The massacre in an Orlando nightclub on 12 June has been dominating news in the USA, and even maintaining a high profile in England despite the recent assassination here of a member of Parliament. If you have been keeping up with some of the coverage you will know that debate is centring on two principal topics.
On the one hand the LGBT etc community and its supporters are adamant that the massacre was an attack on them above all. A Catholic bishop with a chequered career fell in so absolutely with this approach that he claimed the Catholic Church was indirectly to blame for the atrocity due its having targeted LGBT etc people.
On the other hand there are those who say that it is not about homophobia but about militant Islam, with the murderer having pledged allegiance to Daesh (IS) and declared himself to be acting in their name. Daesh have certainly claimed the atrocity as their own. This mean, the argument goes, the atrocity as an act of Islamic terrorism means that it was an attack on America, with the Pulse nightclub being the target this time around.
There is little to be gained by my entering this argument. For me, the villain, Omar Mateen, is someone we might examine and perhaps learn something from.
While much that is emerging might not yet be fully confirmed, there is a narrative building about Omar Mateen. It seems that, though he had been married, he experienced same-sex attraction, visited the very nightclub he attacked about a dozen times, and used homosexually-oriented phone dating apps. There is something of self-loathing, self-hatred in his actions.
Mateen’s family life and upbringing seem to have been very troubled, full of conflict and aggression. Raised in a Muslim household, his father unbalanced and a supporter of the Taliban and all it stood for, it must have been a difficult place for a young man struggling with same-sex attraction. He was to a degree living a lie. There was a civil war within: sexual attraction welling up that he could not deal with, not least due to the particular brand of Islam that dominated his family life, one that held to the Taliban’s (and Daesh’s) practice of executing homosexuals.
On 12 June it seems he could take no more. I suspect that he could no longer stand the inner conflict of his nature with his form of religion. Shame and powerlessness drove him to find some way of resolving it. Sadly, his self-loathing ended up being extended to those he felt to be one among, an identity his familial and religious allegiances would not let him make.
Whatever else it may be—a hate crime, an act of Islamic terrorism—in the eyes of observers, Mateen’s massacre in Orlando seems to have been a personal act of self-cleansing and self-redemption and of final resolution. Rejecting that part within he could not accept, he purged himself of it by attacking those who represented it. He made this atrocity redemptive in his eyes by aligning it with a brand of extreme, violent, puritan Islam, as if invoking at last that creed’s blessing as he rejected himself and those with he felt unavoidably identified. He has claimed for himself the death of a jihadist martyr, perhaps hoping it might transform him into someone who could enjoy the promised Islamic martyr’s reward of dozens of heavenly virgins for deflowering.
This is in no way to excuse Omar Mateen, nor to mitigate his heinous crime. Yet, whatever else he might have been, he is a pathetic figure. And whatever the many layers of meaning in the massacre, the only beneficiary is Satan.
What is the point of this line of musing? Only that we might take a moment to recall that the inner struggles of adolescents and young people should be very carefully handled. They hear us speak in words, but also our actions. The truth should always be spoken to them, but with a calm and moderate voice. They should be encouraged to voice their turmoil to someone with whom they have built a relationship of trust, and so release some of the inner pressure, and to be able to see light in the midst of their darkness. From a Christian point of view, they should be reminded that moral law is not there to oppress but to liberate, and that Christ and his Church may not approve sin, but always welcome the sinner, urging him or her on to a better way. The Church has patience, and so must we, surely.
Let us not crush anyone’s hope. For without hope people do desperate things, and hateful ones, and others can easily become their victims as they act out of their desperation. The wonder of authentic Christianity is that it always values the individual person, even the grossest sinner, and offers a way out of sin and into life. The faith is the antidote to despair, not its cause. Let us pray that we can all be instruments, if necessary, of this message of hope, this light in a world of darkness and error.
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:31-32
“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone…” John 8:7
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17