Following the immediate shock and grief of the terror and tragedy of Orlando, the media discussion has turned to the causes. How–and why–would someone carry out such a heinous act?
Should we attribute this evil to mental/emotional instability, to militant religious fanaticism, to extreme homophobia, or simply to an unleashing of raw unabashed hatred? And what role does the ridiculous laxity in gun regulations (ease of access) play in how we assign culpability?
The question that’s received the most attention so far is whether the Orlando terror was mainly about religion (militant Islam, ISIS) or mainly about hate/homophobia.
The answer is surely: Yes. This is about religion and about hate. It’s about hate using religion. It’s about religion using hate.
Hate is one of the most powerful human emotions we have. It can destroy us from the inside out.
Religion is one of the most powerful cultural phenomena we have. It can inspire us, it can embolden us to work for justice and for the good of others. It can also destroy us from the insight out. It can make use of hate, to draw lines between people. It can make use of hate to spawn violence and destruction.
Augustine, in On Christian Doctrine, his tract on the interpretation of the Bible, wrote about the primacy of love in the Christian religion. The end goal of interpretation of Scripture is the same as the end goal of Christianity, he said: the love of God and the love of neighbor (which means all people).
For Augustine, the criterion we should use to determine whether we have correctly interpreted the Bible–and whether we are rightly practicing Christian faith–is love. Does an interpretation instill more love for God? More love for neighbor? Even if a reader has incorrectly identified the original meaning of the text (i.e. the author’s original intention), so long as the interpretation leads to more love, that end result covers over the flaw in interpretation. Love covers over a multitude of sins (even interpretive sins).
Because love is the goal, love is always also the criterion.
Anyone committed to religion today, whether as practitioners, leaders, or theologians, should have as their #1 goal the love of God and love of neighbor. These two loves do not conflict! Love must be our criterion for determining whether we are doing Christianity right; it must be the criterion for determining whether we are doing religion right.
Like human emotions (love and hate), religion is very powerful and it’s very precarious, too. It can subtly and quickly shift from life-giving to life-taking. It can be used for death or for life.
Life is short and we don’t have much time to waste. Let’s double down on our commitment that love be the rule, that love be the criterion.