At the root of the massacre in Orlando is religion. We struggle to admit that because we seem not to know that our holy texts provide theological justification for such violence. Recognizing this is especially difficult because we’ve largely created 21st century versions of our faiths; versions which omit sacred texts unpalatable to our 2016 tastes. It is a faith in which Muslims preach the virtues of Islam but pretend the Quran doesn’t specify crucifixion as one of the only punishments permitted for enemies of Islam (Quran 5:33). It is a faith, for Christians, which highlights the liberating power of the gospel while ignoring Torah’s imperative to execute gays (Leviticus 20:13) or Paul’s command that women be silent, not have authority over men or teach (1 Timothy 2:11-12). We must see that our sacred texts are in fact problematic and those who hold on to their faith must admit they’ve simply created a more expedient form of it.
Omar Saddiqui Mateen called 911 and pledged his allegiance to ISIS while shooting up a gay night club. ISIS follows a strict interpretation of Quran, including its condemnation of homosexuality. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, everything ISIS has set out to do is completely grounded in the Quran. Mateen’s father–who said that God will punish those involved in homosexuality–has stated that his son was outraged after seeing two men kissing in Miami. But how would Mateen have produced that outrage without the Quran informing him that he’d seen something wrong? Lest the Christians get too high and mighty, Mateen could just as easily killed his victims after reading the Bible. Leviticus 20:13 explicitly commands death for sex between two men. In either case, ancient religious texts have permeated the culture, creating an environment of hostility toward LGBT people. Ultimately, those who take the texts serious enough find justification for their terror. The sacred texts are at the root of this.
Most believers are quick to condemn Mateen or Christian soldiers who shoot up abortion clinics as “extremists.” Many will say such individuals don’t truly represent their faith. However, Mateen and Christian terrorists use the same texts as their condemners to justify their actions. Like it or not, ISIS and other Christian extremists actually take their cues from their holy books. The more moderate believers simply don’t like the way their extremist counterparts interpret the texts. Yet they never consider that ISIS and those like them may have objections to how their condemners ignore certain texts, in an attempt to make their religious practice more friendly to a politically correct age. Shouldn’t truth be timeless? If it is not timeless, then is it really sacred truth? If, for example, Christianity in 2016 can only be stomached by ignoring biblical texts that endorse owning and beating slaves as property or Paul’s misogyny, then is it not true that it is a Christianity created to suit our own preferences and not one true to the text? Aren’t we all just selectively picking and choosing the parts of the text we like? If that’s true, how holy and timeless is the text?
You can condemn religious extremists all you want but in doing so, believers will have to concede that they are simply choosing to interpret texts in a way that fit their existing worldview. They will have to admit that, followed to the letter, their sacred texts justify terror. They will have to admit that when they read their Bible or Quran, they simply pick out the parts compatible with their 21st century ethics and at times ignore the others. We are holding on to select parts of ancient texts, pretending that they are unquestionably timeless and applying exegetical techniques that conveniently suit our presuppositions. Those who revere their holy books simply choose the parts they like and as such, the whole is subject to questioning. The texts are a problem and we should just admit it.