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The role of hatred in America — and the price we’re paying for it

We must talk about this unfortunate place we’ve reached where civility and respect in society are dismissed as unnecessary niceties.

Religion isn’t the problem, but the perversion of religion is.
REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Some of the most heartfelt remarks after the Orlando shooting were by Utah’s lieutenant governor, Spencer Cox. In an NPR interview with Kelly McEvers, Cox, a Mormon, publicly stated his regrets for his former attitude toward LGBTQ citizens. He admitted that previously he would not have been as upset about a shooting targeting homosexuals as he would have been about other shootings, such as at a mall or a school. He now understands how wrong that was.

Jane Ahlin
Jane Ahlin

Before Cox’s conversation with McEvers, he had attended a vigil for the victims and survivors of the mass shooting in Orlando. At the vigil he spoke, saying, “I recognize fully that I am a balding, youngish, middle-aged straight, white, male, Republican politician with all of the expectations and privileges that come with those labels. I am probably not who you expected to hear from today. I’m here because … 49 Americans were brutally murdered …. I’m here because those 49 people were gay. I’m here because it shouldn’t matter. But I’m here because it does.”

A desperately needed conversation

In those simple words, I’d like to think America might begin a conversation we desperately need. In addition to addressing the way our nation’s bizarre gun culture undermines common sense in dealing with gun violence, we must talk about this unfortunate place we’ve reached where civility and respect in society are dismissed as unnecessary niceties, even as contempt and loathing for those we don’t agree with are embraced as democratic rights.

We must discuss the mighty price America is paying for hatred. 

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Interestingly, the inability to assign the Orlando shooter’s motives to a specific avowed terrorist group lends clarity to America’s hatred problem. The more we learn, the more his motives seem centered on homophobia rather than anti-government plotting. He may have been a terrorist wannabe, but he was at the gay club because he thought homosexuals should be killed. The point Cox was making at the vigil and in his interview with McEvers was that too many Americans hear that the shootings were at a gay club and — on some level or another — think to themselves that it’s unfortunate but not surprising given the lifestyle.

The same thoughts occur when a Planned Parenthood clinic or an abortion clinic is targeted, as happened in Colorado Springs last fall. There the shooter called himself a “warrior for babies” and rambled about “no more baby parts,” clearly echoing hatefulness fomented by a doctored video that was completely debunked but is still being used to demonize Planned Parenthood. (Investigations by multiple states and congressional committees found no wrongdoing. In fact, the only criminal indictment was of the man who made the videos.)

Sadly, facts don’t matter when hatred predetermines outcomes. More sadly still, religious leaders who use words such as “murder” and “killing” when the differences they have are differences of religious philosophy are not furthering their faith.

Religion’s role

Unfortunately, that brings us to the role of religion in engendering hatred. Cox spoke to that role with McEvers. McEvers asked, “Mormon leaders recently clarified that same-sex marriage is a ‘grievous sin’ and that Mormons in same-sex marriages are considered apostates. As a prominent Mormon, how do you feel about that?”

Cox answered, “[W]hether you see that as a sin or not I think is unimportant for this reason, and that is, I don’t like to rank sins.” Cox then brought up the biblical commandment “to love everyone as Jesus taught us.” Finally, Cox said that “if we’re just human and just honest … even if people disagree with us, they won’t hate us.”

What Cox understands is something Islamic leaders in America also have been trying to say. Religion isn’t the problem, but the perversion of religion is. The tenets of Islam do not encourage hate or terrorism any more than do the words of Jesus; in fact, using religious beliefs to justify hatred says little about religion. Then again, it says a whole lot about us. 

A writer and columnist from Fargo, N.D., Jane Ahlin also has taught English at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

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