Orlando: The Joker Laughs

Orlando: The Joker laughs as we enter into the chaos of accusation and retaliation.

The tragedy in Orlando has compelled me to put into writing my observations on the responses and reactions of those who look for someone to blame and punish for this terrible event.

Whose fault is it?  How can we retaliate?  There is plenty of finger pointing and denunciation to go around.  If this poor angry, hate-filled, and perhaps mentally ill mass murderer had any thought of the conflict his terrible act would cause, I think he would have considered it a bonus.  Or maybe it was part of his plan.

It reminds me of the second Batman movie.  The Dark Knight.  The villain is the Joker, played brilliantly by Heath Ledger.  What does the Joker get out of his villainy?  This is what he says:

Introduce a little anarchy.

Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos.

I’m an agent of chaos.

…  You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke.

Dropped at the first sign of trouble.

They’re only as good as the world allows them to be.

I’ll show you.

When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other.

See, I’m not a monster.

I’m just ahead of the curve.

He just enjoys the show.  And I look at this mass murderer as Joker-like.  I have this image of him laughing at our rage.  He has created chaos, and now watches us eat each other.  He proves that we fear each other more than anything else.  We look at each other as potential threats.

So what does all this mean?  It means, to me, that statements that “we need to get rid of all the guns” and “we need to get rid of all the Muslims” create the kind of internal conflict and chaos that plays into the hands of the radical terrorists and anarchists—wherever they come from.

The mass murderer, a man full of anger and hate for whatever reason, buys a couple of guns, enters a LGBT bar and opens fire. A bar dedicated to and specifically for the LGBT community.  He could have picked another club to attack, but he picked a bar that he knew was full of LGBT people.  People he hates.  For who they are. (A bar that reports say he frequented.) This mass murderer apparently believed that LGBT people are somehow inherently inferior and not deserving of the same rights and protections as other Americans, or other people generally.  So the choice of targets was not random. Looking at this as an act of terror against Americans by an Islamic extremist is thus only partially right.  This was an act of terror by a homophobic man against American members of the LGBT community.  He is not the first.  Viewing what happened as only an act of terror by an Islamic extremist is erasing the inherent homophobia of his actions.

Horrible.  Certain to create anger and hate.  Certain to get the political juices flowing.  A desire to take retaliation … against anyone and everyone who might have some responsibility.  Against Muslims.  Against gun rights advocates.  Against the anti-gay movement.  Whoever you choose.  And they then return the favor by retaliating back.  And it never ends.

Why do we give this mass murderer that power over us?

It reminds me a bit of the movie The Kingdom.  A bombing takes place at an American base in Saudi Arabia.  An FBI agent is killed.  Another agent learns of his death and begins sobbing.  One of her co-workers consoles her by whispering something in her ear.  The agents ultimately find the bomb maker and shoot him.  Before he dies, the bomb maker whispers something in the ear of his 15-year-old grandson who has witnessed the shooting.  As the movie winds down these scenes take place in overlapping frames.

US Agent: Fleury. Tell me what you whispered to Janet, in the briefing, to get her to stop crying about Fran, you know, before all this, before we even got airborne. What’d you say to her? You remember?

[Scene shifts to bomb maker’s apartment]

Daughter of bomb maker to 15-year-old grandson: Tell me, what did your grandfather whisper in your ear before he died?

[Scene shifts to US team]

Fleury: I told her we were gonna kill ’em all.

[Scene shifts to bomb maker’s apartment]

15-Year-Old Grandson: Don’t fear them, my child. We are going to kill them all.

Escalation.  Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.  Until there is no body—or nobody—left.  Assured mutual destruction.  Globally and personally.

Jesus says—stop it!

There might be a better way.  The Jesus way, or if you’re not a Christian, the Gandhi way or the MLK way or the way of the Buddha.  This is what Jesus said:

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer.  But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. … You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

Violence is stopped when retaliation is stopped.  It takes two to fight.  If we don’t fight, there is no fight.

I want to make a quick point about what Jesus is not talking about.  He is not talking about a government’s obligation to keep order and protect its citizens.  Where there is a wrong, there must be justice.  When Jesus initially refers to an eye for an eye and tooth for tooth, he is referring to the Levitical law that gave the government the power to maintain order and protect the people.  There was a penalty for a particular act that, once administered, ended the dispute.  And because everyone knew what the penalty was, there was no need for revenge or violence.  This is the way matters were settled in ancient Israel and the way peace was maintained.  Kind of like our courts today.  Once the result is in, whether you like it or not, the dispute is over.  Time to move on and live in peace.

In this case we can seek to change the homophobia that is pervasive in our country and the part of our culture that supports it.  We need to demand safety for minorities, and enact sensible laws to make it more difficult for an angry man to shoot up a bar full of people who were members of a group that he didn’t like.  But we can do none of these things as long as we are screaming at each other.

