The tragedy which just occurred in Orlando has brought to the fore tensions inherent in our culture. It is time to admit that we live in a culture of fear.
The man who massacred innocent men in Orlando was likely driven by fear- fear of homosexuals and possibly fear of his own identity as a homosexual. His crime is being billed as “radical Islamic terrorism”, to the point where one could be forgiven for forgetting that he was American. Omar Mateen was American, however, a part of our culture in which evangelicals have spent the past few months painting pictures of women being molested in the bathroom by homosexual or transsexual perverts.
It would be more comfortable for us Americans to pretend that our culture had no impact upon Mateen, and that his crime was solely the product of radical Islam imported from the Middle East. Many people will take that route, blaming Islam for Mateen’s crime. But Omar Mateen didn’t exist in a bubble. He had a job, he must have commuted, seen billboards, watched TV, and used the Internet.
Clearly this man was no brain-washed groupie, trained in Afghanistan or Algeria to see Americans as nameless, faceless embodiments of evil. He trained himself, to a large extent, using the internet to access information on ISIS. He reportedly used gay dating sites, personally knew gay men, and was a product of American culture at least as much as Islamic culture.
So perhaps when we seek to lay blame for his actions, we should look at the interweaving of these two cultures. I said earlier that we live in a culture of fear, and we do. We also live in a culture of denying responsibility. Should we be so blind as to miss that Omar Mateen, divorced twice over, might latch onto the idea, propagated not just from mosques but from mainstream churches in America, that homosexuals are a threat to traditional marriage? How much easier is it for a man to blame the “other” for his failures than to admit his own mistakes?
This is not an attitude we need to travel to the Middle East to find. Every day here in America, pastors and pundits blame the gays, the blacks, the immigrants, the Muslims, etc, etc, on and on, for the failures that we ourselves have cooked up. No one has the courage to say: “We cooked up the crisis in the Middle East. We created a culture in which family doesn’t matter. We let corporations move the work to sweatshops in third-world countries. We have failed to defend Mother Earth.” Instead, we pay a crowd of bull-shitters to tell us what we want to hear- pretty girls on Fox News peddling the smooth pill that our problems are someone else’s fault- lazy blacks, job-stealing Mexicans, hateful Muslims, perverted homosexuals- any story to keep us from having to face reality and responsibility.
Is it shocking that someone who was a failure, and likely afraid, would fall prey to our culture of fear? This culture of fear is not Muslim, it is not Christian, it is not constrained to one religion, race, or culture. It is everywhere. It can be seen every time an imam tells his congregation to fear Americans, every time a pastor tells his congregation to fear homosexuals, and in every news broadcast that sells itself by selling fear- fear of guns, fear of Muslims, fear of gays, fear of floods, fear of poverty, fear of death, fear, fear, fear…
We live in fear, we breathe fear, and fear seeps into our minds. 18% of the population suffers from an anxiety “disorder”. Yet these disorders are not abnormal- they are the reasonable result of a culture that continually pumps us full of fear. Fear makes us controllable, it directs our attention away from questions about how we want to live our lives and what sort of society we want into an endless defense against the things we fear. Don’t want Trump as President- vote Hillary. Don’t pay attention to her politics, don’t think about whether you really believe in a two-party system, just give in to fear and follow the herd. Don’t think about whether you want to work, just worry that you’ll be unemployed. Don’t think about where our food will be grown once California’s aquifers run dry- just buy “organic” lettuce.
We Americans are now living in fear of a thousand things. We try to shut out the fear- we make it impolite to talk politics, we pop pills, we go to church, we pay pundits to simplify the world for us, we pay self-help gurus to tell us we could make it better if we could just stop “defeating ourselves”. But deep down, we all know that it’s a lie.
Fear is now our god. The god the majority of Christians turn to is no more than their cobbled-together notion of “traditional morality”, the return of which would free them from the fear of a changing world. The god of the radical Islamists is the fear of the US drone strike. The god of the atheists is the fear that humanity will continue to act irrationally. The god of the racists is the fear of other races and cultures. “God Money” is nothing more than our own fear of failure- of being without, of failing our families and ourselves.
We worship our fear, make a virtue of our cowardice. Greed is “work ethic”, cowardice in the face of new cultures is “traditional values”, and fear of standing up for those who are different is “politeness”. It is time for this to end. It is time for us to stop fearing our failures and instead take responsibility. Let’s stop worshipping our fear and start believing in something. I can’t tell you what to believe in, but I can tell you that if what you believe in is an absence- an absence of gays, Muslims, immigrants, guns, drugs, divorce, whatever- you are worshipping fear. Right now we live in a world saturated with fear- have the courage to believe in something real. Have the courage to build something. The courage we need right now is not the courage to fight our enemies, but the courage to understand them.