Did Liberals Make James Holmes a Mass-Murderer?
I have to think that all of this, whether it's the Hollywood movies, whether it's what we see on the internets [sic], whether it's liberal bias in the media, whether it's our politicians changing public policy, I think all of those somehow have fit together-and I have to say also churches who are leaving the authority of Scripture and losing their fear of God-all of those things have seem to have come together to give us these kinds of incidents.
It's a little different than Jerry Falwell blaming pagans, feminists, and gays because America was attacked by Islamic fundamentalists on 9/11. But not much.
Now I will admit that I got miles away from any religious institution that foregrounded Hell and judgment as the reasons we serve God, but I know of no liberal Christianity that excludes God from our prayers and service. Although we may focus less on a God of judgment than on love, justice, compassion, and service, I would be so bold as to suggest that these are qualities that should also make it less likely for people to kill each other in mass numbers.
But even if we agreed (we don't) that the only thing reinforcing decency is the fear of eternal punishment, does James Holmes seem, by any standards you recognize, sane? Even if he had been exposed regularly to "the God of the Bible," judgment, and Hell, would he would have acted differently?
Almost certainly not. The mentally ill do not think of consequences; they do not weigh outcomes.
What about other liberal institutions? A Charlotte minister suggested that Mr. Holmes may have been affiliated with the "Occupy" movement, which appears in a critical light in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Night Rises:
James Holmes, an Occupy Wall Street guy, murdered 14 and wounded 50+ at a midnight showing of the Batman movie that portrayed OWS'ers in a bad light. Perhaps there is a motive here.
This Internet speculation, by the way, is still unproven as of this writing, and it is probably important to note that the Occupy movement was also not simply a liberal cause (anecdotally, I know of conservatives, moderates, and anarchists who also participated), but even if we did consider it liberal, the movement's demand for economic fairness was generally expressed through nonviolent civil disobedience (unlike the occupiers in the new Batman film). We certainly have not heard of other Occupy protestors anywhere in the world who dyed their hair orange, armed and armored themselves, and after attacking other human beings, compared themselves (as Mr. Holmes reportedly did to the arresting officers) to agents of anarchy like the fictional Joker (Heath Ledger) in The Dark Knight.
Our liberal culture is called one of the culprits for the Aurora shootings, but Batman did not make Mr. Holmes murder a dozen people and shoot 58 others. He had not even seen The Dark Knight Returns, which was of course just opening, and if he had it would have taken an egregious misreading of that film to imagine as heroes anyone other than those trying to stop the violence and stem the chaos. As Lisa Schwartzbaum points out in her review, the film explores difficult themes, but moves in a very different direction than he did: "societal upheaval, urban unrest, class warfare, personal sacrifice, and spiritual salvation."
Greg Garrett is (according to BBC Radio) one of America's leading voices on religion and culture. He is the author or co-author of over twenty books of fiction, theology, cultural criticism, and spiritual autobiography. His most recent books are The Prodigal, written with the legendary Brennan Manning, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, and My Church Is Not Dying: Episcopalians in the 21st Century. A contributor to Patheos since 2010, Greg also writes for the Huffington Post, Salon.com, OnFaith, The Tablet, Reform, and other web and print publications in the US and UK.