Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Beyond grieving for Christchurch, action needed

By Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, Commentary | Published March 21, 2019  | En Español

As I have continued to reflect in horror and sadness on the brutal attack on Muslims peacefully worshiping in Christchurch, New Zealand, one of the lesser-known songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1949 musical “South Pacific” came to mind. Specifically, I remembered the song, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” whose provocative lyrics have much to teach us all about the origins of hate in light of this senseless tragedy.

“You’ve got to be taught

To hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught

From year to year,

It’s got to be drummed

In your dear little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught.


You’ve got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made,

And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,

You’ve got to be carefully taught.


You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,

Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives hate,

You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

Broadway does not always provide such poignant and—sadly—timeless moral lessons, but this song, published 70 long years ago, certainly has much wisdom to offer in the face of these far too frequent mass slaughters.

The perpetrators of these brutal episodes are people of incredible hatred and fear. Where did they learn to hate others with such single-minded intensity? We occasionally discover that they have come from dysfunctional backgrounds, but often it seems their families are just as shocked as the general public. Nevertheless, the depth of their hate is so intense that we cannot begin to comprehend how they were formed in such a humanly twisted fashion to harbor this obsessive hostility against other people. Where did they learn to loathe those of different races, religions or ethnic heritages to such a degree that they feel compelled to kill them?

Increasingly, we cast a critical eye on the role that social media platforms may have played in misshaping such individuals. The violence that is spewed so freely has to have some impact on us all, but especially on the disturbed souls who inflict brutality on innocent people. The individual who slaughtered the Muslims at prayer in New Zealand wore a camera so that he could broadcast the carnage. He acknowledged that he had followed the pattern of violence that he had seen in other mass shootings. Must we continue to allow events like this to take place without examining their causes and responding in concrete ways? Asking God’s powerful healing, consolation and intervention is the first, most important thing we can do, but beyond those “thoughts and prayers,” what earthly actions can we take here and now?

First, we must teach our children the ways of peace, the pattern of respecting and loving others as Jesus has commanded us. This is more than the mere tolerance of the differences of other people. It is the positive acceptance of people of other faiths, races and cultures. I have repeatedly admonished our youngsters at confirmation that they must never view people who are different from them as enemies, rivals or somehow inferior. Our youngsters are subjected to so much violence—in movies, in video games, in cyberspace and even in their streets. As Rodgers and Hammerstein suggested in “South Pacific,” they manage to learn to hate and fear at a very young age.

We must also hold the corporate sponsors of such violent materials accountable. Learn about and strongly support the actions of people and movements who are demanding higher standards from those who generate huge sums of money by broadcasting displays of human carnage or sexually promiscuous programming. It is time to stand against the despicable media that glorify hatred and too often incite disordered personalities to bring those images into real life.

Only by the grace of God and the committed actions of people of faith in every nation on earth will the lessons of Christchurch, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Charleston, Paris and countless other tear-stained communities bring about lasting and meaningful change. May God bless and heal the people of Christchurch and all who grieve the innocent.