Did Liberals Make James Holmes a Mass-Murderer?

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."

All three of Mr. Nolan's Batman films, carry, at their heart, the messages that a life lived in service of others, a life lived seeking justice, is the highest and best life that can be imagined. Mr. Holmes did not choose the Batman films because he resonated with anything other than surface elements.

No, as Anthony Lane points out in the New Yorker, the use of Batman was convenient, not prevenient:

Whatever we learn of the Aurora murderer, whatever he may profess, and whatever the weaponry, body armor, and headgear that he may have sported, and however it seems like a creepy match for what is worn, by heroes and villains alike, in the Batman movies—despite all that, he was not driven by those movies to slaughter.

What we can say, for now, is simply this: he took advantage of those movies. He knew that "The Dark Knight Rises" was not just a film; that it had become, as the studios like to say, and as the press is only too happy to echo, a "movie event."

So Batman didn't cause this atrocity. My liberal church, preaching love, compassion, and self-sacrifice, didn't cause it. I don't have an alibi for my whereabouts all of Thursday and Friday, but I'm also pretty sure that I didn't cause it.

Mr. Jackson of the AFA went on to suggest that what we were seeing in Colorado was God's judgment on a society that rejects his tradition's teaching about morality and denies "the God of the Bible." I'm going to claim my liberalism proudly here and disagree with this strain of conservative Christianity entirely. This is just bad theology--and hateful, as well.

Whether or not you believe in punitive substitution/substitutionary atonement (the idea that Jesus had to die to propitiate God for the evil acts of humankind), the ultimate truth of that theology is that Jesus has completed it already. Even if you actually believe in an all-powerful deity so angry he demands blood and violence for human disobedience, you at least need to realize that that train has left the station.

Jesus does not need to die over and over again—nor does anyone else—to appease an angry God. As Augustine noted in On the Trinity 4.17, "By His death, that one most true sacrifice offered on our behalf, [Christ] purged, abolished and extinguished . . . whatever guilt we had."

Any suggestion that Mr. Holmes is God's agent to punish a wicked land is simply wicked.

We may never know why James Holmes opened fire in that crowded theater. He may never know why. But I am sure of one thing: I didn't cause it, and I don't think you did either, whoever you may happen to be.

Some men just want to watch the world burn.

7/25/2012 4:00:00 AM
  • Progressive Christian
  • Faithful Citizenship
  • Aurora Shooting
  • James Holmes
  • Progressive Christianity
  • The Dark Knight
  • Christianity
  • Protestantism
  • Greg Garrett
    About Greg Garrett
    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.