In the weeks since the shooting in Orlando we have felt anger, sadness, and heartbreak for the victims whose lives were violently ended and for the families who were forever changed. With Orlando, the epidemic of gun violence in the United States seems to have reached new heights. Each mass shooting has made the ones before it all the more horrific as we wonder, where next? Who next? This recent attack is so intermingled with issues of race, sexuality, and religion that it has been impossible not to feel that the United States is inching toward a social cataclysm.
The accounts of survivors huddling in the bathroom stalls of the Pulse nightclub were terrifying. Not only did Omar Mateen unleash a barrage of bullets onto nightclub patrons, but he also followed survivors into cornered areas – presumably hoping to kill as many people as possible; to make the world a “better place.” These actions are almost unspeakable, but can we write them off as the work of a devil? Mateen himself was not without his humanity. It important to remember that he was someone who was told, before he could probably understand, that members of the homosexual and transgender community were sinners who should not be allowed to live and that they could make his children gay with a ‘homosexual agenda.’ That if he were gay, he should hate himself. That if his children were gay, they would be punished for eternity.
Whatever mental health issues Mateen had, his brushes with fanatical Islam did nothing to ameliorate them. This hatred was equally encouraged by Christian counterparts who frequented the Florida radio waves with pontifications against gay marriage and fears of transgendered individuals using bathrooms. After the tragedy at Pulse nightclub, some pastors and imams—and even a Hasidic Jew—responded with sermons condoning the massacre. Mateen pulled the trigger, and insanely loose gun laws provided him with the weapon, but a culture of homophobia and transphobia spewed forth from hidebound theologies gave him his hate. Like too many of the horrific acts of terrorism we have witnessed, the shooting in Orlando is a symptom of a culture of divisiveness and hatred, which may be turned on oneself, on other people, or both.
We can no longer accept and tolerate that culture. Let’s first challenge our own beliefs and then challenge the belief systems around us that cage, accuse, and denigrate. We can no longer let people share ignorant messages on social media, or memes that generalize populations of individuals. We must no longer permit institutionalized intolerance.
We must all remind ourselves that human beings are more important than dogmas and ideologies. We must become the change we wish to see by telling people who you are. Religion, especially its most fanatical elements, must be criticized; public policy, especially concerning gun control, must be based on science and common sense; the dignity of each person must be affirmed and celebrated throughout our culture. That starts with each of us. Now, it is time mourn, but after that, it is time speak out.
Dani Burger is the administrator on the Olympia Atheist Community Facebook page and Marco Rosaire Rossi is a member of the American Humanist Association.