Today our country experienced what President Obama has called “an act of terror and an act of hate.”
In the days and weeks ahead we will struggle to come to terms with yet another mass shooting, this one the worst in our nation’s history. We will hear calls for prayers and for gun legislation. We will argue about religious fanaticism and immigration and security. Many people will call the shooter “crazy” or otherwise attribute his actions to mental illness.
At this point we know only one thing for sure. This was an act of hate.
In his apology, the gunman’s father said that his son was “disgusted” by the sight of two men kissing.
To what extent this was the sole motivation of the murderer remains to be seen. But there can be no denying that — whatever else was behind this slaughter — he targeted his victims because they were gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.
Many people are already expressing their horror over what happened. Among them are the very same people who for years have demonized this community for the way that they live and express their love. As I write these words I am listening to politicians and preachers who have regularly denounced LGBTQ people deploring the hatred that led to this crime.
None of these politicians or religious leaders are to blame for what occurred today. The gunman is responsible for his own actions. But each and every one of us is responsible for contributing to the character of our nation.
And, unfortunately, racism, homophobia, misogyny, religious intolerance, and so many other forms of bigotry continue to disfigure its character. If this is ever going to change, it will only happen because we refuse to put up with it any longer.
Humanists don’t try to find the “good” in hate-filled crimes like this. But this does not mean that we can’t identify any lessons. One of the lessons of today’s shooting is that we who place human dignity at the pinnacle of morality must never remain silent when confronted by prejudice, intolerance, and hatred.
Let our refusal to do so stand as our tribute to the lives that were taken today.