing that does seem clear is that Christianity, along with the other major world religions, has love at its core, or should have. Any other expression of religion, especially acts of violence or hatred, are horrible distortions of the faith. It seems unlikely that the massacre in Orlando was motivated by religion or deeply held political beliefs, at least based on the early reports. More likely, it was the act of a hateful and irrational individual, an act of rage. I think we must admit that rage has become a national epidemic.

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Regardless of what your politics might be, there can be no doubt that Donald Trump’s candidacy is fueled almost entirely by rage. The violence at his rallies is not coincidental. He incites it, and then feeds off of it, reflecting it back and validating it for his followers. Trump himself is not the real threat. It is what he represents that must be confronted and defeated, the notion that rage is the only natural and correct reaction to change, and that your problems, whatever they may be, have been caused by liberals or by Mexicans or by Muslims or by homosexuals or by anyone else who doesn’t look like you or think like you.

I admit that I have also been battling rage these past few days, a rage at the politicians who are in the pocket of the gun lobby, a rage at my fellow citizens, many of whom strongly believe that the answer to our gun problem is MORE guns and that it is useless to pass laws, since some people will break those laws. They see this as unassailable logic and sneer at anyone who disagrees. They believe the Second Amendment grants them the right to own any volume or type of weapons they choose without considering, even for a moment, the context in which the amendment was written or even exactly what it says, which is not remotely close to what they believe or assert that it says.

There I go again, playing the familiar role, as we all do. And people keep dying. And the mad carousel whirls on and on. Eventually, I’ll tell my kids something, I guess, but not today. Because it is summer, and we’re having chocolate chip pancakes.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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