Here is the plain and dangerous truth facing the cosmopolitan world: In the opinion of many millions of Jews and Christians and Muslims, the Abrahamic God of the desert is a homophobe.
Omar Mateen, the nightmare killer of Orlando, Fla., may have been, as his ex-wife tells us now, crazed; he may also have been, as she says, abusive. He may have been, as she suggests, a closeted gay. His father tells us that Mateen took offense at the sight of two men kissing.
In the end, like many mass terrorists we have gotten to know, Omar Mateen was a killer for God. Murder was his confession.
A few weeks ago, Farrokh Sekaleshfar, who is described on Internet sites as a Muslim scholar, was traveling through Orlando, encouraging male listeners at mosques to believe that the remedy for homosexuality is to “get rid” of the vermin.
I have no idea whether Mateen heard any of Sekaleshfar’s sermons. But when he entered the Pulse nightclub on Sunday morning, Mateen evidently had convinced himself that he was in league with the Islamic State and that murder is prayer.
Almost a year ago, Yishai Schlissel, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish resident of Jerusalem, stabbed six marchers in that city’s gay pride parade. Schlissel had just been released from prison after serving a 10-year sentence for exactly the same crime — stabbing several gay pride revelers in 2005. He told the police in 2015 that he had come to kill “in the name of God.”
On Sunday, within minutes of the terrible news from Orlando, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of Texas, a Baptist, tweeted a verse from Galatians 6:7: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” After an angry response from other tweeters, Patrick deleted the biblical quote and consigned his views of homosexuality to silence.
Hate crimes too often are the product of religions affronted by love.
Because I am a Christian, I suppose I more easily mock the views of another Christian, like Dan Patrick, toward my homosexuality, than I would mock a Muslim. But the wider problem with the Abrahamic religions remains: How will the new sexual freedoms of the West meet the religious conservatism of the East, especially as immigration has made distinctions between West and East moot in West Detroit or East London?
The desert religions of Abraham — Judaism, Christianity, Islam — were shaped by an encounter with a God who revealed himself within an ecology of almost lunar desolation. In such a place, the call to belief was tribal, not individualistic. Sexuality was an expression of faith to increase the tribe. Allegiance to God and to one’s ancestors was fulfilled by giving birth. And it is not only some radical Muslim teacher in a Florida mosque who professes such a theology. St. Augustine, one of the most sublime teachers of the Christian church, argued that the primary reason for marriage is having children.
Having multiple wives is often excusable in cultures where the woman as mother is more important than the woman as wife. Indeed, where women are treated as mothers rather than wives, a certain separation often occurs between male and female societies. Mateen might have been offended by the sight of two men kissing in Orlando, but one wonders what he have would made of Arabian and Afghan societies, where men stroll arm in arm and enjoy the night at cafes without women.
My sexual liberation is a Western liberation. I credit my freedom as a gay man to the women’s movement of the 19th century. When Oscar Wilde was in jail in England for loving another man, increasing numbers of women in England and Europe and America were marching for equal civic stature with men, regardless of whether they were mothers or wives. Women’s insistence on suffrage expanded in the 20th century to become the demand by women to exist in public as freely as men, and in private to govern their own bodies.
In the 21st century, women in Cologne, Germany, and Stockholm have come to realize that there are immigrant men watching the way they walk down the street, men who take offense at what they are wearing — how little — and their obliviousness to male lust. As a gay man, walking in East Jerusalem or Dubai or small-town America, I have to be careful holding my partner’s hand, or seeming too gay. As a Roman Catholic, I long ago learned to duck my head when the talk was all about love.
The FBI estimates that 18% of all hate crimes in the U.S. are anti-gay. The problem with the term “hate crime” is that it doesn’t get at what is making the world most dangerous: Hate crimes too often are the product of religions affronted by love.
You will say that I exaggerate the problem. America is not Kabul. You would think, perhaps, that Orlando today is relatively safe for two persons of the same sex to dance for their own pleasure. After all, Disney World, a few miles away, has gay nights.
And yet, there was the need, obviously, this last Saturday night for many homosexuals to seek their freedom in a large nightclub of noisy permission, to dance at the joy of being free — free until they were cut down by a believer in the desert God.
Richard Rodriguez is the author, most recently, of “Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography.”
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