Islamic state

Putting God on trial, 2017: What if Stephen Paddock really just snapped in Las Vegas?

Putting God on trial, 2017: What if Stephen Paddock really just snapped in Las Vegas?

All over America, and perhaps the world, people are trying to make sense out of the actions of the mysterious millionaire (we think) gunman Stephen Paddock.

That isn't news. But in a way, the only big news that we have is that there hasn't been any big news since this vision of hell unfolded on the Vegas Strip.

The waiting continues. The one thing mainstream journalists (and their sources) seem to agree on is that the massacre in Las Vegas just doesn't make sense, it doesn't fit into any of our familiar intellectual file folders that we use when tragedy strikes.

Islamic State terrorism? There are debates, but no evidence that has been made public.

Some other form of religious or political fanaticism? Lots of talk, but no evidence.

Massive gambling debts? Ditto. Some kind of mental breakdown, maybe a brain tumor? Maybe science will give us an answer? Maybe chemistry? Paddock was taking Valium, along with legions of other people. So there.

The bottom line: What happens to our minds and hearts if this act turns out to be random and senseless, now that the gunman is dead and cannot explain his actions? What mental file folder do we use then to help us move on, other than the one that says, "Where was God?"

During this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), I defended my statement -- made at the end of my very first Las Vegas massacre post -- that there was a religious element to this event, no matter what. In fact, a massacre with no answer to the "Why?" puzzle is especially troubling, in terms of "theodicy" questions. I said, at that time:

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Massacre in France: RNS promises debate on Islam and terrorism, but doesn't deliver

Massacre in France: RNS promises debate on Islam and terrorism, but doesn't deliver

"Bastille Day attack reignites terrorism and religion debate," trumpets a headline at Religion News Service. Big over-promise there. The article has less debating than intoning -- with one leader after another denouncing terrorism in the name of Islam.

Details are still emerging about the murderous drive of a 19-ton truck that killed at least 84 and injured 202 in Nice, France. Tunisian-born Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, the driver, left no note or video, as do many suicidal terrorists. 

Still, supporters of ISIS/ISIL/the Islamic State have been “celebrating the massacre,” as the Washington Post reports. It notes also that five years ago, Al-Qaida's online magazine recommended using vehicles to “mow down” victims.

The possibility that Bouhlel was a jihadi prompted a range of religious leaders -- from Pope Francis to Shawqi Allam, the Grand Mufti of Egypt -- to condemn the attack. Here's a sample from the RNS piece:

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ISIS keeps torturing and killing Christians: Why is this merely 'conservative news'?

ISIS keeps torturing and killing Christians: Why is this merely 'conservative news'?

If you follow religion news at the global level, then you know that the Internet era has led to the rise of many alternative wire services, most of which produce news stories that are mixed with material advocating the views of the sponsors.

You can take the advocacy stuff or leave it. What matters to journalists is whether the editors of this material have a reputation for getting their facts right when to comes to dates, names, institutions and sources.

You see, the issue isn't whether these "news reports" can be printed in the mainstream press. The issue is whether there is material in them that mainstream journalists can verify and use as the starting point for their own independent reporting.

The Assyrian International News Agency is one such wire service and it is especially crucial to us (I am an Eastern Orthodox layman) with a special interest in the horrors that continue to unfold for Christians in the ancient churches of the Middle East. Here is a chunk of a recent AINA report:

Twelve Christians have been brutally executed by the Islamic State, including the 12-year-old son of a Syrian ministry team leader who had planted nine churches, because they refused to renounce the name of Jesus Christ and embrace Islam. The martyrs were faithful to the very end; right before one woman was beheaded by the terror group, she appeared to be smiling slightly as she said, "Jesus!"

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