At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Within hours of the Orlando massacre that occurred early Sunday morning, veteran academic and prolific writer Mary Grabar predicted on her Facebook wall that “liberal pundits” would soon enough be “linking the Orlando shooting [at a gay nightclub] to other instances of homophobia, such as Harvey Milk and the Stonewall riots.”

The Public Broadcasting System (PBS), continued Grabar, would get busy planning a documentary entitled “‘Homophobia in America,’” a film that will show how the Christian origins of homophobia “infected American culture, how ‘migrants’ from places like Afghanistan, alienated and bewildered by an Islamophobic American culture, picked up the homophobia and ‘hate,’” and “how in desperation they turned to violence, taking advantage of lax gun laws….”

Most of this prediction has already come to pass. Few of us will be surprised if it all comes to fruition soon enough.

Dr. Grabar’s point is well taken: “Liberals,” i.e. the left, can always be counted upon to regurgitate their tired stock phrases, clichés that, however logically irrelevant to the issues at hand, have proven to be politically useful.

This time, however, their talking points aren’t just irrelevant. They aren’t just ridiculous.

They are offensive.

A self-sworn Islamic jihadist pledges his allegiance to ISIS and then drives over 100 miles from his home to shoot up a gay nightclub. Immediately prior to killing at least 50 people and critically injuring over 50 more, he screams: “Allah hu Akbar!” The notion that this is an instructive lesson in the need for Americans to support more “gun-control” is offensive.

It is both intellectually and morally offensive.

In fact, it borders on the perverse.

The Islamic State has long been calling for “lone wolf” attacks throughout the West, promising that “we will strike you in your homeland [.]”

“Do not ask for anyone’s advice,” said an ISIS spokesman, “and do not seek anyone’s verdict. Kill the infidel, whether he is civilian or military.”

The Orlando massacre may very well be the biggest “mass shooting” in American history. But to bill it only as such reflects at once an aversion to truth and, doubtless, a desire for political self-aggrandizement. To throw this event under the umbrella heading of “mass shooting” suggests, and is meant to suggest, that the killer, Omar Mateen, has more in common with the likes of Adam Lanza (of Sandy Hook infamy) and the killers of Columbine than he shares with Osama bin Liden and Muhammad Adnani, the ISIS mouthpiece who has been calling forth the Mateens of the West.

Confucius sheds some much needed light here. “If language is not correct,” he taught his disciples, “then what is said is not what is meant [.]” Yet this in turn means that “what must be done remains undone,” and, consequently, “morals and art will deteriorate” and “justice” will go “astray [.]”

This teaching is known as “the Rectification of Names.” If ever there was a violation of it, the ascription of “mass shooting” to the Orlando massacre is it.

What happened in Orlando is a case—but another case—of Islamic terrorism.

More importantly, it is the deadliest such case to have occurred on American soil second only to that of the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. Even the left-leaning Huffington Post acknowledges that “Islamic terrorism” is a more accurate label for the Orlando massacre when it correctly notes that it is no “coincidence” that this attack occurred during the Islamic holiday of Ramadan.

From the time of Plato and Aristotle through the middle Ages to the Catholic Church in the present, a distinction has always been maintained between two types of characteristics: “essential” and “accidental.” For example, snow, say, is essentially cold. It is only accidentally white (or yellow, or black, etc.). A person is essentially rational, but only accidentally white, black, six feet tall, 250 pounds, and so forth.

The essential attribute of a thing is that which makes it the thing that it is. Take away an object’s essence, you take it away. A thing’s identity is its essence.

This paradigm is not perfect. In light of it, though, we can better grasp the significance of Orlando:

This mass murder is essentially an act of terror, and Omar Mateen is essentially an Islamic terrorist. Moreover, he isn’t just a terrorist who happens to be Islamic. By virtue of his allegiance to ISIS and his affirmation of Allah just seconds before opening fire, he is an Islamic terrorist.

On the other hand, he is accidentally a gunman. This mass murder is accidentally a mass shooting.

What this means is that the means by which Mateen achieved his ends are ultimately neither metaphysically nor morally relevant to the nature of the end itself. The nature of the act is determined by the motive of the actor and the objective of the act itself. Mateen wanted to slay infidels, in this case, gays, for the sake of glorifying his God. That he chose guns to realize this goal no more makes this event a gun matter than the fact that the 19 hijackers of 9/11 chose box cutters and airplanes to slay infidels for the sake of glorifying the same God made that horrific event a teaching moment about the dangers of box cutters and airplanes.

The Orlando massacre was, essentially, the second deadliest terrorist attack in American history.

In this election year, though President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the Democrats won’t approve, perhaps we should start referring to this act of Islamic terror for what it is.

Maybe we can start calling it “6/12.”




