Over on my other blog, HinesSight, I've talked about how tough it is to figure out how to stop more mass shootings in this gun-crazed natiom.
The main problem is that the United States has both way more guns than any other industrialized country, and also way more gun deaths. While it's obvious that the two are connected -- more guns means more gun deaths -- it won't be possible to make those guns disappear.
Religion seemingly also played a role in Omar Mateen's attack on a gay nightclub. He pledged allegiance to ISIS during a 911 phone call in the midst of the attack. ISIS is known for killing suspected homosexuals because of their twisted view of Islam.
But if there is a clear link between the attack in Orlando and the Islamic State, it would be the most high-profile incident yet in the group's wider, relentless campaign against gays. Ever since the group came to prominence amid security vacuums in Iraq and Syria, it has set about persecuting religious minorities, women and others whose identity and lifestyle are anathema to its puritanical creed. In areas under the control of the Islamic State, its fighters have issued edicts against homosexual behavior and flashy hairstyles and promised death for anyone caught in the act of sodomy.
Christianity, though, also has played a big part in the persecution of the LBGTQ community. Christians haven't been throwing gays off of tall buildings (as ISIS has done), but many of them believe that homosexuality is against God's law.
Vox has an interesting recent piece, "LGBTQ religion activist: it's time to talk about America's faith-based homophobia problem."
As with every mass shooting before it, politicians are responding to Sunday morning’s massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando by extending their "thoughts and prayers" to the families of the 49 victims who lost their lives.
But what does it mean for politicians to offer their thoughts and prayers to a marginalized community they’ve prayed against?
"I find it so ironic when the same Christian leaders who put in the most footwork in oppressing us in this space try to use this tragedy as a talking point for their Islamophobia," Faith in America executive director Eliel Cruz told me in an interview Monday.
The Pulse shooting was a direct attack on Orlando’s LGBTQ community, which is consistently targeted by some politicians of faith who claim religious freedom when writing, lobbying for, and passing anti-LGBTQ laws.
The shooter, Omar Saddiqui Mateen, has been identified as an Islamist extremist. And while politicians may pair his homophobia with his religious beliefs as a Muslim, faith-based homophobia is an all-too-familiar American tradition.
Cruz’s nonprofit organization for LGBTQ people of faith and allies aims to counter religion-based bigotry head on. Cruz weighed in on why the shooting in Orlando serves as a sobering reminder that people choosing to use religion to oppress people, regardless of one’s particular faith practice, can lead to deadly consequences.
Here's another connection I see between religion and the reaction of Americans to mass shootings: many people believe that "thoughts and prayers" actually do something.
At least, those thoughts and prayers don't do anything for the victims of a mass shooting, nor do they do anything to help prevent another attack. However, thoughts and prayers can make people feel better, especially if they're part of a ritual or gathering of like-minded people.
Otherwise, they're useless.
There's no evidence that God exists, so a non-existent God isn't going to respond to prayers. There's also no evidence of life after death, so now non-existent people killed in a mass shooting aren't going to be aware of thoughts. (Nor would they be even while alive, unless the thoughts were communicated directly them in speech, writing, or whatever.)
I strongly suspect that given how religious most people in the United States are, this religiosity plays a role in our continued inability to do much to combat gun violence. Consciously or unconsciously, those who believe in God and an afterlife don't think that someone killed by a gun is dead and gone forever.
Rather, they're dead and gone somewhere else. Heaven is the most common hypothesis. Or rebirth here on Earth, if the religious believer accepts reincarnation.
We hear this all the time from relatives of people who have died unexpectedly. "I miss her so much, but I know she's in a better place now."
I can understand how comforting it is to feel that way.
But I'm convinced that this attitude plays a role in our reluctance to do something concrete and realistic to reduce the very high number of gun deaths in the United States. If someone believes, as I do, that this is our one and only life, then life becomes exceedingly precious.
Cutting lives short, as happened in the deaths of the 49 people who were killed in the Orlando shootings, then can be seen as even more outrageous. There is no consolation in an afterlife, no hope of being reunited with a deceased loved one, no imagining that the soul of the departed is now in a "better place."
So religion plays a role in the persecution of members of the LGBTQ community, 49 of whom died in Orlando. It also arguably plays a role in our inability and unwillingness to tackle head-on the problem of mass shootings in this country -- because believing that a dead person is now in heaven diminishes the urgency of making this world as heavenly as possible.