Early last Sunday morning, a Muslim walked into a gay bar and murdered 49 people because the Christian and Jewish bibles commanded him to do so.
That’s not necessarily how the incident has been reported, but that doesn’t make it any less true. As any half-literate scholar of the Old Testament knows, the book of Leviticus contains the following injunction: “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”
In other words, according to the Old Testament—which, rumor has it, is the literal word of God—wherever active homosexuality exists, it is the duty of society to snuff it out. As we know, the Old Testament constitutes the entirety of God’s revelation to Jews, one-half of the same to Christians, and is substantially the basis for the sacred text of Islam.
Accordingly, whenever an individual takes it upon himself to murder gay people because of their sexuality, he is only following orders from the one guy you’re not allowed to disobey. In so doing, he is guilty merely of taking the Bible literally—as an enormous chunk of Jews, Christians and Muslims are clearly instructed to do, particularly with regards to prohibitions on certain personal behavior. To this day, virtually every preacher on Earth intones that homosexuality is inherently a sin—and not for any greater reason than “the Bible says so”—and who’s going to argue with the infallible wisdom of God himself?
The man who massacred 49 men and women at a gay nightclub in Orlando certainly didn’t. Like so many insecure young men before him, he became consumed with hatred for the gay community—inflamed, it has been suggested, by his own suppressed homosexuality—which he then justified and acted upon through the language of religious fundamentalism—language that (to repeat ourselves) is readily available for anyone to use without changing a single word.
In this respect, congressional Republicans are absolutely right that the shooting at Pulse was a function of religious extremism. The big mystery, however, is why anyone would single out Islam at the expense of all other religions. While the Quran undoubtedly looks upon homosexuality with contempt, it has merely borrowed ideas originally conceived by Christians and Jews. As far as prescribed treatment of gay people is concerned, to condemn one monotheism is to condemn them all.
So why are we pretending that one religion is more guilty than the others on this subject?
Politically, the reason Christianity and Judaism are getting a free pass is so obvious we need hardly mention it. For both demographic and cultural reasons, a U.S. public official cannot say an unkind word about either faith any more than he can boycott the NFL or burn an American flag. For all the talk about the separation of church and state, we still regard ourselves as a faith-based people guided by so-called “Judeo-Christian values.”
On the whole, Americans view religion—at least their own—as a force for good in society, which becomes problematic when the very dictates of said religion produce unconscionable evil. Since we cannot bear to think of ourselves as complicit in such behavior as we saw last weekend, we simply deflect blame onto some foreign entity that we can happily (and ludicrously) profess not to understand nor know nothing about. Hence the scapegoating of Islam for a disease—homophobia—that is still so prevalent in the country at large that most Republican congressmen can’t even bring themselves to speak its name in public.
The truth is that Jews and Christians who continue to stigmatize gay people are complicit when others take the logic of their arguments to their natural conclusion through acts of extreme violence. While we non-Muslims comfort ourselves by insisting that our religious figureheads, however anti-gay, do not literally call for homosexuals to be executed—it does, after all, conflict with that business about “thou stalt not kill”—occasionally some self-appointed Christian spokesman will do exactly that, and sometimes major Republican presidential candidates will speak at that person’s conferences, thereby tacitly endorsing such views as legitimate.
So long as a large minority of Americans—enabled by their leaders—continues to treat homosexuals as perpetrators of social unrest, rather than as victims thereof, we cannot guarantee that crazy people won’t continue to go on killing sprees to eradicate what they have been told is an existential threat to civilization.
To be sure, we cannot guarantee such a thing in any event. Not all hatreds are borne from religion, and homophobia in some people is as ineradicable as racism or antisemitism are in others. Plus—despite what virtually every professional and amateur opinionator has said—we do not know for sure where the Orlando killer got his own hateful ideas (not that we don’t have plenty of material from which to speculate).
Here’s what we do know for sure: Human beings do not exist in vacuums. While each of us is ultimately responsible for what we think and how we behave, our thoughts and actions are the product of our environment—the people and places that shape us during our adolescence, as well as those with which we choose to associate once we are old enough to chart our own course. Just as America’s closet racists have been empowered into action through the rise of Donald Trump, so do closet homophobes find refuge in the rhetoric of anti-gay demagogues who may well not understand the carnage they are allowing to be inflicted on their watch.
As a society, our choice is as follows: Either we foster an environment in which gay people—and particularly gay relationships—are so thoroughly integrated into mainstream society that even a lunatic will be unable to find a reason to harm them, or we keep our heads in the sand by pretending violence against the gay community is not America’s problem and being shocked—shocked!—whenever a natural-born American citizen proves our assumption wrong.
It may not be in our power to prevent all future atrocities against vulnerable citizens from happening. What is in our power is to effect a society that—as George Washington famously wrote in 1790—“gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”
In the meantime, a bit of gun control probably wouldn’t hurt.