It's often extraordinarily difficult to find out what causes people to behave in certain ways -- especially when those ways are troubling and even illegal.
But what of hate crimes? In the Kansas City area, for instance, we're wondering what makes someone drive to Jewish-affiliated institutions and murder three people on Palm Sunday. It turned out the people killed all were Christian, but clearly Jews had been the targets.
Or what of the hate crimes perpetrated over and over against gays and lesbians? And what if it turns out that some of those crimes were committed by the victim herself?
That's what happened in this story of a teen-age girl who seemed to be the victim of hate crimes, but they were acts she committed against herself.
In the end, the girl admits she doesn't have a good explanation for why she did it. It started, she said, because she hadn't done a homework assignment and thought that writing a hate word on her school locker might be a way to get her out of school so she wouldn't have to own up to her own failure.
As she's quoted in the piece: “It’s so stupid and so pointless. Not having a good reason — I have somewhat of a reason but it’s not a good reason — so there’s no way to justify to yourself. You’re going to live with that forever: Wow. I did this really horrible (bleep) thing to all these people for absolutely zero reason.”
I'm glad she acknowledges that now and also acknowledges that her actions injured lots of people, including other gays and lesbians who were suffering real hate crimes, as opposed to self-inflicted, phony ones.
But I think we need to dig deeper here. Where did she get the hateful language she used against herself? Where did she come up with the idea that such hate crimes happen fairly often?
Well, there are many sources of prejudice and hateful thinking. So when I tell you that one of those sources is the historic misreading of scripture that winds up thinking of homosexuality as a sin, I don't want you to imagine that I'm blaming all such anti-gay thinking on the Bible. I'm not.
Indeed, as I note in this essay found elsewhere on my blog, the Bible really has nothing to say about what today we're beginning to understand as homosexual orientation and, thus, the Bible should not be used as a weapon in this matter.
But for a long time many people have thought that the Bible condemns gay and lesbian people. And that has helped to create an atmosphere in which vile jokes about -- and evil deeds perpetuated against -- homosexuals have been seen as acceptable.
That's the atmosphere in which the girl identified as Mary in the piece to which I've linked you was living. So she didn't have to look far to find the language needed to commit a hate crime against herself for an amazingly stupid reason.
Similarly, the person who targeted Jews on Palm Sunday in Kansas City had centuries of anti-Judaism in Christianity as well as modern antisemitism, which is related to that anti-Judaism, to draw on to justify his hateful actions.
There are ripple effects to how we interpret scripture. And we need to be aware of the ways in which sometimes those ripples turn into waves that drown people.
* * *
SOME SAD MONK-EE BUSINESS
The famous Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, once home to author Thomas Merton, is in the midst of a financial/sexual scandal, it's reported. Proof once again that the trouble with religion is that it always involves people.
* * *
P.S.: Do you have my own new book yet? It's Woodstock: A Story of Middle Americans, and I think you'll find it engaging. You can read about it here. If you want an autographed copy, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll tell you how we can make that happen.