Why is This Relevant? February 26, 2010

Why is This Relevant?

Hey everyone, this is Ron Gold checking in:

There have been a string of arson attacks against churches this year in Texas, which is obviously horrible. Happily, it looks like the ordeal is over, as the suspected perpetrators were arrested last Sunday.

I’m curious to learn what their motivation was, but since many details have yet to emerge, it’s too early for me to guess. However, it’s not too early for the Associated Press. They have published an article titled “Atheism book found in home linked to fire suspect,” which would seem to insinuate that atheists have the inherent urge to burn down churches. But the relevance of this headline quickly becomes questionable when you see how the article begins:

Investigators have seized books on demons and atheism as well as rifles and knives from in a home linked to one of the men charged with setting an east Texas church on fire and suspected in a string of similar blazes.

Jason Robert Bourque, 19, and Daniel George McAllister, 21, were arrested Sunday and charged with a single count of felony arson in the torching of the Dover Baptist Church near Tyler about 90 miles east of Dallas.

Court documents link the suspects to the Feb. 8 Dover Baptist fire and another the same day at the Clear Spring Missionary Baptist Church in nearby Lindale. The churches are among 11 that have burned in Texas this year in suspected arson attacks.

Investigators searching a home Sunday in rural Grand Saline where Bourque’s girlfriend and family live discovered paperback books titled “Demon Possession” and “The Atheist’s Way,” according to an affidavit filed Tuesday by Texas Ranger Sgt. Brent Davis. Also found were four rifles, three knives and a GPS device at the double-wide manufactured home, the affidavit said.

That’s it? All it says is that the girlfriend had The Atheist’s Way in her double-wide. It doesn’t even say who owns the book. Incidentally, the book’s subtitle is “Living Well Without Gods,” and not “Finding Meaning Through Church Arson.”

Additionally, the book on demons is equally worthy (or unworthy) of being in the headline. For that matter, the fact that there was a weapon cache might have been more notable.

Perhaps one or both of the suspects really are atheists. Or maybe they are Satanists. Or maybe they are even Christians. Though in a way, it doesn’t really matter, because anyone who goes on an arson spree is almost surely sanity-challenged. Therefore, they aren’t going to have any sort of coherent personal philosophy or ethical code, which makes their religious affiliation almost moot.

And finally, no book can make someone burn down a church, which the Associated Press should realize.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • mikespeir

    I own several atheist books and have never had an urge to burn down churches. Of course, I don’t have The Atheist’s Way. Maybe it’s that specific title that turns one into a monster.

  • sc0tt

    I think PZ reported that they also found three bibles… odd that bit didn’t make the press story.

    Yup : http://www.kltv.com/Global/story.asp?S=12039830

  • Laura Lou

    Ugh. I know some people who read that article and see the title The Atheist’s Way will simple-mindedly make the false connection that “the atheist’s way” is to burn down churches.

  • Kevin

    This literally sickens me. Can you imagine how many horrific crimes of the past could’ve* been headlined in a similar vein:

    Christian Bible found in home linked to Una-Bomber
    Christian Bible found in home linked to Oklahoma City bomber
    Christian Bible found in dorm of Virgina Tech shooter.
    Christian Bible found in apartment of Jeffrey Dahmer.
    Christian Bible found in home of Columbine shooter.

    The list can go on and on – and the lack of a single such headline having ever been printed (coupled with the obvious nation-wide outcry which would’ve followed such a headline) goes to show how deeply rooted anti-atheist bigotry remains, even in the mainstream media.

    *Note – I have no specific evidence to suggest these individuals in fact *had* bibles, but that’s besides the point I make here.

  • I bet they played Dungeons and Dragons too.

  • Miko

    Remember this:

    Interestingly enough, nowhere in this article is the Schatz’s religion mentioned. That seems like a very glaring omission to me.

    Can’t really have it both ways, can we?

  • Miko

    *Note – I have no specific evidence to suggest these individuals in fact *had* bibles

    It’s a fairly safe bet. Even a fair number of (if not most) atheists have one.

  • I remember when a firefighter in the town I grew up in started burning down churches. He just wanted the opportunity to play “the hero”.

