We are again confronted with another shooting in the USA.
Sadly media writers and politicians misreport the whole event by their political point scoring. I don’t blame the politicians as much as the media in this regard. They look to the politicians to provide sound bites for them: criticising them if they remain silent; ignoring them if they are sensible; highlighting them if they come up with outlandish copy.
This terrible episode brings together so many strands of our modern cultural confusion. A Muslim man shoots up a gay bar – who could not get a headline out of such an event? But what is the headline? Different people want to make it about Islam or Homophobia or religious bigotry or terrorism or hate crimes or hate speech or gun control…
It is understandable when a journalist identifies with the victims and so writes from the white rage of righteous anger. However, it is wiser not to rush into print until more of the facts have emerged. Christians especially must remember to be slow to anger and slow to speak if we are to act righteously (James 1:19f).
The electronic media pushes journalists to come to instant judgements. They have snippets of information about the events and the man. He was said to be a rude neighbour. It was reported that he was upset about seeing some homosexual affection in the street. He was a frequenter of gay places and websites. He was a violent husband. He identified with IS.
Inevitably, they use pre-existing worldviews to organise these snippets into a story and more than a story; into some judgements, expounding all manner of theories. He was psychiatrically unbalanced. He was a homophobe. He was a lone wolf Islamic terrorist. He was part of IS. He had problems dealing with his own homosexuality…And with these theories comes the social analysis: the problem of religious extremism or the bigotry of homophobia or the failure to control guns or whatever theory they use to make sense of the senseless.
Further with each of these instant judgements comes the call for social/political/legal action. Tighter gun control, ban religious bigotry, ban all hate talk, ban all religions, teach greater tolerance of sexual differences in schools, close boarders to all Muslim immigrants. Yet the people, who call for these actions generally held the view before the events and are using the events to promote their campaign.
All this media talk undermines any careful judgement based on demonstrable facts. It is frustrating that we cannot know immediately what happened and why it happened. There are so many factors that lie behind such an action. Sometimes we can never learn exactly why things happen. But rarely, if ever, can we learn quickly why something like this happened. This doesn’t sit well with the instant generation. Considerable misinformation, confusion and ill-will is spread by the speculation of journalists trying to steal the lead on other media outlets and/or using a tragedy to promote their social agenda.
The instant judgements of the media also undermine the basic report that should be made – namely the tragedy, horror and devastation of these deaths. The running commentary on this as ‘the worst such event to have happened’, determined by counting the numbers and comparing them to previous shootings, is a failure to be able to emotionally engage with how awful death is – be it one or one hundred or one thousand.
Indeed the availability and control of world media that highlights one awful event while hardly mentioning others is another weakness of our current media. The availability of pictures is not what makes a story a story. The identification with the victims on the basis of being similar to them in lifestyle or nationality is understandable but an irrelevancy. An attack on France or America is no different to an attack on Kenya or Nigeria. I may feel an acute sense of loss when I hear of Christians being killed by IS but the offence is not that Christians are killed but that humans are murdered; those, made in God’s image. Murder is murder irrespective of the victim’s background.
At the moment, what we know is that thousands of Americans are this day mourning the loss of a close relative, a friend, a colleague, a neighbour. Their heartache is real and deep and will not cease when the news cycle moves on to another beat up. For some this week’s event will leave them scarred for the rest of their life. They need our compassion and our tears, our prayers and condolences. We are to mourn with those who mourn just as in other circumstances we must rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15).
This is not the moment for analysis, especially not politically loaded prejudicial analysis. Analysis will come in due time, when careful gathering of the data has been undertaken. Until then we need to grieve, especially with our American friends, over the wickedness of humanity, the awfulness of death and the horror of such carnage. There is “a time to weep … a time to mourn” (Ecclesiastes 3:4) and this is just such a time.