There is a pervasive ideology within the texture of this nation.
Tragedies like last Thursday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, seem to pull back the curtain and we can catch a glimpse of this ideology in action.
We seem to take solace from our pain when our attention to an underlying crisis is diverted. This happens when we begin to construct a narrative of “monstrosity” around the killer.
We see this emerge after each school shooting or act of violence. We know the names of Adam Lanza, Rusty Houser and James Holmes. We are learning the name Chris Harper-Mercer.
We are seeing this ideology take shape as our media outlets paint a picture of this latest perpetrator of mass violence.
Pictures of a man holding a firearm are splashed across screens. We watch interviews of stunned parents and friends.
We speculate about his private moments and his mental health record. We hear anecdotes about the words he spoke or wrote prior to his actions. We are making sense of the chaos by weaving a story about a previously unknown man.
I do not condone the acts of violence. I am sorrowful about such emblazoned form of terror against humanity. I am even more troubled, however, by the way we braid a narrative of evil and pin the story squarely on the shoulders of one perpetrator.
As we try to make sense of the violence, we wring our hands and shake our heads. We track the patterns of behavior seen in the killer.
What essence of being human do we hold in common? Where did his “imago Dei” get messed up along the way?
We conclude that he was mentally ill or that he had a long history of social marginalization. Each inquiry results in the same findings: They were monsters.
We somehow forget that they were created in God’s image and their actions were monstrous.
It is our moral imperative to stand against acts of violence. I believe that we cannot authentically address the distress and destruction of violent acts without giving sharp attention to the social systems and policies of injustice that lead people and equip people for acts of violence.
We must pay attention to the ways our public policies hand out ammunition – both the access to acquire a weapon and the motivation to use that weapon. Our moral eye should turn inward.
What public policies are we gripping that leave our hands cold to the violence of the world and dead to the sorrow of our communal suffering? What are we doing to curb the violence? What ideologies are we supporting that equip hatred?
This troubling pattern of building a monster from the rubble of a killing spree is little more than a placebo to a great social rupture. The more upsetting outcome derived from our desire to fabricate a monster out of a man is that it gives us a reprieve from the specters within.
We ask questions like: How could he do such a thing? We need to be asking: How is my complacency in a culture of violence resulting in the death of members of my community?
We spend far too much time misplacing our fear. We are afraid that someone will act violently against us and our loved ones.
We should spend countless hours resolving the ways that we contribute to the social unrest and political inequalities that inflict violence on others.
We cannot expect to be the salt of the earth and then do nothing to change the blandness of our gun control or the ideological narratives that marginalize the mentally ill and social outcast.
We cannot be the light of the world and then do nothing to change the darkness that justifies our own power and privilege to bear arms.
Sheriff John Hanlin told reporters that he would never “utter the name” of Chris Harper-Mercer. Those who do must make sure that when you say his name, you utter your name and my name simultaneously.
When you have uttered our names and prayed our prayers, then resolve to do something. Inaction is a form of action.
Resolve to look at the way your privilege equips hatred. Conclude to pay attention to the distress of loneliness. Become determined to surrender your firearm. Pay attention to the monsters within your heart and in your society.
Dawn Hood-Patterson is a doctoral student at Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas, and a chaplain at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. You can follow her on Twitter @DawnHoodPatt.