A Reflection on the El Paso Shooting

As I write this (late Saturday evening), the deadly shooting in El Paso is only hours old and the facts are still being sorted out, but evidence is mounting that this was motivated by hatred for Hispanics and immigrants. Such incidents have become all too common in the United States, and, frankly, the death toll from them in recent years (in the U.S.) has far exceeded that rooted in Muslim extremism. The enemy is within.

In the cauldron of anger that America has become, violent rampages are now weekly occurrences. Overt or barely repressed anger seems to be the new normal in America. Without civil discourse rooted in shared values, it is easy to resort to invective, demonizing, and fearmongering. The sickest among us drink this poison and succumb to it.

Saddest of all, it is doubtful that an event like this will cause us all to stop and seek the way of peace; it is more likely to have the opposite effect. The blame game began on the national news almost immediately after the reports started coming in. Speculation went directly to how this incident will benefit or hurt various national political figures. Major networks were running to presidential candidates to get their reactions. Some of the victims had not even breathed their last before the whole matter had been politicized. Talking heads were being lined up to give “expert analysis” on who is to blame, how this will influence the ongoing gun-control debate, whether this should affect immigration policies, whether the incident demonstrates that America is a racist nation, and/or whether this should be viewed as the solitary action of a lunatic. Many will want to know who should have seen this coming but did not report concerns. There is and will be a lot of heat but very little light.

We are all to blame in some sense. To some degree we all contribute to this bubbling cauldron of hostility, to the rage that is often no longer below the surface. Almost no one will own up to his own role or that of his particular faction, however. It’s the other side; they are the ones to blame: It’s Antifa’s fault; no, it’s the white supremacists who are to blame; no, it’s illegal immigrants; no,  it’s Trump; no, it’s the Democrats; no, it’s the Republicans; no, it’s the NRA.

My fantasy is that the President, congressional leaders of both parties, and other key leaders would all gather and declare a time of prayer, fasting, and cooling off. Imagine each of them saying something like this:

I am partially to blame for this and so is my party. We have contributed to the atmosphere of anger and blame that has driven some individuals beyond the boiling point. I realize that I harbor too much hatred for my opponents. I have failed to listen to them. I have failed to express my disagreement with them in a respectful manner. I have engaged in personal attacks or have repeated those of others. I have demonized my opponents and delighted when others did so. Yes, I and my party have contributed to the epidemic of anger in this country. Admitting my part, I reach out to my political adversaries and ask them to consider theirs; I suggest that we are all to blame. I hereby commit to engage in self-scrutiny and to curb my personal attacks on those with whom I disagree; I ask my opponents to do the same. I would like to participate in a month of national mourning, repentance, and reparation for the damage that has been caused and to which I have contributed. May God have mercy us and grant us a time of peace and change.

I know this is naïve, and perhaps I sound “preachy,” but I can dream, can’t I? Even if none of these public figures will do such a thing, what about us? Is it possible for you and me to watch our words and our behavior? To avoid ascribing the worst of motives to those with whom we disagree? To stop eagerly passing on every rumor and allegation we hear or read? We will never all have the same position on every issue, but can we express our disagreement with respect and charity?

Unfortunately, the more likely outcome of today’s shooting is that the anger and blaming will escalate even further. And then in about a week’s time there will be another shooting, and we’ll go through this all over again. [Update: Before this “went to press” there was another shooting, this time in Dayton, Ohio. Apparently my “in about a week’s time” was too optimistic.]

Things are getting hot in the U.S., but although the “warming” is man-made, it has nothing to do with climate change. Satan thinks the weather in America today is just fine.

Help us, Lord, and may the dead rest in peace, far from this angry, overheated world.

When evil days are upon us and the worker of malice gains power, we must attend to our own souls and seek to know the ways of the Lord. In those times reverential fear and perseverance will sustain our faith, and we will find need of forbearance and self-restraint as well. Provided that we hold fast to these virtues and look to the Lord, then wisdom, understanding, knowledge and insight will make joyous company with them [From the beginning of the Letter attributed to Barnabas (Cap. 1, 1-8; 2:1-5: Funk 1, 3-7)].

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: A Reflection on the El Paso Shooting