What If LA Fitness Shooter George Sodini Were an Atheist…? August 5, 2009

What If LA Fitness Shooter George Sodini Were an Atheist…?

Yesterday, a gunman went into an LA Fitness gym in Pittsburgh and ended up killing three women and injuring many more before turning the gun on himself.

The man had a grudge against women. He was lonely. He was likely crazy. Was there anything more to it?

It turns out George Sodini left us with many blog postings.

I’m not blaming Christianity for the shooting, so bear with me for a moment. But read what he wrote (emphases his):

December 31, 2008:

Now that I am on the topic of family and people I know, I might as well make a summary of sorts to show where things stand. This is New Years Eve I have time, no date tonight of course, so:

Honorable mention:

Tetelestai Church in Pittsburgh, PA – “Be Ye Holy, even as I have been Ye holy! Thus saith the lord thy God!”, as pastor Rick Knapp would proclaim. Holy —-, religion is a waste. But this guy teaches (and convinced me) you can commit mass murder then still go to heaven. Ask him. Call him at [phone number]. If no answer there, he should still live at [address]. In any case, guilt and fear kept me there 13 long years until Nov 2006. I think his crap did the most damage. Their web site: http://www.tetelestai.org.

August 3, 2009:

… Maybe soon, I will see God and Jesus. At least that is what I was told. Eternal life does NOT depend on works. If it did, we will all be in hell. Christ paid for EVERY sin, so how can I or you be judged BY GOD for a sin when the penalty was ALREADY paid. People judge but that does not matter. I was reading the Bible and The Integrity of God beginning yesterday, because soon I will see them.

Obviously, no church or pastor was telling him to kill anyone.

Did religion cause him to do this? No.

Did it prevent it? No.

Religion provided a rationalization for Sodini to commit his crime. He may have done it for other reasons, but he felt justified because of what he learned (and misinterpreted) in church.

The news coverage I’ve seen about this doesn’t focus much on his faith. That’s not very surprising. They’d be under attack if they tried to link this to Christianity.

I can also empathize with religious people who don’t want to see religion blamed for this.

They see religion as irrelevant in this matter.

But I do wonder what their response would be if Sodini’s blog said this instead:

August 3, 2009:

Soon, it will be over. At least that is what I was told. Life doesn’t matter because we’re all accidents. That’s what the atheist said. There is no Heaven or Hell and what I do in this life doesn’t matter. We’re all on a pale blue dot in this universe and our actions will all be forgotten about in a few years, anyway. Hitler and Mother Teresa are both in the same place right now and soon I will join them. How can I or you be judged BY GOD for a sin when God doesn’t even exist? I was reading the Bible yesterday just to see once again how ridiculous it is.

Would his writings be irrelevant then?

What would you be seeing in FOX News?

Would church leaders be saying that atheism didn’t play a role in this crime?

I doubt it. If George Sodini were an atheist, that’s the only aspect of his life people would be talking about.


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  • Richard Wade

    Religion provided a rationalization for Sodini to commit his crime.

    Religion didn’t “provide” the rationalization, Sodini used religion as a rationalization for his crime. Difference. He could have used a hundred other things for his rationalization, including as you point out, atheism, and people involved with those hundred other things would be just as rightly distancing themselves from his actions. You’re right, atheism would probably have been a juicier scapegoat in this society, but the blame still falls entirely on his shoulders.

  • The reason no one comments on how this man’s faith rationalized his decision is because we see Christians committing heinous acts of murder all the time.

  • I don’t think you can go a far as to say that religion rationalized his crime, or that even he used religion as a rationalization of the act itself. What he believed was that his crime would have no eternal consequences for him if he believed the right stuff, which is to say it removed the barrier of potential punishment. This may have given him more freedom, psychologically, to commit the crime, but hardly seems a rationalization of his actions.

  • Epistaxis

    What would you be seeing in FOX News?

    Probably the same thing. They already act as though this sort of thing were true; they can’t really screech it any louder.

  • I’ve used the same reasons he gave for convincing beleivers that if Heaven is real then Hitler went there.

