Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The victims of victims

Yesterday, I wrote about the church shootings in Knoxville, Tennessee. I talked about how the reactions to the shootings—and possibly the crime itself—were the logical consequences of the polarisation of American society. But today I’ve also become convinced that the far right in America, and its rhetoric of hate and intolerance, is at least as much a cause.

According to Knoxnews.com, “Inside the [killer’s] house, officers found "Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder" by [far right and rabidly homophobic] radio talk show host Michael Savage, "Let Freedom Ring" by [Fox News] talk show host Sean Hannity, and "The O'Reilly Factor," by [Fox News] television talk show host Bill O'Reilly” (Clarifications in brackets added). Quoting police, they also say the killer’s letter stated his "hatred of the liberal movement… Liberals in general, as well as gays." They go on to quote the police as saying that the killer’s “stated hatred of the liberal movement was not necessarily connected to any hostility toward Christianity or religion per say [sic], but rather the political advocacy of the church.” The church had received publicity for, among other things, hosting meetings of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and had a “Gays Welcome” sign out front.

Nevertheless, wingnut extremists are declaring this to be all about them, with utter nonsense like “Unbelievers don't see the difference between Bible-based churches and non-Bible-based churches. They hate them all… the anti-Christian fervor that's building in this country and being fanned daily by the MSM, could easily have played a role.”

Even the Knoxnews comments section wasn’t spared: “Stories like these always bring out the nutty, left-wing liberal contingent to bash religion. Even if, like, in this case, the shooter apparently didn't like Christians or religion.” Despite being moderated, most of the comments I read were arguments over religion. Many other comments were respectful and reasonable, but to me they seemed vastly outnumbered by the point scorers.

The facts so far are: The killer hated liberals, and gays in particular. He does not appear to have been anti-religion or anti-Christian, but instead picked this church specifically for its liberal beliefs and advocacy. Let’s be clear about this: Christians were not the killer’s intended victims; liberals and gays were.

The right—especially the religious far right—had an opportunity for self-reflection, to think about how their rhetoric encourages this sort of violent hatred. Instead, they chose to claim to be the victims and to point their fingers at “left-wing liberals” and gays, baldly suggesting that the real victims somehow brought it on themselves.

This incident, and especially the reactions to it, make me pessimistic that reason can ever be restored to America’s discussion of religion and politics. There are too many points to be scored, too many sacred cows to be gored. I wonder if it’s even possible to turn down the volume anymore, much less talk reasonably.

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