The recent shootings at a youth mission and its associated church by Matthew Murray got a lot of blog attention recently, much of it, of course, speculating wildly about the young man’s motivation. My take is that he was maybe a little mentally unstable, but was certainly involved in a Christian sect (Pentecostals) that says in no uncertain terms that anyone who’s an outsider is hell-bound. They have very rigid rules and a literal interpretation of the parts of the bible they like to interpret literally. His parents were also very religious, and he was homeschooled, so I would imagine that the church was the major, if not sole, source of his social life. So we have a young man who is heavily dependent on a religious organization, and who believes he will go to hell if that changes.
Then they throw him out.
It’s a perfect set-up to turn a depressed and lonely person into an angry, murderous one, I’d say. His posts in an ex-pentecostal internet forum in which he expressed his hatred of Christians (among others) was likely an anger at this particular group that grew into something that was easier to express in generalities. Plus, had he written only of his venom towards this particular organization, someone might have been able to step in and stop him. He had also been sending hate mail to Youth With a Mission since he was rejected from the missionary program.
Given the timeline, plus some understanding of how a depressed person’s mind operates, I think this is a plausible explanation. Religion could be blamed insofar as that it nurtured a dependency so obsessive in a person so needy, but not much further than that. Blame, if there is any, is spread about piecemeal among the church decision-makers who ejected him from a program to which he desperately wanted to belong (although they might have been entirely justified) but did not try to get him the help he needed; parents who allowed him to live under their roof for 26 years, but apparently didn’t know him well enough to recognize signs that he needed help; doctors or mental health organizations that might have recognized his needs and inadequately addressed them. Of course, Murray himself is ultimately responsible, but to what degree depends a lot on how affected he was by mental illness. He was sane enough to keep his plans secret, conscious enough of the source of his anger to drive to two specific places about two hours apart rather than open fire at the first convenient location. If you read some of the forum posts attributed to him, it looks very much like this was the case.
And yet. . .folks with a personal ideology to advance are putting a completely different spin on it. (no links on these, because I don’t want to drive any traffic. E-mail me if you really want them.) One of the more ludicrous and offensive is that he was driven to murder-suicide by his embrace of atheism. A post on Uncommon Descent posits:
The media is reporting that Matthew Murray posted the following on the web: ”I’m coming for EVERYONE soon and I WILL be armed to the @#%$ teeth and I WILL shoot to kill. …God, I can’t wait till I can kill you people. Feel no remorse, no sense of shame, I don’t care if I live or die in the shoot-out. All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you … as I can especially Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world.”
Look at the last part of that quote closely. One wonders if Murray has been reading Dawkins or Dennett. By blaming the world’s ills on religious people do Dawkins and Dennett incite to hatred and make it more likely that tragedies of this sort can occur? I don’t know, but it is an interesting question.
And several commenters helpfully add:
What I’m saying is that atheism is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects atheism from normal criticism.
It is not the world view that offends; it is the radicalization of a world view. To be an militant atheist is to smear your Christian adversary in a militant way—-to equate Christian evangelization with Islamic terrorism— to mischaracterize the art of persuasion as a “hate crime”—to treat the marginal fundamentalist as representative of the whole—–anything to create an environment of hostility. Their favorite technique is to fill the young with rage by telling them that Christians promote sexual repression and seek to establish an oppressive theocracy and are, therefore, a clear and present danger to the social order. In other words, they lie.
Another blogger asserts:
Like previous atheist converts from Stalin to Dawkins and Hitchens, Murray rejected Jesus Christ and found nihilistic hate in his atheism. I would think Murray might be regarded as an atheist hero, considering common atheist beliefs such as “religion poisons everything” and Christians “are to blame for most of the problems in the world….”
My point not that Christians cannot and do not do evil things. They can and do, and the mere fact of evil-doing is not sufficient to deny an individual’s Christianity; if that is the metric then there are no Christians on this planet. As I previously wrote, these church shootings could have been a divorce gone bad, a jealous boyfriend or a delusional individual operating under the belief that he was the Angel of Death sent on a mission by God. But the probability is that a shooter is an atheist is nearly as high as the likelihood that he is young and male. It’s obviously a relevant factor.
One comment made on one of these sites even says that since Richard Dawkins had given a lecture in Colorado a year ago, blame could be laid on him – regardless of whether Murray had gone to hear it. Apparently, the mere nearness of an atheist is enough to incite bloodlust.
Unfortunately, none of these people are speaking from any actual understanding. Not only do they make incorrect assumptions about atheism and atheists, but they also use it as the factor behind other killings. They name names of people who were not only not atheists, but whose motivations sprang from the completely nonsectarian emotion of anger at being rejected.
Unlike someone who attacks abortion providers or clinics with Bible verses providing him impetus, or who kills infidels with the backing of his Q’uran, there exists no text that even unites atheists, much less encourages murder. This is worse than a mere red herring, though, because what it distracts people from is the very real threat of people who need the kind of love, attention, health care, and supervision that would keep them from taking vengeance upon people who “hurt” them. Even the availability of assault weapons in this country would be far less of an issue if people weren’t treated like they were invisible until they do something violent.
Matthew Murray didn’t kill Christians because they were Christians. Matthew Murray didn’t kill Christians because he was atheist. Matthew Murray killed people who rejected him because he was disturbed enough to feel murderous rage at being rejected. Until we start looking for, and helping, people who would feel murderous rage at rejection, all the religious finger-pointing will do nothing to avert future tragedy.