I would love simply to have written this blog about dining out last evening at a charming restaurant in Bologna known as Osteria Broccaindosso, located at door number 7 on Broccaindosso Street (which explains its slightly difficult-to-pronounce name). I would love to tell you that I savored the best lasagna that I ever had, that the antipasto that led up to the lasagna was itself a feast, one that kept parading in waves toward our tiny table where it marched about in a ritual procession of smidgens of insalata al balsamico, miniature zucchini omelets, two super-fresh cheeses (ricotta and mozzarella) and other less easily identifiable but very easily devoured hors d’oeuvres. I would then love to have added that in fact everything in this tiny restaurant was thoughtfully prepared, delicate to the palate, and all of it something surpassing merely fresh. You would have to have performed in an Olympic triathlon to have worked up sufficient appetite to have desired, after the exquisite primo, a secondo, which I am sure would have been just as exquisite as the primo or antipasto. I would, too, have been sure to mention that the wine was an exceptionally high quality Sangiovese, a specialty of this region, rounding out the entire experience which, as by now you have ascertained, was simply remarkable. To top it off, even though both Piergiacomo (my friend who is an expert in art history, all things pertaining to Renaissance culture, and as a bonus, wine and food) and I did not ask for dessert, we were nevertheless treated to a spoonful each of the most amazing tiramisù that I have ever had—offered, no doubt, to be the final proof that we had died and gone to heaven. But I will not describe such an occasion in this blog, because it is not the time for that.
Why can I not simply focus on something so delightful? Because others have died this week, and they have died not in a world rich in heavenly virtue or even rife with restaurants like Osteria Broccaindosso, for such establishments are rare, but rather they were murdered in a world gone to hell; they were shot to death in a world gone mad. While we saw something more than merely a hate crime in Orlando this week, we nevertheless did see hate-inspired killing at the hands of someone who smugly perceived himself a warrior in a battle. Driven on by hate, he envisioned himself as a hero about to die for a cause, not merely a cause, but for him the ultimate cause. He set himself up—or was set up by other insane zealots—as judge and jury and executioner. And he had, it would seem, no problem in taking up the last of these roles.
Many atheists see religion at the base of this man’s problems. Their facile argument is, “Remove religion and you remove the source of the hatred.” I don’t think it is really worth the time to demonstrate how specious such a statement is. It is probably not even worth suggesting that it is impossible to remove from most human beings their desire to discover their humanity not by repressing their religious impulse but by exploring it. It would be asking too much of a human being to ignore the soul’s cry for God, the hope for something beyond the grave. It is too much to ask us to see everything that is amazing—from the image of a mother lovingly nursing her infant to a powerful lightning storm to the Alps to humpback whales to the less spectacular (e.g. the color blue, another beautiful sunset)—as simply coincidence. Or what about that time you needed precisely $50 to pay the rent and you uncle sent you a card out of the blue with $50 in it? Yes, someone could say that’s all coincidence, but to most of us it does not seem to be simply that. On such occasions it certainly seems to the person receiving the $50 that there is a God. It seems that he is showing his care both in the particular and in the general. One can see the latter in the provision of this marvelous paradise in which we live, even though it is beset with dangers and grave challenges.
Yet I don’t want to get into a debate about religion. Rather, I want to close by addressing the world gone mad in which we live. In such a world it is important not to assign blame fatuously. Religion alone did not cause the shooter to act on his hatred of the freedom that characterizes American culture, of homosexuality, of the western world. Rather, a specific strand of belief did, a strand of one religion, a bad and hateful strand. That shooter’s hatred was not of a particular people but of the values that enable the freedom that allowed for the club that was attacked to exist. God did not cause the massacre in Orlando. Humankind did. A single member of our human community, no doubt egged on by others, took it upon himself to advance the attack on western values. And it all happened so quickly. So many died. So great was the horror. So sad the families. So shattered the lives of those who did survive.
So where do we assign blame if we are so compelled to do so? We have identified the problem, and it is us. For my atheist friends and, for that matter, for all my friends and anyone who might be inclined to blame religion or even God, I can only say this: we live in a broken world, a world broken by our own sin. We can either crassly counter hate with hate, or we can pray for our enemies, even love them. Does that preclude defending ourselves? Of course not. But unless part of that defense is genuine love and care for those who are spiritually lost, who have fallen into a spiral of hate and destruction, we will only get so far as political solutions allow us to get. It’s not simply that religion must solve the problem that one bad strand of religion has engendered. Rather it is that God—the God who offered a sacrifice for this world’s pain and grief, who speaks love, and who by his own example teaches us to love selflessly—alone can inspire the solution. And the solution to hate is, in a word, love.