What took place in Orlando, Florida, last Sunday morning at the Pulse nightclub was an absolute tragedy. Not only was it a horrendous act of terror, the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history, it was an act of hate directed at the gay community. Fifty people were killed, including the shooter, and many more remain injured in the hospital.
Robert Lynch, a Catholic bishop from St. Petersburg, Florida, wrote these words that appeared in the Washington Post: “Even before I knew who perpetrated the mass murders at Pulse, I knew that somewhere in the story, there would be a search for religion as motivation. While deranged people do senseless things, all of us observe and judge and act from some kind of religious background. Singling out people for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality must be offensive to God’s ears. It has to stop.”
In his new book, “Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World,” Yale theologian Miroslav Volf says that religion is an inevitable part of the globalization process, but it’s clearly very complicated in the 21st century. And the answer to bad religion is not no religion. The answer to bad religion is good religion, healthy religion. He says: “World religions are our most potent sources of moral motivation and deliberation. They are also carriers of visions of the good life, which billions have found compelling throughout history and still find compelling today.
Central to these visions is the paramount importance of transcendence, of the invisible realm, of God — but not as a mysterious power outside the world. Relation to that transcendent realm fundamentally shapes how we understand and relate to our world and ourselves.”
In the wake of these types of tragedies, there are always those who say “religion is the problem.” Religion is not the problem. Bad religion, perverted religion, distorted religion, radical religion grounded in hate, intolerance, fear and violence are the problem. The only answer to this is healthy religion, religion that fosters tolerance and respect, peace and love, compassion and empathy. This is what our world needs, and we are called to spread it.
Those who walked into that nightclub last Saturday night had no idea that their lives were about to come to a violent end. They were targeted for who they were. Their lives were cut short. But the hate that was displayed has now backfired and has been turned inside out. When asked by a lawyer about the greatest commandment of all, Jesus had two responses. “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.” Everything else is secondary.