By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
This website has often addressed the evil of religious hatred and violence, especially between Muslims and Christians; and there are striking similarities between the evil of religious hatred and violence and that of racism. Racism is an ugly reality that continues to plague our nation, but until the recent church massacre in Charleston it appeared that racial violence was a thing of the past. That assumption must now be reconsidered.
The horrific acts committed by Dylann Roof at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on June 17 left us in shock, sorrow and shame, wondering how to confront this old/new evil among us. There is no evidence that Roof was part of a racist hate group. He appears to be a lone wolf, a dysfunctional and demented man whose evil acts were self-motivated. There have been similar mass murders in our nation, but the fact that Roof was part of our community haunts us. How do we confront this evil that is among us?
We hear calls to restrict the sale of guns and to remove the Confederate flag from the front of the State House. Those public actions may be justified, but they are not likely to counter the evil that motivated Dylann Roof, who fits the psychological profile of other mass murderers who are primarily motivated by a demented and narcissistic need for personal glorification and who kill to bring public attention to themselves. According to Ari Schulman, the way to stop them is to deny them publicity (see Notes below).
If Roof’s crime is evidence of a resurgence of racist violence among young white men, which seems unlikely, our response should be similar to that for countering religious violence. Racists who are likely to commit violence must be identified, monitored and apprehended before they commit violence, much as the FBI identifies and monitors suspected Islamist terrorists. But that is especially difficult since racist websites allow self-radicalization without personal contact with known racist groups. For racists who are not likely to commit violence, efforts should be made to mitigate their racism through biracial discussion groups, both religious and secular.
The same principles of dialogue that can reconcile religious differences also apply to race relations and other divisive issues that polarize society. Evil originates in the fear and suspicion of those unlike us, and unless people who feel alienated from others are willing to relate to them seeking common values, their negative attitudes can metastasize into hate and violence. Both faith and reason are needed to counter the evil of hate, first with acceptance and accommodation, then seeking reconciliation.
There are bookstores and social media sites that promote racial and religious division and hate, and the freedom of speech allows such activities; but it also allows our condemnation of such hate speech as immoral. At the very least, publicizing hate-mongers who incite racial or religious violence puts law enforcement on notice of the danger posed by them. Texas police recently thwarted mass murder by two armed radical Muslims at an event sponsored by Pamela Geller, who is noted for her hate speech and inciting anger among Muslims.
Some question whether evil exists as a dark and divisive spiritual power that competes with the reconciling light of God’s love. My life experience has convinced me that evil does exist and that we are in a cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil. That dualist concept is questioned by many theologians; but it is prevalent in Christianity, especially in the Gospel of John, where it is symbolized by the contrast between light (God’s love) and darkness (evil).
Love is the antithesis of hate, and it is made the moral imperative of our faith in the greatest commandment to love God and neighbor and in the new command to love one another. The Evangelist John equates God with love and states that fear is the enemy of love (I John 4:16-18). Love reconciles and redeems us as children of God, while Satan uses fear and hate to divide and conquer us. Unfortunately, Satan does a convincing imitation of God, and does some his best work in the synagogue, church and mosque.
Our moral obligation to reconcile and redeem others as children of God should not be confused with converting them to Christianity. The Gospel of John provides a mystical concept of the unity of all believers (John 17:20-23) that transcends all religions. Reconciliation and redemption come to all who follow the Logos, or word of God, as personified by Jesus in John’s Gospel (John 1:1-14). When Jesus says I am the way and the truth and the light (John 14:6) he is calling people to follow him as the word of God, not to worship him as a surrogate Christian god. The second part of that verse—No one comes to the Father except through me—has done more to divide us than reconcile us when used to support exclusivist Christian doctrines.
It is easy to say that we love our neighbors as ourselves—even those neighbors that we don’t like (see the story of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37)—but it is difficult to apply that moral imperative of faith in everyday life. How can we love a person like Dylann Roof? Only in the context of loving all others, and that requires protecting them from dangerous people like Dylann Roof. That principle of love provides the ethical foundation for self-defense and justifies our police and military forces. Our criminal laws and system of justice protect the public from those who would do them harm. They are instruments of our love for others, and enable us to confront the evil among us, which comes in human form.
On June 22, Governor Nikki Haley provided an example of how politicians can confront the evil among us. Surrounded by politicians of all stripes—Democrat and Republican, black and white—she recounting the events and emotions in Charleston following the church massacre and, to the cheers of all present, she called for removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds. Governor Haley’s eloquent speech emphasized that when Satan’s power of evil is sown among us it can be countered by God’s powers of forgiveness, love and reconciliation.
Notes and References to Resources:
See Blog/Archives for related blogs: Religion and Reason, posted December 8, 2014; Religion, Violence and Military Legitimacy, posted December 29, 2014; The Greatest Commandment, posted January 11, 2015; Is Religion Good or Evil, posted February 15, 2015; Jesus: A Prophet, God’s Only Son, or the Logos? Posted April 19, 2015; and Moral Restraints on the Freedom of Speech, posted May 17, 2015.
On reconciling racist attitudes through small biracial groups, much like interfaith dialogue groups, see Kathleen Parker, A blue print for changing the way that we talk about race, Washington Post, June 26, 2015, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/starting-not-one-but-many-conversations-about-race/2015/06/26/bad3181e-1c3d-11e5-ab92-c75ae6ab94b5_story.html?wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1.
On moral limitations on the freedom of speech, see Brian Hicks, Free speech is a responsibility, not the right to change history, Charleston Post & Courier, June 24, 2015 at http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20150624/PC16/150629747/free-speech-is-a-responsibility-not-the-right-to-change-history.
For a psychological profile of the typical mass murderer, see Ari N. Schulman, What Mass Killers Want—and How to Stop Them, Wall Street Journal, November 8, 2013, at https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=mm#inbox/14e17d326648579d?projector=1.
On homegrown lone-wolf terrorists who are not radical Muslims, see Scott Shane, Homegrown Radicals More Deadly Then Jihadists in U.S., New York Times, June 24, 2015 at
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/25/us/tally-of-attacks-in-us-challenges-perceptions-of-top-terror-threat.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=first-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0; cited by Ashley Barnes in her comment of June 24, 2015 to Christians Meet Muslims Today, posted June 21, 2015.
On the difficulty of identifying lone-wolf racists, see Marc Fisher, Washington Post, June 25, 2015 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/lone-wolf-extremism-easy-to-form-difficult-to-track/2015/06/25/121d981e-19e7-11e5-93b7-5eddc056ad8a_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
For commentary on John 14:6, see The way the truth and the life at page 416 of The Teachings of Jesus andMuhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy; and on The unity of all believers, see page 420, ibid.
For Governor Nikki Haley’s speech on June 22, 2015, as reported in the Washington Post, see
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/06/22/south-carolina-officials-and-activists-call-for-removal-of-confederate-flag-near-the-state-capitol/?wpisrc=nl_evening&wpmm=. As reported in The State of Columbia, S.C., see http://www.thestate.com/news/local/article25175821.html.