Atheist Shooter? October 16, 2007

Atheist Shooter?

Last week, there was a shooting at a Cleveland high school.

Columnist Mitch Albom wrote about the killer and described him this way:

The shooter, a 14-year-old named Asa Coon, reportedly was into Goth music and dress, claimed to be an atheist and worshipped shock rock singer Marilyn Manson. He wore a Manson T-shirt the day of the shootings — although many were quick to deny any connection between the music and the shootings.

To be sure, Albom isn’t making up the idea that this kid might have been an atheist. He’s going off of what has been reported.

But just as there’s no good connection between the music and the shootings, there’s no reason to think his supposed atheism had anything to do with it, either.

And if the word “atheist” was replaced with “Jew” in Albom’s sentence, you can bet there would be a bigger uproar right now.

Dave Silverman wants to know what proportion of crimes (specifically, things like school shootings or gang activity) are committed by self-identified religious children versus self-identified atheist children. Would the results show that atheists commit less crimes or more?

There’s a possible free 6-month membership to American Atheists for the person who can find the relevant information!

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • Kate

    Oh man…I have a problem with this contest. Whether you find a disproportionate number of religious or non-religious school shooters, I can’t see how that would play into motives much at all. I mean, unless the kid says (assuming they’re alive post-shooting to even talk), “I did it because God told me to” (in which case, is that religion or mental illness? and NO jokes, please) or “I did it because there is no God”…how can we assume that religion or absence of religion played any part at all in the shootings? Correlation != causation, people.

    And would the person still get the 6 month subscription of they find that there are more non-religious school shooters than religious ones?

    Even further, I have a problem with children (of course, this depends on age) self-describing themselves as anything. Maybe they’re just going off what Mommy and Daddy (religious OR non!!) is telling them they are. At what age do they have agency in their own beliefs…if ever??

    I also just looked at the wording for the “contest”…what the hell. The guy wants you to find “the most” school shootings or gang activity for religious kids, OR just “crimes” (no “most” mentioned!) for atheist children. Bias, anyone?

    It’s crap like this that makes me wonder if we can EVER get along. I swear, some people would rather choose a fork through the eye than spending 5 minutes with the “enemy”.

  • I agree that this ‘contest’ is inviting people to draw inferences that are prejudicial and discriminatory.

    Take any two groups – right handed people vs. left handed people – and the odds that they would both be equally involved in any type of crime is quite small. Yet, to invite people to make the inference that we should rid the world of X-handed people (whichever side lost this contest) would be to invite injustice and discrimination.

    Another way of raising the same point – if we take the countless characteristics that each of us has, and the bundles of characteristics, there is at least one that will place each of us in a group that has a particularly high probability of committing some type of horrible crime. If we are going to adopt a policy of ridding the world of people with quality X because they tend to commit more crime, then every one of us is at risk of being eliminated, depending on which (completely arbitrary) distinctions people decide to make.

  • Well said Kate. I wasn’t going to say the same thing. Very disappointing indeed.

  • In this particular scenario, I think it’s important to note that claiming oneself as an atheist does not necessarily imply the usage of free thought and empiricism in regard to our existence. Rather, I think it reflects the individual’s desire to rebel against his surroundings. Every description of this student’s behavior could be considered a “shock value” characteristic, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his parents or someone very close to him was religious. After all, what is more shocking to a religious fundamentalist than learning that his or her child has discarded the world views that were preached so fervently during that child’s youth.

    While this contest may or may not yield results displaying a higher rate of crime committed by atheists, I’d strongly argue that it has absolutely nothing to do with a belief or disbelief in supernatural beings.

  • Thomas Wood

    What sort of “atheist” worships Marilyn Manson. I read another report on-line which claimed that Coon had told classmates that he worshipped the devil. I think this is just muddled reporting by the media again i.e. take everything everyone who claims to know person x as true about person x, even if their assertions are contradictory and possibly mistaken.

  • Well, the link is not without precedent or past examples. It’s a pretty firm assumption that violent acts have been done because of religious (or non-religious?) beliefs. Atheists point to the Christian crusades or to the Muslim Jihad, the religious point out that far more have been killed in the era of post-enlightenment non-religious agendas then by religious ones (From Stalin to Abortion) . But at the end of the day I think it’s fair to assume that beliefs about life-questions do affect how one values life.

  • Kate

    And you think school shooters are a significant portion of either group, the religious and the non-religious? We’re talking about a fringe population here! I think mental illness, aggression, perhaps extreme social exclusion, access to guns…hmmm, I’d wager to say THOSE things had a far greater effect on school shootings.

