Roadside Assistance Special Edition: Orlando

Roadside Assistance Special Edition: Orlando

Rabbi Rami offers his insight to the influx of questions filling his inbox after the tragedy in Orlando in this special edition of Roadside Assistance.


Horrifying events like the mass shooting in Orlando have now become so common, many are grasping for answers in its wake. Rabbi Rami offers his insight to the influx of questions filling his inbox after the tragedy in this special edition of Roadside Assistance.

What do you think motivated Omar Mateen to kill all those people in Orlando?

Hate. Immediately after lowering our heads in prayer, we raised our voices in pious indignation, retreating into our respective tribes and arguing over what is to blame for this horror: Islamic terror, homophobia, the Second Amendment, or mental illness. While each of these is a contributing factor, regardless of whom he hated more—Americans, Hispanics, members of the LGBTQI community, or himself—it was hate that drove him.

Omar Mateen specifically targeted the LGBTQI community. I wonder if he was simply a violent homophobe who just happened to be Muslim? To what extent do you think Islam is responsible?

There is no such thing as “Islam,” only variant readings of texts and teachings labeled Muslim. This is true of every religion, which is why every religion includes a spectrum of legitimate readings from the most loving to the most hateful. While I can’t say to what extent his reading of Islam drove him to commit this horrible crime, there can be no doubt that the reading of Islam he accepted as true was deeply homophobic.

I’ve been told that Islam means “peace,” and Allah is “all compassionate,” but the Islam I see is anything but peaceful, and their God is the very opposite of compassion. I’m thankful that my God is the God of Love.

Islam actually means “submission,” and a Muslim is one who submits to the will of Allah who is called Ar–Rahman Ar–Rahim, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. The fact that the All-Merciful can sanction evil only shows that God can be made to say anything the pious wish God to say. This is why the gracious, righteous, and merciful God of the Hebrew Bible (Psalm 116:5) who commands us to love both neighbor and stranger (Leviticus 19:18; 19:34) can sanction genocide in the past (Deuteronomy 7:1–2; 20:16), and violence against Palestinians in the present. And why the God of love (1 John 4:8) can support the Inquisition, the Crusades, racism, slavery, anti–Semitism and attacks on Planned Parenthood, abortion providers, and members of the LGBTQI community, not to mention the eternal torture of the unsaved in the fires of Hell. Your religion and your God are only as loving as you are. What matters to me isn’t that your God is Love, but whether or not you are loving.

While not condoning what happened to those poor people at the gay nightclub in Orlando, we must admit that homosexuality is an abomination before God (Leviticus 18:22). While I don’t think God killed those people, I understand why God didn’t save them.

First, the Hebrew Bible refers to homosexuality as toevah, a word the King James Bible mistranslates as “abomination.” The word appears 103 times in the Hebrew Bible, and always in the context of forbidding Jews from participating in the religious practices of their non-Jewish neighbors. Leviticus 18:22 refers to certain Canaanite religious practices, and not homosexuality per se.

Second, you are accusing God of the sin of omission. St. James wrote, “Anyone who knows the good that should be done and deliberately doesn’t do it, sins,” (James 4:17). If God knows murder is wrong and does nothing to stop it, God has sinned. And if God’s inaction means that God wanted to see these people murdered, you are accusing God of complicity in their murder. In either case, you have to ask yourself why you want to believe in an immoral and evil God?

How would I know if my religion promotes the kind of hate that filled Omar Mateen?

Ask yourself four questions: 1) Does my religion divide people into winners and losers: the Chosen and the not chosen, the saved and the damned, the believer and the infidel, high caste and low, etc.? 2) Does my religion demonize the “other”? 3) Does my religion blame the “other” for the state of the economy, or for natural disasters such as droughts and hurricanes? 4) Does my religion oppose the full enfranchisement of all people? If you answered, “yes” to these questions, your religion may indeed foster hate.

What can we do to help end the hate that gives us people like Omar Mateen?

I suggest we take our cue from the Department of Homeland Security: See something, say something. Whenever you see your religion violating the Golden Rule and doing unto others what is hateful to you, say something—call it out, free yourself from the worldview of us against them, and work with others to defend and expand the worldview of all of us together.

Omar Mateen’s father said, “God himself will punish those involved in homosexuality. This is not for the servants of God.” I’m not a Muslim, but I agree with him. Killing homosexuals in this world is wrong, it is up to God to punish them in the world to come. Believing this way is part of the solution, don’t you think?

On the contrary, it is part of the problem. Believing that God will take vengeance on those you hate does nothing to eliminate hate; in fact it sanctions it. The Gods people believe in reflect the ideas people cherish including any violent fantasies aimed at “sinners.” Our beliefs tell us nothing about God and everything about the believer. Theology is psychology projected into the supernatural. In this way we avoid having to subject our shadow side and evil impulses from rational inquiry and moral challenge. And without this challenge there is no limit to the horror we can celebrate as holy.

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