26 people dead. 24 seriously wounded. Yet another US gun massacre. They are becoming so common that it appears we are becoming more desensitised to these massacres – so much so that less than 24 hours later the massacre has become a side note on many of the news programmes here in the UK.
Perhaps it would be different if people realised that Devin Patrick Kelley, the shooter who walked into the church and shot as many of the worshippers as he could, was a Muslim immigrant who shouted "Allahu Akbar" as he mercilessly gunned them down? Except he wasn’t. He had nothing to do with Islam or with immigrants. Sadly in today's perverted world there will be those who are disappointed that this is not the case.
Maybe if people realised that he was a Southern redneck evangelical Christian, we would now be having discussions on the BBC and the print media about the dangers of religion and how the Christian ‘Taleban’ in the Southern US are as dangerous as the real Taleban in Afghanistan? The secular and humanist Internet pages would be filled with dire warnings about how this proves the danger of religion. But that turns out not to be true either.
President Trump has already announced that this was a mental health issue by tweeting "this was not a gun issue is was a mental health issue". (If the shooter had been a Muslim immigrant can you imagine President Trump tweeting ‘this was not an immigrant issue…this was a mental health issue’?). Perhaps there was a history of mental illness but it would be wiser to resist the almost pathological urge to tweet these kinds of pronouncements. It really doesn’t help those who suffer from mental illness to equate them with massacring people.
There is however an issue that has gone largely unnoticed in almost every news bulletin and report I have heard today; an issue that explains why the secular societies websites have been so quiet about the whole massacre. It appears that Devin Patrick Kelley, who once taught briefly on a Christian vacation camp, had become a militant atheist. He had joined that exclusive group of online atheists who take great pleasure in letting the world know how dumb Christianity is.
A schoolmate Patrick Boyce told the Daily Mail:
'He was the first atheist I met. He went Air Force after high school, got discharged but I don't know why. I was just shocked [to hear the news]. Still haven’t quite processed how he could have done that.'
Nina Rose Nava, who went to school with the gunman, wrote on Facebook: ‘in complete shock! I legit just deleted him off my FB cause I couldn't stand his post.
'He was always talking about how people who believe in God were stupid and trying to preach his atheism.'
There were several other posts in similar vein. The bottom line is that Kelley was described by several as a ‘weird atheist outcast’.
A double standard
So why is Kelley’s atheism and hatred of Christianity regarded as irrelevant to the fact that he massacred Christians at worship in a Church?If he had been a homophobe who shot up a gay nightclub then this would automatically be classed as a crime motivated by homophobia. If he had been a white supremacist who shot up a Mosque, then howls of Islamaphobia would predominate in our media today.
In June 2015, when Dylan Roof, who was a militant racist, killed nine church members in a church prayer meeting in Charleston South Carolina, there was justified outrage which highlighted the continuing poison of racism in US society and even led to the removal of several Confederate monuments throughout the nation. So when a professed atheist goes into a church and kills 26 Christians, why is that not even considered as a possible factor? Where are the demands to remove all memorials of famous atheists?
Is it because so many of those who report our news find it incomprehensible that anyone would do such a thing because of atheism? In their eyes atheism is never a motivating factor for anything. When faced with the fact that Stalin was an atheist – they usually respond with a witty jibe such as – "yes but he didn’t like beards, does that mean he attacked barbers?" In other words his atheism was meaningless. Except that Stalin destroyed 20,000 churches and killed thousands of clergy – as far as we know he left barbershops alone!>
When atheists attack
But atheists don’t do hate speech. Really? I am all too familiar with the angry online atheists as portrayed by Kelley’s online friends. Let me share a couple of personal comments made in public (among the more printable ones) made about yours truly from some non-hate atheists.
“I hate organised religion, but boy, I sure do hate you more!”
“Personally, as a secularist, I hate religion and feel I have every right to”
I even once managed to get a death threat on an atheist website along with one for Professor John Lennox who was told his legs should be broken and if that failed he should be killed for crimes against humanity. What disturbed me was not so much that they appeared on the website (we cannot be responsible for all the weirdos that post on our pages) but that they were allowed to remain.
For many decades there has been a militant form of atheism that regards religion in general and Christianity in particular as a virus that needs to be eradicated. Nietzsche for example argued “I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity, the one great instinct for revenge for which no expedient is sufficiently poisonous, secret, subterranean, petty -- I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind… “ Richard Dawkins gave the green light to this kind of hate speech amongst his followers when he opined in The God Delusion that teaching children the truth of the Bible might be worse than child sexual abuse!
It is this kind of ‘hate-speech’ which led to the burning down of 77 churches in Norway by militant atheists and which at the most extreme end of the atheist movement leads to comments such as this from the Church Arson website “Any intelligent Antichrist methodology at that point will involve a consolidation of strength, public education in the ways of science and logic for our individual members, and actions taken against the remaining believers. The new society must first stabilize itself and come to a point of economic self-sufficiency and growth in social, intellectual, economic, technological and cultural areas. Once this is achieved, the executions of die-hard Christians and Jews should bother no one.’
Rather than cause a degree of contrition and caution amongst the more militant atheists, the Texas Church Massacre has apparently caused even further justification for their anger against the God they don’t believe in. I have already seen several comments which mocked Christians who have prayed for the situation. “They were in church. They had the prayers shot right out of them. Maybe try something else.”
Even the BBC news report on it this evening signed off with a snide gibe that Americans seem to think the answer is in guns and God.
As Christians we believe we are to do unto others as we would want them to do to us. Therefore we must resist the temptation to respond in kind, rush into judgement, proclaim this as an atheist hate crime against Christians, tar all atheists with the same brush and suggest that atheism inevitably leads to such persecution of Christians. Irrational atheists like Richard Dawkins like to cite Westboro Baptist as the example of where Christianity leads. They think that their hatred of Christianity is justified by the examples they post of the tiny percentage of the world's three billion Christians who do extreme and wicked things. We must not do likewise and claim the Texas Church Massacre is the inevitable consequence of atheism.
However we must not ignore the fact that teaching hatred through atheism (or any other ideology) does have bad consequences. It may be that Kelley had ‘domestic issues’, or ‘mental health’ issues, or other factors (as is so often the case, real life stories are usually far more complex than the 24 hour/24 second sound bite culture we live in) and that his expressions of hatred against Christianity were only secondary factors, if factors at all. But nonetheless there is an important message that we all need to hear. Preaching hate – even in the name of love – always produces hate-filled fruit.
It is vital that in our interactions at a personal or social media level, we do not foster the demonization of the ‘other’ and we do not use the communication opportunities we have, to communicate hate. Atheists, Muslims, Christians, Humanists – and indeed every human group can all too easily do that. As a Christian I don’t believe that ‘hate speech’ should be criminalized and controlled by the State – mainly because the State cannot do so and also because there is the danger that the definition of hate speech can itself become a way of institutionalizing hate. But I do think that we should all realize that words can wound and kill as well as heal and bring life.
As a Christian I face a far higher standard than that of the State. I must one day stand before the Christ who says that every careless word and thought will be judged. His standard is love – and forgiveness for our enemies. That is so essential to him that he tells us only to pray for forgiveness as we are prepared to forgive others! And if we think we can get away with just using love as a cute but undefined term we need to think again. Christ does not give us that option. Through his Word he tells us what love is. It is only through being in Him, the One who is Love, that the love of God can be shed abroad in our hearts.
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7 NIV)