What Religion Is the Aurora Theater Shooter? And Does It Matter?
I am anxiously watching the news chatter on the “Dark Knight Rises” massacre and the latest breaking news this hour. As empathic as I am, it’s tough to watch or read about, and as happens with all tragedies, they reflect similar previous tragedies and bring long-buried pain to the surface. My first real understanding of what massacres do to a community, the Alday Murders, happened when I was a pre-teen in Georgia and has affected my sense of justice ever since. (See my article “Get Closure Now–Damn It!” to understand how a child carries such community tragedy into adulthood.)
As I watch these news stories unfold–all the interviews, all the scrambling for background stories, the unfolding of details surrounding that night as well as the personality and daily life of the shooter, I cringe.
I’m reminded of other mass shootings, of the vulnerability of the victims, of the fragility of life. It doesn’t help that I wrote a short book onthat has been used for years by support groups: I still go through the emotions. It’s always disbelief, sadness for the victims and their friends/families, curiosity about why, why, why? You’d think I’d just turn off the TV or get offline and go hide in a cave, but I can’t.
The reason I can’t look away yet is the same every time there is a murder in the news. I need to know the murderer’s religion.
My first thought whenever I hear news of a mass shooting is shock. My second thought? “Please, please, PLEASE don’t let the shooter be pagan.”
I wait for news of what they’ll find in the shooter’s home, in his notebooks or on bookshelves. I wait to exhale because I know that if we share the same religion or he has ever had any remote connection with my religion, it will be splashed all over the news and then I’ll have to deal with the discriminatory backlash from colleagues and strangers alike who know only that I’m Wiccan but have never explored further.
I have no idea at this time, and yes, it does matter. It matters because of how all people who share the religious beliefs, if any, that he has identified with–whether or not he lives by them–will be painted as dangerous. It doesn’t matter if he’s Mormon, Southern Baptist, Wiccan, atheist, whatever. He will be used as an example against anyone who can be classified or categorized loosely with him, especially in matters of religion, race, and sexuality. It will be done in an effort to understand his motivation but the crime will somehow be attributed to others like him in some way. Though it’s less an issue for Christians who will argue that the killer obviously wasn’t a “true Christian,” it’s harder for minority religions to explain that “Oh, the Wiccan killer wasn’t a true Wiccan” or just because they had a book on witchcraft or shamanism on their bookshelf does not mean they were following any sort of spiritual instructions to commit a crime. It’s harder to explain because it’s unfamiliar to many people but the headlines linking crime with a particular religion are already imprinted in their minds before they can investigate other beliefs systems for themselves.
So yes, for minority religions in particular, the shooter’s religion does matter because of how it will be vilified in the media. And it shouldn’t.
I have personally known Christians, Pagans, and atheists who have committed heinous crimes. I am not close to them, but yes, I have sat in Baptist churches with them, stood in Wiccan circles with them, and hung out after class with them. I’m not saying that members of other religions don’t commit crimes–just that I don’t know them personally or don’t know their religions. There is good and bad in all religions and in atheism, too. People are motivated by many different things and are always capable of using their belief systems to justify crimes or good works.
I guess the bottom line is, choosing to kill is a matter of individual choice. Thankfully, that’s something most of us can’t begin to fathom.