Reactions to the Navy Yard shooting and Aaron Alexis’ Buddhist background

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Photo of Aaron Alexis

courtesy FBI

Photo of Aaron Alexis

A killer Buddhist? It doesn’t seem to make theological sense.

Consider the mentally troubled Aaron Alexis, who police say killed 12 at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., on Monday. He once meditated twice a week at a Buddhist temple, according to reports from Texas. It appeared like just one more detail in a full portrait of a man thrust into the headlines – along with his education, work and mental health history and his personal passion for violent video games.

But when does the religion of a mass killer make sense?

Does it only matter if faith is the motive?

In the case of now-convicted Fort Hood killer Maj. Nidal Hassan, a Muslim called himself a “holy warrior.” It was his twisted motive to slaughter 13 people – an act never condoned in Islam. Indeed, no religion advocates slaughtering innocents.

So does a routine mention of a faith upbringing – along with a suspect’s education, work and other personal traits – matter?

The Catholic background of Adam Lanza, the Newtown, Conn., school shooter, didn’t shape his troubled life. Neither did James Holmes’ lack of faith matter to his assault on the audience of The Dark Knight Rising in Aurora, Colo.
Is religion a box that must always be checked in media reports on a mass killing?

Here’s what tweeters had to say. Join the conversation with comments that are smart, short and civil:

Prayers for the victims and leaders:


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  • Leo

    Buddhism is one of the most peaceful of religions. Because of his anger issues, he probably embraced it with the hope that somehow it would solve those issues.
    One seldom hears of a Buddhist, who is not overtly threatened or attacked, as acting out violently. Very tragic.

  • It might be one thing to say a lone gunman might be literally mad (hearing voices in their head, addicted to violent video games, packing guns in secret, a die hard drinker) and to pass that of as the sole reason as to why they commit such atrocities but perhaps it is even crazier to avoid discussing that perhaps the vernacular and the current cultural and social dialectics at play are just as mad which unfortunately makes such tragic acts the common eye sore these days….

  • Joshua is right to be “worried about people saying he’s wasn’t a “real Buddhist.”” The No True Scotsman Fallacy is out in force.

    Also, very good point in mentioning that the form of Buddhism he practiced was different from Zen. I wish they’d quoted Hallisey or Queen on the precise differences though.

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  • Graham

    I am intrigued by the fact that despite all the checks and counter checks there was no real attention paid to his mental illness – it would appear no one was dealing with the root causes of the man’s problems. I pray for everyone involved, including the soul of Aaron Alexis.

  • Todd Collier

    Historically speaking the issue of Buddhism here is beside the point. Buddhist nations are no less prone to war or criminal activity than non-Buddhist ones. Buddhist individuals therefore will sometimes be found fighting in wars and committing violent acts. The question is “does the religion cause or predispose the individual to the act?” In most religious cases the answer is “no.” Very few religions support violence as the way to go.

  • Some of Joshua’s concerns are very valid. And this obsession with dis-identifying with Alexis because he committed murder is part of a broader pattern of violence(s) in our society.

  • Kevlaur

    “It was his twisted motive to slaughter 13 people – an act never condoned in Islam. Indeed, no religion advocates slaughtering innocents.”

    Whether we like it or not, the Koran does indeed endorse killing those who aren’t innocent; that is, infidels.
    This isn’t for a set period of time, i.e. OT Israel destroying nations because of their practices and so Israel would not be corrupted by them.
    For example 2:191-193:
    “And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah [disbelief] is worse than killing…
    but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful. And fight them until there is no more Fitnah [disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah] and worship is for Allah alone. But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against Az-Zalimun (the polytheists, and wrong-doers, etc.)
    The historical setting of these verses is not defensive. Muhammad and his followers had moved to Medina and were not under attack.

  • Joe Shields

    This is only a reply to your post and not the article above. Jihad is also in the Bible, Luke 19:27 says: “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them–bring them here and kill them in front of me.” This is Jesus (PBUH) saying this.