Whenever a shooting event, like the murder-suicide at UCLA, gains national notoriety, there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth over “our” alleged failure to deal adequately with issues of “mental health.” Tragically, it is the rarest of figures who dares to challenge this consensus. But challenge it we must, for as innocuous as the term sounds, “mental health” is fraught with philosophically problematic assumptions and implications.

First, the sole reason for concluding that, say, Maimak Sarkar, the UCLA gunman, is “mentally ill” is that he became a murderer. Yet this in turn logically implies that anyone who murders is “mentally ill.” However, if the latter is true, then this means that such 20th century genocidal killers as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao; infamous mobsters like Al Capone, John Gotti, and James “Whitey” Bulger; those members of the KKK who terrorized and murdered blacks; homicidal inner city gangbangers; and members of ISIS are all “mentally ill.”

Yet these classes of killers are never described as “mentally ill” by those who can’t resist labeling as such school shooters and the like. This is because the former belong to different political-moral templates: “ideology,” “racism,” “power,” “greed,” “oppression,” “extremism,” and the like.

Second, the only reason for regarding as “ill” one who acts murderously or violently is the metaphysically dubious supposition that humans are, by nature, essentially good. This is an article of faith, a normative theory that, unlike, say, the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, flies in the face of the history of the human species. Indeed, this vision of humanity is so counterfactual that we’d be far more justified in endorsing the judgment of Dr. Sawyer, the miserable psychiatrist from Miracle on 34th Street, that it is those who seek to do good who are “mentally ill” (or “maniacal,” as he put it).

Third, if murderers are “mentally ill,” then rapists, armed robbers, and violent-doers of all sorts must be as well. In all fairness, the “mental health” enthusiasts don’t deny this. In fact, as far as they’re concerned, “mental illness” extends well beyond violence to explain even those select thoughts and feelings that the “experts” assure us are a function of bad health.

Fourth, as the late, prolific psychiatrist Thomas Szasz never tired of informing audiences, though the judgments of psychologists and psychiatrists are cloaked in medical terminology, this is just a veneer designed to mask moral judgments. Yet the latter, even when they are negative, are consonant with human dignity, the dignity that derives from the uniquely human ability to make choices.

In stark contrast, to explain away a person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions in terms of sickness most definitely is an attack against one’s dignity as a person. In giving up the language of morality—a language that pertains uniquely to persons, to subjects or rational beings—to explain human conduct in favor of the language of science, an idiom the subject matter of which consists of objects, human beings are reduced to things. Persons under the aspect of science, even if it is pseudo-science, are no longer persons but animal bipeds. They are no longer agents or actors exercising intelligence but fields within which impersonal forces or processes operate.

Fifth, once human agency and, hence, human dignity has been pushed aside—once it’s been declared by the “experts” that a person is “sick”—than there is no limit to the indignities that could be visited upon that person in the name of either “healing” him or, quite possibly, ending his “suffering.”

In other words, the principle of reciprocity or proportionality—a moral concept—places a line between the permissible and impermissible in distributing retributive justice. Yet this principle has no place within the contexts of “mental illness” and “treatment.”

Finally, since “mental health” and “evil” belong to two, entirely distinct universes of discourse, those who insist upon describing college campus, elementary school, and movie theater killers as “sick” or “mentally ill” are no more justified in regarding them as “evil” than they would be if they described cancer patients as evil. Not only are such folks not evil; not unlike the victims of cancer, they deserve our pity, our compassion.

Conversely, if we insist that these murderers are evil, then we must resist all attempts to label them “mentally ill.”

We can’t have it both ways.





In “Anti-Trump THUGS, not Protesters, in New Mexico,” I alluded to my friend and colleague whose private remarks to me via a private message provoked me to write my essay.  In the interest of collegiality and fairness, I post here his response to me. Because he wishes to remain anonymous, I will refer to him only as Professor “Chris.”

Dr. Jack Kerwick recently wrote a response to a question I posed to him regarding Trump’s recent New Mexico rally.

Referencing protests outside of Donald Trump’s rally in Albuquerque, Kerwick calls those involved “anti-Trump thugs.” Although no person was arrested at this event—and while it goes without saying that violence for its own sake against any person is inexcusable—I would argue that these protests don’t exist in a vacuum: they are, at least in part, a reaction, a raw, pained, fearful reaction to Trump’s remarks.

Trump’s comments on immigrants, particularly Mexican immigrants, are indeed “controversial” insofar as they’ve disrupted the status quo.

Kerwick mentions how “the displays of outrageous, indeed, the criminal, conduct of Mexicans assaulting police, destroying property, violating Americans’ right to peacefully assemble, and self-identifying as illegals” serve to vindicate Trump’s judgment concerning the prohibitive cost of illegal immigration from Mexico.

This seems unfair: Would we believe that such actions would occur without them first being provoked? Kerwick answers this question in the affirmative.

