Like everyone, I was shocked and saddened by the tragic shooting in the Colorado community of Aurora in the U.S.
It was even more poignant to realize the shooter grew up in San Diego just a mile from my nephew, attending a neighbouring high school and playing soccer against my nephew’s team.
He was apparently a normal, high-achieving boy until the onset of schizophrenia, which tends to come on suddenly in late teens or early 20s.
This tragedy raises many questions. For spiritual people of all faiths, it is not a time for quick assumptions about the nature of “evil” or quick certainties about an apparent “villain.”
It is a time for profound compassion and grief for all those whose lives were harmed or destroyed, including the young shooter and his family.
Like many, I do not see how the easy availability of assault weapons can be justified, morally or practically.
Assault weapons have no reason for existence except to deal death indiscriminately to large numbers. No religion supports such disrespect for human life.
My own spiritual perspective doubts the ethics of using them even in warfare, but certainly not by untrained private citizens.
Jesus taught love even of enemies, let alone innocent bystanders. Muhammad and his followers may have been fighters by necessity, yet in the spirit of their faith they left their weapons outside the city of Mecca and put themselves at the mercy of their enemies.
Japan, which allows few guns, has remarkably little violence. Possessing a gun, while it may create an illusion of safety in an uncertain world, would not have made the Aurora theatre goers safer.
More amateurs carrying guns in public places potentially leads to even more carnage, and there are many accidental deaths from guns every year.
Considering “my” property of more value than a human life raises additional moral questions—would we go back to public hangings for stealing a loaf of bread?
Even our lives, precious as they are, are not to be preserved at all costs—that would be idolatry. Both in Aurora and in Knoxville several years ago when a church of my faith was invaded by a shooter, there were those who deliberately put themselves in harm’s way to save others.
Then there is the question about the nature of mental illness. It is clear to me that the Aurora shooter suffered a psychotic break of a type that might happen to a young person in any family.
I’ve known a number of young people who have become victims of schizophrenia and other forms of mental illness, losing touch with reality to one degree or another. We understand far too little of the human brain, and what can happen to it during these vulnerable years.
But to say that premeditation proves sanity is a serious fallacy, as obsession, compulsion and paranoia are often hallmarks of these conditions.
Imagine a young person you care about doing something horrific during a psychotic break. How could they live with it when “sane?” How could you?
A wise First Nations elder told his grandson that we humans have two wolves in our hearts—love and anger. The one we feed determines who we are.
We have a choice when such unpredictable tragedies as the Aurora shooting happen—a choice to “feed” our compassion or our fear. Let us choose, so far as we are able, to live from compassion, and to extend that compassion even to the fearful side of our own humanity.