What else is Jesus not talking about?  Jesus is not talking about passivism.  We are not called to be doormats.  We are permitted to defend ourselves so that we are not harmed by the actions of others.  We are just supposed to act in a way protects, but does not escalate.  Kind of like the “just war.”  Augustine, an early Christian Bishop, put it this way.  Our response to an affront must be:

  • It must be permissible under the law.
  • It must be warranted.
  • It must right the wrong and no more.
  • The last resort. It must be the only choice.

What is interesting about the just war determination is that it always requires thoughtful discernment.  It cannot be knee-jerk.  It is not retaliation and vengeance-oriented.  It does not call for an immediate invasion of our children whose lives are forfeit just so we can demonstrate we are not to be messed with.

Our response is to be justice-oriented.  And when we take a moment to think about these things, we de-escalate.  We stop – take a breath – and think.

Jesus tells us we are obligated to short circuit the escalation of the conflict by simply refusing to respond in kind.  We short circuit the escalation by refusing to respond to real or perceived evil with evil.

But that is where we are right now, I think.  We are responding to evil with evil, even though we do not really know what the evil is.  So we set up straw men.  Muslims and gun rights advocates are two in particular.

The mass murderer was a Muslim.  So what?  Did he believe what Islam stood for or did he project what he wanted Islam to be on it?  Sure, he “pledged” allegiance to ISIS, but it seems likely that they never heard of him.  He was a hater looking for justification for his hate.  He was looking for a cause that allowed him to kill.  There have been plenty of people claiming to be Christians who have done such things.  But making that claim does not make one a Christian.  And for all of us who think Islam blesses such things, I would ask for the source of your belief.  I, for one, have never read the Koran.  Nor have I ever sat down with an Islamic scholar to discuss the issue.  And just because some purported Islamic preacher claims that Islam stands for such a thing does not make it Muslim doctrine.  It is little different than saying David Koresh’s reported pedophilia was standard and accepted Christian doctrine simply because he held himself out as a Christian leader.

The mass murderer had guns, bought legally.  If he wanted to commit this terrible act, he could have done it a different way.  He could have set a fire.  He could have built a bomb.  Should we have gun control?  I think so, and I agree with President Obama when he spoke to the issue of gun rights on PBS [http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/watch-live-president-obamas-town-hall-in-elkhart-indiana/].  This just makes sense to me, though I know many disagree.  But remember, this mass murderer was not a representative of the NRA or any other group that supports gun rights.  He was just a hate filled guy.

We must not demonize Muslims or the folks who support gun rights just because this guy was a Muslim who had guns.

This mass murderer had mental health issues according to reports.  He was a spouse abuser according to reports.  He was a steroid user according to reports.  He was angry and violent, proclaiming animosity toward blacks, Jews, gays and women.  He also told people he was a dangerous man and was in contact with terrorists.  From the sound of it, this mass murderer was a man struggling with issues of self-image, anger, isolation and mental health.  He acted on all these things, in a terrible way, Sunday morning.

But it’s hard to not just retaliate!  That is the way of things in our broken world.  It always has been.  Cain killed Abel because God rejected Cain’s offering and accepted Abel’s.  Cain was hurt and so lashed out in anger against his competitor.  And we have continued to do the same.  Strike down the competition, physically, economically or verbally, and there will be peace.  How is that working?  Jesus says—stop it!  Stop the cycle of conflict.  Seek peace.

Here is what I mean.  Remember the illustration from the movie The Kingdom?  Here is a real life alternative.  This is from the website for Terror Free Tomorrow [www.terrorfreetomorow.org].

According to a poll conducted in January 2006 by the Terror Free Tomorrow organization, humanitarian aid is a very effective way to improve how Muslim countries view the United States of America.  In May of 2003, research indicated that only 15 percent of people in Indonesia—the world’s most populous Muslim nation—had a favorable view of the U.S.  However, the country was later devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami, which struck in December of 2004.  In the year that followed, humanitarian aid poured into the affected areas from the U.S. and other Western nations.  As a result, a January 2006 poll showed that Indonesian people with a favorable view of the U.S. had nearly tripled, jumping to 44 percent.  In addition, information from the well-respected Indonesian Survey Institute showed that “support for terrorism has dropped to its lowest level since 9/11.”  Finally, it was reported that Indonesians with a “very unfavorable” view of the U.S. had fallen to just 13 percent—down from 48 percent prior to the tsunami.

Such polling results are many.  It seems offering aid and assistance changes people’s perceptions and opinions far more than bullets and bombs.

Isn’t that the goal?  I think so.  That is what we are called to do.  Perhaps we cannot love, or even like, those not of our tribe, but we can act like it by caring about and for them.  If that is our response, we will have a bit more peace.

But we can do none of it while we are screaming at each other.