“Does anyone really think,” Kerwick asks, “that if not for Trump, those igniting fires, hurling obscenities, flashing the middle finger, destroying property, and clashing with police would be volunteering to help the sick or going to work?” But this loaded question assumes what needs to be shown.

Of course, illegals must be dealt with, but while Kerwick cites “craven and greedy politicians” as the reason such immigrants haven’t been deported, a more plausible explanation is that a gaping hole would be left in the economy were such a wholesale move ever attempted. While it is doubtless that cowardice and greed are present within the political class, these factors alone can’t account for the readiness to establish pathways to citizenship for illegals.

As for Trump’s “wall,” Kerwick asks, “why should any American regard the proposal of a wall as any more ‘controversial’ than the proposal for one to lock one’s doors at night?” He suggests those who are anti-wall are “for the erasure of a border between Mexico and the US.”

“Erasure” is an interesting word for its focus on both removal and residue: an erasure is what remains after forcible “purity.” Apparently a “wall” is the only manifestation of such a process; those on one side legally must have “erased” that which would tie them to the other side.

Kerwick’s italicizing of “American” suggests that he’s advocating a bandwagon appeal, an ethos of “America” that demands its “otherness” as part of its branding. Yet others, without reserve, would cite America for its plurality, its acceptance of otherness. If people who contribute to America now are not breaking any laws save for the border they crossed to get here (chiefly to escape whatever toxic reality does exist over there), why are we casting them aside?

To deny that Trump’s words haven’t invited paranoia and fear from a pained populace in search of a scapegoat seems more than intellectually dishonest.

Kerwick cites 9/11 as the chief cause of Trump’s suggestion of consideration of a “temporary ban on all Muslim immigrants,” mentioning Louis Farrakhan’s support of the plan. However, as A. Idris Palmer has argued, Farrakhan is not a genuine Muslim but, rather, a “heterodox, eccentric Batini who for over 55 years has masqueraded as a Muslim.”

Thus, any attempt to align the views of Farrakhan with that of the American Muslim population is doomed to failure.

Kerwick maintains that my use of “controversial” is a rhetorical ploy reserved only for the views of one’s opponents. I am an opponent of Trump’s. Still, even political outsiders with the most bemused, clinical interest could describe as “controversial” Trump’s words within the contexts under discussion, for they need only observe the protests that seem to follow him wherever he holds a rally. After all, not unlike the Trump supporter in North Carolina who was videoed sucker punching an unsuspecting protestor, they don’t exist in a vacuum.

Yet Kerwick suggests that I am misinformed for my use of this term, controversial, and that my disagreement with Trump is unreasonable. Using an example of the moon landing of 1969, Kerwick underscores that, even if there’s disagreement between “folks who insist [it] never happened and […] the rest of us,” the event in question is not controversial.

Such an analogy fails for several reasons. Chiefly, the Apollo moon landing was a singular occurrence in time, an action televised for all to see. There was no rhetoric involved (save for Armstrong’s indelible quotation).

Secondly, there were no direct references to any groups of people that would stroke either their ire or that of other groups of people. Indeed, there was most certainly nothing “controversial” about Armstrong’s walk because nothing about it divided people who witnessed it: it was a uniting force.

Does Trump’s rhetoric serve that purpose?

Kerwick contends that those who don’t share the viewpoints of those from “different political parties, religious denominations, ideologies and so forth” view them as “controversial.” But I would never deny that Sanders and Clinton are just as worthy of critique where they deserve to be critiqued. The difference, though, between them and Trump is that the most sensible of the latter’s positions gets lost in the style in which he delivers it. And there are times, in policy alone, where he’s eminently disagreeable.

Kerwick fundamentally misreads me when he says that I assume that “mob violence against innocents is an understandable, if unjustified, reply to ‘rhetoric.’” Trump seems to suffer under the delusion that he can speak provocatively without being provocative. The acknowledgment that people are, in fact, reacting to his rhetoric is a far cry from “excusing” or “justifying” these reactions.

Kerwick hypothesizes that, were “white Southerners with Confederate flags [to visit] destruction down upon the heads of attendees at an Obama, Black Lives Matter, or even a Nikki Haley rally,” I would have never sought a connection between the protests of the former and the rhetoric of the latter.

Aside from the obvious fact that, if the KKK or white Southerners never existed, we would more than likely never have Black Lives Matter—and might have had a black president 50 years earlier than we ended up having one—I don’t know how else to reply to such a faulty comparison.

My position is that this election has exposed a searing pain, and anger felt from all sides. It’s time to pour water on incendiary words that have already intoxicated far too many vulnerable minds.

On the morning of May 25, I awoke to a message from a colleague with whom, in spite of our decided political differences, I’m friendly.

