On Aurora

Originally posted on Brain Droppings

The tragic killing spree in Aurora, Colorado has left many searching for answers as to the motivations of James Holmes, the 24 year old killer.

Some people see the shooting at the Century 16 Theater as an opportunity to revisit gun control laws, while others suggest that had theater patrons carried their own weapons, the killer may have been stopped sooner.  This debate will run its course in the days and weeks to come.

Still others look for divine purpose in tragedy. Why would a good and benevolent deity allow something so terrible to happen?

Such is what happens in the immediate aftermath of these types of crimes. Those with stages and built in audiences perform for their acolytes, pontificating on god’s will.

Invariably, the discussion must turn to why such violence happens in the first place, and the “answer” too often is explained away that we have “veered from god’s plan” or we have “rejected god.”

This makes sense right?  When people “reject” god, he must show his displeasure by utilizing evil human beings to wreak havoc among his innocents.  This twisted logic is what inspires members of the Westboro Baptist Church to protest soldiers’ funerals – and now, the funerals of the 12 dead victims of the Aurora shootings.

It is almost impossible to ignore the similarities between the oft-rejected Westboro Baptist Church doctrine of “God Hates Everything” and that of “mainstream” religious leaders and politicians in times like these.

Aurora holds a special place in my heart and in my life.  I moved to Aurora in January 1980 in to a newly built home that overlooked downtown Denver and the Rocky Mountain Front Range.  Though I would leave Aurora some seven years later, setting off for adventures in the U.S. Army, this was where I would spend the ages of 13-21 – the “formative” years.

Aurora is where I met the woman that I share my life with.  Gateway High School, where people were evacuated to after the shooting, is where we roamed the halls and ultimately graduated from.  The near majority of my Facebook friends are people I went to high school with – today that bond we share of being from Aurora has never been stronger, nor do I suspect, will it ever diminish.

Mass murder unfortunately has become all too common in our lifetime. It would be a lie to say that I’ve become nearly numb to the news that another shooting spree has occurred in X, Y, or Z.  Just a couple weeks before Aurora, several people were shot and killed at a block party in Toronto – it was just a factoid presented on the news without a pause.

But this was home – a home I’ve not lived in for 25 years, but home nonetheless. 

With that as a backdrop, it hurts even more to read the proclamations being made by politicians and religious leaders trying to make sense of a senseless act.

Rick Warren, founder of the Saddleback megachurch, and the man who presided over President Obama’s inauguration ceremony, took to twitter to offer his explanation for this tragedy, equating evolution with the mindset behind a mass murder: 

Then there is Tea Party congressman Louie Gohmert from Texas who offered up his own take on Aurora:

“We have been at war with the very pillars, the very foundation of this country… and when… you know… what really gets me as a Christian, is  to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo- Christian beliefs and then a senseless crazy act of terror like this takes place.”

Gohmert went on to state that atheists are the problem

“[M]ost of us that follow the military know we have had an extraordinary increase in suicide in the military –and it’s just heartbreaking. And, I’ve sat with families around their kitchen tables and they are going ‘we never saw this coming – ya know, we didn’t know.” And there was a study commissioned…what they found, and I don’t know if they will make it public – one of the participants told me ‘the results may not go public’; but, all of the people who committed suicide, within their thousands of people studied, were part of the 2-percent most atheistic members of the military . We’ve lost our faith.”

Mentioned in the same interview, within the context of attacks on Christianity and loss of faith, Gohmert subtly implied that atheism is somehow the root cause, the responsible cause, for the shootings in Aurora.

This is a tried and true playbook.  Whenever tragedy strikes in the world, be it from natural causes or a violent individual, it is nearly impossible not to find a pundit, politician, or religious leader weighing in that it is a direct result of god sending a message.  How is this different from Fred Phelps and his Westboro brethren?

We thank god for protecting our loved ones and keeping them safe and out of harm’s way, but what of the 12 killed?  From 6 year old Veronica Moser-Sullivan to 51 year old Gordon Cowden and the 10 in between? Where was their protection or are they the butcher’s bill for god’s displeasure?

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