Obsessing With Proving Ourselves Right
Last Sunday, a self-proclaimed militant atheist, James Maxie, attended a religious service in Bridge Community Church in North Hampton, Ohio with his girlfriend allegedly in pursuit of regaining his "faith in god". However, during the service, the pastor, Rev. Normon Hayes asked Maxie's girlfriend if she felt "safe" with him and if he was being beaten up by her boyfriend. The pastor also told the girlfriend that she'd be going to hell for dating Maxie. It has to be noted that during the entire service, James Maxie had been asking the pastor many questions that seemed to offend the pastor, perceiving him as someone "looking for a fight". In turn, when the pastor asked the questions of safety and of physical abuse, Maxie got enraged and proceeded with beating up the 57-year old pastor after the religious service. James Maxie is now being held on $51,000 bond and was discovered to have a history of violence (felonious assault and cruelty to animals). Rev. Normon Hayes is still recovering from a broken nose, facial lacerations and bruises.
Hemant Mehta, author of the Friendly Atheist Blog, learned of the incident and offered to help raise money to cover medical expenses of the mauled Rev. Normon Hayes. Other outspoken atheists have expressed their condemnation of what happened to the pastor.
Now, how should atheists react to an incident like this?
First, I don't think there would any be justification for the actions of James Maxie on Rev. Normon Hayes, unless Maxie felt himself to be physically endangered (there was no mention whatsoever in the article that Rev. Normon Hayes ever expressed intent of physically attacking Maxie), which could explain the physical assault.
Second, we have to note that the primary reason why Maxie beat up the pastor is not because of his atheism; he got enraged because he was accused of physically abusing his girlfriend. Although we may also have to consider that, during the course of the service, the pastor could have learned of Maxie's atheism through his numerous questions and thus, the proclamation that Maxie's girlfriend "is going to hell" for dating an atheist. We also do not have the complete picture of the situation when the pastor told Maxie's girlfriend of her plight if she continued to date an atheist. Was this proclaimed in public with a lot of people hearing it? Or was it somehow a conversation that only involved the three? But nevertheless, even if Maxie did not mean to beat up a pastor simply because of his belief, people will always associate his atheism to his actions. It is not absurd to conclude that people will make the hasty generalization that all atheists, especially militant or outspoken atheists, have the tendency to physically assault anyone with religious beliefs.
And I completely agree with Hemant Mehta. In as much as I do not want to put "atheist" in a box and say that, as atheists, they should be doing this and that, we have come to the point that more and more atheists have come forward, spoke about their non-belief, and formed movements to promote numerous advocacies. Atheists have fought for a long time the stigma that atheism equals lack of morals. And here we have an incident that can, in some ways, return the stigma by associating a militant atheist with a violent person who cannot tolerate a religious person. And so, what should we do?
I fully support Hemant Mehta's call for help to raise funds to help this pastor. He may accept this help or not, but it's not that important. I believe it's also a wakeup call for everyone, atheists and theists alike. Have we not also seen this kind of rage, although in a different form, online? How many forums have you visited and found theists and atheists fighting one another with digital rage? Both atheists and theists have militant brethrens that cannot suffer the opposing logic of another.
Have we reduced our advocacies to mere militancy? Have we become so obsessed to proving ourselves right in front of others that the advocacy becomes a mere background?
I am not recommending foregoing militancy. I am a militant atheist; I use platforms that are available to me, on and off the Internet, to promote understanding of atheism, and secularism. But militancy should not be the beginning and the end. Humanism, above all, is universal. Perhaps, when I show others that I can be compassionate towards fellow humans without believing in a deity, I could reach out further and help unsettled minds to understand why it is rational to be an atheist. Aggressively, continuously, and courageously fighting for the advocacy...but without forgetting these believers are humans you want to enlighten, not to hurt or to conquer.