    And if you want to keep ahead and say that beliefs about life affect how one values life…is that really a can of worms you want to open? I would dare to say that when piled high with the aforementioned variables (mental disturbance, harassment, etc.), believers would be stopped for fear of going to hell, whereas a *disturbed* non-religious kid (note that I said disturbed) would have no “being” watching over their shoulder, ready to condemn them to hell. So do we REALLY want to start looking up numbers? Especially when the numbers will tell us absolutely nothing, even if we managed to find “data” on school shooting incidents.

  • Thomas Wood

    Personally I think the massive number of people killed in “the era of post-enlightenment non-religious agendas” has more to do with mechanized infantry, chemical warfare, etc. rather than anyone’s beliefs. An AK-47, for all of its faults is much more effective a killing weapon in the hands of the untrained than is a broadsword or a crossbow.

  • I think what is being suggested is at best an indirect influence here, not a cause. I think that some people can get cancer from eating Sweet ‘N Low… but only the idiots who injest 3 pounds of it a day.

  • ash

    claimed to be an atheist

    if the word “atheist” was replaced with “Jew”

    claimed to be a Jew” ? doesn’t really work, does it? sooo, in wordings like this, is the implication that a) the author has no understanding of what atheism is, b) atheism is one of those silly, made-up things (as in ‘claimed to be a Jedi’) or c) although a kid can lay claim to any religious title they like, professions to a non-belief must be taken with a grain of salt.

    Even further, I have a problem with children (of course, this depends on age) self-describing themselves as anything. Maybe they’re just going off what Mommy and Daddy (religious OR non!!) is telling them they are. At what age do they have agency in their own beliefs…if ever??

    although i recognise and partially concur with this, i can tell you that i was raised christian but held my own disparate opinions on the matter from an early age (although it was some time before i was willing to commit myself past agnostic).

  • monkeymind

    The type of Us/Them thinking behind this contest is sick, sick, sick.

    I clicked through and read the article that got the American Atheist guy so riled up. Its by no means a diatribe on how atheism drove the kid to shoot. A couple lines after the atheist reference, the author writes that the boy had “already had been in a shelter, a detention center and a mental hospital, had once attempted suicide and apparently threatened to blow up the school a week before his rampage…”

    Obviously, all the kids involved in this tragedy have been let down by the adults that are supposed to keep them safe. Can we resist the temptation to point a finger and try to figure out how to prevent these shootings?

    Basically, the author, and maybe the shooter himself, made the mistake of equating atheism with nihilism (rejection of all moral systems). This is a common enough attitude. But instead of just pointing out this fallacy, David Silverman has to turn it into an Us/Them thing. Really, it sounds like a temper tantrum at a personal insult that ignores others’ tragedy.

  • SerTyrion

    claimed to be an atheist and worshipped shock rock singer Marilyn Manson.

    I found that part quite funny. I assume that the writer didn’t literally mean worship… but that is some interesting wording.

  • Kate

    Really, it sounds like a temper tantrum at a personal insult that ignores others’ tragedy.

    Beautifully worded, monkeymind. Well said!

    Ash – gotcha. Shame on me for generalizing. 😉 I apologize. It was late and my mind was fuddled with this upcoming exam…

  • ash

    Kate – i think i had to comment coz the shock got to me…if you’re as intelligent, reasoned and knowledgable as you usually are, you’ll breeze the exam :d

  • WWSHD?

    Exactly the same thing only flipped and he’d use it in exactly the same way. To general approval here.

    I’m sort of sad that Sam has made himself a pariah in neo-atheism. Though maybe he can finish his dissertation and defend it so we can find out if he’s any kind of scientist now that he doesn’t have to protect the world from the faith-heads who are all to blame for anything anyone anywhere does and uses religion as an excuse.

  • Kate

    Ash – thanks for the boost of confidence right before the test!!! It’s statistics (the icky kind, grad school) so I was in a stats mindset when I read this in the wee hours of the morning today. Thus all the stats horrors jumped out. But thanks!! 🙂

  • Mriana

    I don’t know. This is like asking if there is more depression among atheists than there is among theists. Where are you going to get a fair amount of people to have a good test group? He’s asking a lot.

  • Sharon

    Manson is a LaVey Satanist.

    They consider themselves atheists, from what I understand, because they deny existence of God (and Satan) and have only self-interest, and religious mockery in mind. Pretty sure they would be some dodgy neighbors if you pissed them off. Eye for an eye and all that…

  • asdf

    News at 11: Crazy people do crazy things.

    I don’t think it was God or the lack of belief in a god which makes people who are not in a sane state of mind kill. As a result, I think this “contest” is worthless.

  • Scotty B

    Would the results show that atheists commit less crimes or more?

    fewer crimes? (or less crime)

    Sorry, its just one of those things.

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