Are (or were) you and I Jared Lee Loughner's keeper? Are we, in other words, in any way responsible for his decision to try to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson last weekend?
Religious scholar Stephen Prothero thinks so and says exactly that in this posting. I am in harmony with much of what Prothero suggests, but I worry that as we seek to understand how anyone could have chosen to attempt mass murder with political overtones we will oversimplify the causes and seek to extract ourselves completely from any complicity in the failures of the social systems that might have helped prevent this catastrophe or, on the other hand, we will completely remove from Loughner the primary responsibility for what he is alleged to have done.
Either approach would violate what the great religions seek to teach us about both personal accountability and community responsibility.
Those two related ideas must always be in creative tension if there is to be individual and societal healthiness. In a Christian church setting this gets played out in the balance one must maintain between the concept of individual, personal salvation (represented by some of what I call the "Me and Jesus in the Garden" hymns we sing) and the idea of the covenant community, in which, drawing from the Hebrew tradition, we acknowledge that we are built for relationship and never fully human outside of our relationships with others. The church is at its healthiest when those two concepts are kept in some kind of good balance.
There still is much we don't know about Loughner (pictured here) and what motivated him. But what we are starting to discover is that there seemed to be multiple opportunities for mental health professionals, law enforcement and other tools of our civil society to intervene, possibly with the result of getting Loughner the help he needed to move in healthier directions. Those failures are our collective failures, and we'd all do well -- whether we live in Tucson or Timbuktu -- to examine how those systems work and what we can do to improve them.
I am, of course, responsible for my life and how I live it. But religion instructs me that I'm also the keeper of my brothers and sisters in the sense of African Ubuntu Theology, which asserts that "I am because we are," and I cannot be whole unless my community is whole and healthy.
I hope this Tucson disaster will lead all of us to a broader discussion of how we can balance self and community in more constructive ways than obviously played out there last Saturday.
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YET ONE MORE TERRIBLE IDEA
That irritating and dangerous Florida pastor who threatened to burn the Qur'an last year now says he wants to put that Islamic sacred writing on trial in his church. Not all of the vitriolic speech being heard in America these days comes from the political sector. Some of it also derives from religion, and people of faith must stand up and declare it out of bounds.