Shifting The Blame: The Religious Right’s Wrong Response To The Colorado Massacre

What sparked the Colorado shootings? People no longer fear hell, says Religious Right columnist.

The nation is still trying to come to grips with the recent mass shooting of movie-goers in Aurora, Colo., where a deranged gunman killed 12 people and wounded 58.

The carnage is unfathomable. At a time like this, our often-divided nation yearns for a sense of unity. In light of that effort, certain comments just aren’t helpful.

Consider, for example, the bile spewed by U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). During a Friday radio interview with former U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook of Oklahoma, Gohmert blamed the shootings on the nation’s failure to embrace his version of fundamentalist Christianity.

“You know what really gets me, as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and then some senseless crazy act of terror like this takes place," Gohmert said.

He then added, “When people say, ‘where was God in all of this?’... In fact, we’ve threatened high school graduation participants that if they use God’s name that they're going to be jailed… I mean that kind of stuff. Where is God? Where, where? What have we done with God? We told him that we don't want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present.”

The day of the shooting, conservative evangelical mega-pastor Rick Warren sent a tweet reading, “When students are taught they are no different from animals, they act like it.” Warren later tried to delete the tweet and is now asserting that he was referring to another issue, not the Colorado shootings. Pardon me for being skeptical.

But perhaps the most offensive blather was unleashed by Jerry Newcombe of Truth in Action Ministries. In a column distributed by the American Family Association’s OneNewsNow, Newcombe went out of his way to shift the blame away from James Holmes, the killer. It’s really our fault, he says.

“I can’t help but feel that to some extent, we’re reaping what we’ve been sowing as a society,” Newcombe wrote. “We said to God, ‘Get out of the public arena.’ Lawsuit after lawsuit, often by misguided ‘civil libertarians,’ have chased away any fear of God in the land -- at least in the hearts of millions.”

Newcombe also opined that fear of a fundamentalist Hell – full of fire, brimstone and demons – might have kept Holmes in line.

“Tens of millions of young people in this culture seem to have no fear of God,” Newcombe asserted. “It’s becoming too commonplace that some frustrated person will go on a killing spree of random people. If they kill themselves, they think it’s all over. But that’s like going from the frying pan into the fire. Where's the fear of God in our society? I don’t think people would do those sorts of things if they truly understood the reality of Hell.”

In my years of monitoring the Religious Right, one thing I’ve noticed is that these groups claim to emphasize personal responsibility. One of the central tenets of their merger of right-wing politics and fundamentalist Christianity is the need to own up to your actions and fend for yourself. Indeed, they often score progressives for believing that government should “take care” of people. The politicians who pander to the Religious Right promote this message constantly.

If they really believe this, why are they so eager to exonerate mass murders and shift the blame to nebulous forces like godlessness, secularism, failure to fear Hell, etc.? A simpler narrative is more likely true: Holmes was a disturbed young man with access to dangerous weapons. You do the math.

A lot of people are hurting right now, and there is much pain and grief in the land. I really wish that Religious Right leaders and their political allies, who by their statements have made it clear that they have nothing of value to say, would for once do the right thing and stop talking.