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Shootings and Social Responsibility

Shootings and Social Responsibility

by: Carolyn Chau


What does it mean when a country known around the world for its culture of stability and peace experiences the random, violent gunning down of one of its unarmed soldiers guarding a national monument in the symbolic heart of the nation, the Parliament Hill of the capital city?


What does it mean when the gunman is identified as a ‘lone wolf attacker’, killing, in the words of one Global News reporter, from a motive of “personal disaffection and jihadist ideology”?


Something about the death of Corporal Nathan Cirillo on Parliament Hill in Ottawa last October touched the Canadian psyche in a unique way. The innocence and uprightness of a young man serving his country, who died while performing his duty (leaving behind a young son), for no reason other than, seemingly, the psychological and moral disorder of a gunman, gave the nation pause to lament and to weep together. The innocence too of Canada, some say, was lost that day.


In the immediate aftermath of the event that was at first diagnosed as a terrorist attack, there were declarations of national unity and strength, and a defense of the current systems of security that the country has in place to protect its leaders in the nation’s capital. The collective will of the people and of members of Parliament seemed to be that Canada would not surrender its freedoms in fear. Although greater security measures could be taken, there was something worthy of protection in the ability to walk across Parliament Hill unencumbered, whether employee or visitor to that symbolic space of “peace, order, and good government”.


Yet even as the initial reaction of calm restraint was wise, it would also be prudent to reflect on the deeper causes of a phenomenon that seems to be gripping the world over, especially in countries of the North Atlantic: from The Netherlands, France, and Norway to the United States and Canada, random attacks are occurring with greater regularity.


If it is not intrinsic to religion to generate hatred, what leads such persons who claim affiliation with a religious tradition, organization, or community, to perpetrate these horrific crimes?


Perhaps there is a relationship between religion and violence that merits probing, but not the one that gets play in the media. Perhaps there is a dimension of a lack of belonging some feel to which religious communities speak that brings those who are vulnerable to join them. Perhaps religious communities are places that can address brokenness by inviting loners and others into a shared life of meaning and friendship. Perhaps, too, however, is the question of disordered religion and communities that exploit rather than serve. Perhaps, moreover, religious communities that do seek to offer a place of belonging, healing, and community ought to clarify that membership includes the shared affirmation of a set of moral responsibilities toward one another (not the killing of others). Finally, perhaps the internal chaos regarding authority within certain religious traditions has led to an inability to pastor their own so as to affirm and distinguish between faith and perversions of the same: terrorism and other forms of violent action in the name of religion is not religion.


From the perspectives of the Catholic moral traditions, it is hard to reconcile murderous violence with any kind of natural tendency. The need for community that human beings have is real; the need for formation, too, is real. Where there is one, there may be the other. But where there is one without the other fanaticism and abuse of a religious tradition may settle and serve, wrongly, as justification for hatred and violence.


The Catholic tradition has resources to speak into the void of community that many secular countries currently experience. The tradition also has a process of initiation that includes moral formation, though arguably, this needs to be ever strengthened as well.


It isn’t enough to lament the problem of evil in the world, though it is needful. One must begin to treat the sources of the problem by examining where, and how, and why these violent acts take hold of individuals and communities in the first place. The Catholic tradition believes that murderers are made, not born. How can a religion that defends community, solidarity, human dignity, and option for the poor begin to meet the needs of the spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically poor in our societies before they turn to extremist organizations using religion to move their agenda for solace?