His question pertained to the riots—he referred to them as “protests”—engaged in by anti-Trump thugs—he called them “protesters”—outside of a Trump rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico the evening prior.

“If his [Trump’s] rhetoric wasn’t as controversial as it I,” my fellow professor asked, “if he said NONE of what has garnered his rise to the top—would these violent protests happen?”

Chris is a good guy. However, implicit in his question are assumptions that are as dubious as they are concerning.

(1)For starters, we should remind ourselves of what exactly it is that Trump has said that “has garnered his rise to the top” of the GOP presidential field.

(a)Given the legions of Mexican flags under the banner of which the rioters in Albuquerque (and elsewhere) have spread their reign of terror, it’s safe to say, I think, that Trump’s remarks regarding the criminal underclass that Mexico has exported to the United States and the need to deport those who are in America illegally is one piece of “rhetoric” that my colleague finds so “controversial.”

It’s undoubtedly true that on this score, Trump struck a chord with unprecedented numbers—millions and millions—of Americans from across the political spectrum. And given the displays of outrageous, indeed, the criminal, conduct of Mexicans assaulting police, destroying property, violating Americans’ right to peacefully assemble, and self-identifying as illegals, it’s just as undoubtedly true that Trump’s observations were spot on.

As for the deportation of illegals, from whichever country of origin, this is what the law requires—even if craven and greedy politicians refuse to enforce it.

Of course, Trump also promises to construct a wall along our southern border for which he’ll make Mexico pay. Yet unless one is for the erasure of a border between Mexico and the US, why should any American regard the proposal of a wall as any more “controversial” than the proposal for one to lock one’s doors at night?

And why should anyone whose allegiance is to America be in the least upset by an arrangement that would insure that a foreign government subsidizes an expensive mechanism that may not have existed but for its abuses?

(b)Trump has “suggested” for consideration a temporary ban on all Muslim immigrants. Considering that Islamic jihadists murdered nearly 3,000 Americans on a particularly infamous day some 15 years ago, and given that ever since America has had to contend with the most brutal of jihadists of various sorts from Islamic lands, this too has struck the ears of millions of Americans from diverse backgrounds—including Nation of Islam minister and black separatist, Louis Farakhan—as a commonsensical plan.

There are other “controversial” things that Trump has said, but I suspect that it is principally his comments on these immigration-related matters that my colleague has in mind when he uses the word “controversial” in connection with the violence of anti-Trump thugs. And this brings us to his next questionable presupposition.

(2)You can take it to the bank that if a person refers to another’s views as “controversial,” it is almost always going to be views with which he or she disagrees.

In other words, it is always the other guy (or gal) who speaks controversially.

As for the views of oneself and one’s ilk, not so much.

In reality, though, the word “controversy” should be reserved for reasonable disagreements, i.e. conflicts between informed individuals. That there is disagreement between, on the one hand, folks who insist that the moon landing of 1969 never happened and, on the other hand, the rest of us, most definitely does not mean that the event in question is “controversial.”

But setting this point aside, we need only acknowledge this much: Given that the presence of different political parties, religious denominations, ideologies, and so forth represent differences in viewpoints, virtually any such perspective is bound to sound “controversial” to those who don’t share it.

Bernie Sanders’ and Hillary Clinton’s plans to militarize society via their socialism is, at a minimum, “controversial” to roughly half of the country that plans on voting against them.

And yet there are zero reports of their “controversial” views provoking political opponents into attacking the property and person of others.

(3)My colleague seems to assume that mob violence against innocents is an understandable, if unjustified, reply to “rhetoric.” To this I offer two responses.

First, as in the case of the “controversial,” it is always the other guy’s “rhetoric” that is “divisive,” “polarizing,” “incendiary”—i.e. provocative of bloodthirsty retaliation.

Had it been hordes of, say, white Southerners with Confederate flags who visited destruction down upon the heads of attendees at an Obama, Black Lives Matter, or even a Nikki Haley rally, you can bet dollars to donuts that my colleague never would’ve inquired into the connection between the “controversial” “rhetoric” of the latter and the “protest” of the former.

Second, the only time that violence is defensible is when it is defensive—when it is unavoidable in order to protect oneself or innocents. Decent parents teach their children this from a young age: “Sticks and stones may break my bones,” and all that.

As one lifelong martial artist and former New York City detective put it, for a civilian to use violence for any reason other than self-defense or the defense of a loved one from “imminent danger,” is for that civilian to be “part of the problem [.]”

(4)Finally, my colleague’s question assumes that those participating in these carnival-esque riots have a clue as to what it is they are against (or, for that matter, for). It’s far from clear from this is the case.

Besides, does anyone really think that if not for Trump, those igniting fires, hurling obscenities, flashing the middle finger, destroying property, and clashing with police would be volunteering to help the sick or going to work?


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