    Based on what Hitler said about his religious beliefs during his rise to power it is quite possible he believed Jesus was the savior. If Jesus paid for everbody’s sins and Hitler was a believer he’s playing a harp on a cloud along side this guy.

  • I think it’s more problematic that there is no analysis of the gendered aspect of the violence Sodini committed. We can only guess at how the media would be treating this case if Sodini were an atheist, because he wasn’t one. But it’s a fact that he targetted women. How did he come to believe that he was entitled to a girlfriend and random women should have to pay with their lives, because he felt wronged?

  • If only these shooters would change the order of who they shoot. They should start with themselves.

  • Am I the only one who has no idea what’s going on in those blog posts? Is that “honorable mention” thing one of his posts? Because it blasts religion and Christianity. Then he goes on to rant about heaven, God, and Jesus.

  • Thilina

    If he was an atheist, Fox “news” wouldn’t talk about anything else.

    Actually i wouldn’t be surprised if they selectively quote this site to make it seem like he was.

  • Keith (the pastor)

    Richard,

    Just wanted to say thanks for your comment on this thread. Every time you write something you seem to gain more of my respect and this is no exception. Thanks.

    And I’d like to think that if this was an atheist doing this, that my response would be the same as yours. Here’s hoping we never have to find out.

  • Tyler in SoCal

    He really only brings up religion in that last post. He “chickened out” in Jan09 attempting to do this and in order to “rationalize” it he tried to get himself drunk and work from there. Earlier in his blog posts he literally uses the word “fundie” when describing how much he hates overly religious types, and he never really mentions religion beyond that. I think the whole Jesus thing at the end was a cop-out.

    -an atheist

  • Delphine

    I was really worried when he said religion is a waste in one of the posts. I feared if he turned out to be an atheist, there will be a nation-wide backlash and anger towards atheists. This incident will be used to justify why we’re less moral and should be censored or locked up.

    I must say I was very relieved when he went all bible crazy at the end.

  • I think he was very confused. Religion clearly didn’t help him but I fail to see what could have helped him.

  • Richard Wade

    Keith (the pastor)
    You are very gracious. Thank you. As you say, here’s hoping we never have to find out what your response would be if the perpetrator was an atheist, but I’m afraid that it’s only a matter of time. Sooner or later, some heinous thing will be done by a deranged person who is linked to atheism, and the backlash against atheists will be terrible. Maybe you could hide me and my family in your secret annex?

    We must keep the dialogue open and positive. Thank you again.

  • Dan W

    It seems to me that Sodini felt he could get away with doing what he did because he thought that the only important punishment was religious in nature, and apparently he thought that as long as he believed in god, he would not be punished for his crimes.
    That, I think, is one of the problems with religion. It allows people to be forgiven for the harmful deeds they do without having to apologize and ask for forgiveness from those who they’ve wronged- in this case the families and friends of the women he killed. Of course, the man likely had some psychological or mental problems as well.

    If he had been an atheist, I’m sure more people would claim he did the things he did because of that, and not focus on any possible mental problems he might have had. And of course Fox “News” would have had a field day.

  • Ryan
  • Kaylya

    This article also mentions it.. and has the following quote from one of the pastors:
    “We believe in permanent security — once saved, always saved,” Rickard said. “He will be judged, but he will be in heaven. … He’ll be in heaven, but he won’t have any rewards because he did evil.”

    http://www.salon.com/wires/ap/us/2009/08/09/D99VIBGO3_us_health_club_shooting/index.html

    So what, their theology is that the unsaved burn in Hell while the “saved” who do horrible things are in Heaven, but maybe on a permanent time out while everyone else gets to play? Because he was “saved” 5 years ago and hasn’t even been an active member of the Church?

    I’m familiar with the “Catholic” theology of confessing one’s sins and all that, and on some level it makes sense as a moral message that if you are truly remorseful and all that God will forgive you. Certainly much better than “you won’t suffer in the afterlife no matter what you do if you accept Jesus as your saviour”.