Thanks, RawStory, for providing information that, while factually true, is not relevant to the situation.
First, let’s start with the description of the attack:
On Sunday, a self-professed “militant atheist” with a checkered criminal past attacked a pastor in a North Hampton, Ohio church.
According to Reverend Norman Hayes, he had approached the girlfriend of James Maxie and asked her if Maxie had been abusive. “I questioned his girlfriend in his presence if she felt safe,” Hayes told WHIO. “He was very, very upset that I’d even suggest that he would hurt her. Then he turned around and hurt me very badly.”
According to the police report, Maxie broke Rev. Hayes’s nose in two places, left 3 and 6-inch lacerations across his left and right eyes, and battered his right eye until it was swollen shut in a manner doctors worry may have caused brain bleeding.
First of all, I don’t care what religion Maxie follows. Assault is assault, and he should be put away for everyone’s protection. That said, I’m still a little confused as to 1) how Maxie’s atheism factors into this, and 2) what he was doing in church as a non-believer.
As far as I understand the story, this incident didn’t precipitate from an argument over faith, the existence of God, biblical inerrancy, or some other random philosophical topic; it started when a man with a criminal record and long history of violence against people and animals was indirectly accused by a man for being abusive to his girlfriend.
In a statement Maxie wrote to police, he said he was “trying to regain my faith in God,” and went to hear Hayes’ sermon. He said he “asked questions about science and faith,” and claimed the statements offended Hayes. Maxie said Hayes said his girlfriend was “going to hell for dating me.”
So, he’s a self-professed atheist who wants to believe. Sure, I guess I can see that. Non-believers of all stripes are out there, and since atheism has no set worldview it’s pretty much up to the individual how they deal with other aspects of life. Sill, I fail to see its relevance unless the entire service so offended him that the implication of domestic violence was just one additional insult that pushed him over the edge. There’s not really enough information to say.
I’ve been reading some of the responses to the attack on places like Reddit or in the comments section of various articles, and the overall theme is pretty consistent. There are claims that he isn’t a “real” atheist because he was in church trying to become a believer again. That’s arguable, but it’s entirely possible to not believe yet still want to believe. They’re not mutually exclusive. A few say that a “real atheist” wouldn’t resort to violence (hello “no true Scotsman” fallacy). The majority, however, echo some of my sentiments in that it’s not clear what role faith – or the lack thereof – really played in this. Based on what we know now, it doesn’t look like there was any, and this was an attack stemming from an unpleasant accusation.
I don’t think this is going to matter in the eyes of the public. All they’ll see is “militant atheist” (whatever that means) and “attack on a pastor” and many will conclude that it was a religion – motivated attack, and that somehow this guy represents the rest of us. (You know, the way WBC represents Christianity, or the Taliban speak for Islam.) The best thing we, as atheists, can do is condemn Maxie outright and offer support to the pastor and his church like decent human beings.
Though, with all respect to Hayes, you might not want to do that again. In no way did you deserve to get attacked but next time, ask the girl in private.