This past Sunday’s horrific shooting at the Oak Creek Sikh Temple just outside Milwaukee is more than just news headlines to Unitarian Universalists. It took place just a week after the four-year anniversary of an unnervingly similar crime, the killing of two and wounding of seven on July 27, 2008 at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church by a lone gunman whose perception of reality was warped by hate.
There is much we may never know about Wade Michael Page, the apparent gunman in the Oak Creek shootings, as he was among the dead in the violence he unleashed (apparently by his own hand after being wounded in a shootout with police). Why did he do what he did? Why did he choose that site for this awful deed? We do know that Page apparently participated for years in the so-called “hatecore” music scene, playing in a band called End Apathy that spouted a violent white-supremacist message. Like Adkisson, he imbibed a fearful message of suspicion and denigration of others; like Adkisson, Page’s life appeared to be spiraling into a frightening maelstrom of frustration, discouragement, and despair — none of which justifies their dreadful acts, of course, but once again we see a life unraveling into monstrous violence. Could any compassionate intervention have saved these deeply troubled men from themselves? We will probably never know, yet the question haunts.
Sikhism, not well known in the United States, in many ways embodies a polar opposite of the evil rage that assaulted our sisters and brothers in Oak Creek: it teaches compassion, the equality of women and men and indeed of all people, and emphasizes social justice and activism. Perhaps those of us who embrace Unitarian Universalism should reach out to the Sikh community not only with compassion for what they have endured, but because we might find ourselves allies with common goals.
It’s trite to point out how so many of the world’s religions point toward the universality of love and compassion; equally tiresome are the clichés about how religion divides us and creates enmity, from the Crusades of old to the conflicts of modern times: partition in south Asia following Indian independence, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Northern Ireland, et cetera, et al., ad nauseam. These observations are overused because they both contain truths, and they are wearisome because neither of these simplistic sets of perspectives really helps us identify the ways in which we can be authentically religious and also lead constructive lives dedicated to progress, fairness and decency. Likewise, though our love of justice demands that we condemn these deranged acts of violence, that is never enough. Indeed, everything feels inadequate in response to something like the horrors that unfolded at Oak Creek and Knoxville.
So what can we do?
We can form and sustain alliances with other religious peoples and work together toward common constructive goals.
If we know an individual whose life appears to be plummeting toward destruction and self-destruction, we can try to offer support and point him or her toward help.
In a world full of suspicion, meanness and violence, we can try to live each day with compassion, patience, knowledge and open-mindedness.
No, it won’t bring back those who died in Oak Creek or Knoxville, or anywhere else that hate has left its deadly mark. But it is something.