    Since he was, himself, Christian, his religion never featured in the news stories. It’s funny how that works.

    It’s worth noting that this happened during a time when Christian White Supremacists were burning down churches in the South, so everyone thought it was racially motivated at first.

  • Shane

    I have several books on demonology, various mythologies, fairy tales, Bibles, Qurans, several Christian apologetics, and, of course, several atheist books. Owning books doesn’t tell you anything about the belief of the owner.

    Miko, Deut. 21: “If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father…And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die”.

    Find an equivalent passage in a “New Atheist” book, please. Or one encouraging arson.

  • justanotherjones

    Incidentally, The Atheist’s Way is probably one of the more positive of the group of “atheist” books out there.

  • Claudia

    I don’t know that commenting on the possible religious views of a person accused of committing acts specifically on religious buildings is that out of line.

    However there is responsible journalism, and there is this. A responsible journalist would note that while a book on atheism and another on demonology was found at the home and 3 bibles were found at the family home, the actual religious views of the suspect are as of yet unknown.

    But it’s just so much more fun to stir up further hatred against an already hated minority, isn’t it? Well, misery loves company, Muslims have to deal with this crap all the time. That a murderer has a Koran in the house will make him an terrorist in the minds of the same morons that think that he has a book on atheism and demonology because of course all atheists are actually satantists.

  • Deiloh

    Wonder if he owned Catcher in the Rye or any Mark Twain. Heck I’d be looking for Stephan King’s Firestarter.

  • Matto the Hun

    “But it’s just so much more fun to stir up further hatred against an already hated minority, ”

    Not just fun, but really flippin’ easy.

  • Ron in Houston

    Well, at the risk of invoking too much Freud, the primary motivations of arsonists are anger caused by feelings of powerlessness.

    Those are religion or non-belief independent.

    At the risk of going way too much in criminal profiling which I know nothing about, my guess would be that the person is angry at religion and feeling somewhat neutered.

    Hmmm, I just described a lot of people! 🙂

  • Revyloution

    Im angry at religion, and wish I could see it’s demise in my lifetime (aint going to happen). I sure as heck don’t want to burn down churches.

    I want them converted into libraries.

  • Another primary motivation for arson, especially serial arson, is being a firebug. Actually what’s surprising that that they AREN’T firefighters since a very high percentage of serial arsonists are firefighters (sadly including a friend of mine I’ve known since kindergarten).

    Maybe their views on religion, whatever they are, lead to them choosing churches. Or they chose churches because they are guaranteed to be empty at predictable times so people won’t be hurt. It’s impossible to tell unless they confess and talk about it.

  • Richard Wade

    Informed sources say… (always an easy way to introduce any bullshit you want into a news story) …that police investigators also found an old copy of The Boy Scout’s Handbook, nothing less than a hardbound copy of The Films of Laurel and Hardy, and worst of all, a tattered and oil-stained owner’s manual for a 1962 Ford Falcon!! (cue dramatic hamster video)

    While the chilling implication of these three books all being found in the same place at the same time are obvious to anyone, the local authorities say that they will have no comment on that during the on-going investigation.

    Even their silence on this dire development speaks volumes.

  • I’m guessing they also found a dictionary. Learning is bad.

  • anyone who goes on an arson spree is almost surely sanity-challenged. Therefore, they aren’t going to have any sort of coherent personal philosophy or ethical code, which makes their religious affiliation almost moot.

    A key point. Some atheists are occasionally guilty of making a religious association with a particularly heinous crime when it’s truly irrelevant. It doesn’t matter what mass murderers believe. Charlie Manson thinks he’s a prophet. The rest of us consider him insane. I don’t consider it significant that Adolph was a Catholic. The brain damaged can’t process fantasy any better than they can process reality.

    There are plenty enough examples of inhumanity motivated and fueled solely by religious belief that we don’t need to make connections where there are none or where the connection is purely coincidental.

  • muggle

    I guess now we know how normal, relatively sane theists feel when someone drowns their babies to save their souls prematurely or something. A feeling of just wanting to scream that nutcake’s not us.

    I guess what I’m saying is they are also quick to point out when religion is extreme in someone sensationally criminal also. The biggest difference is that they point it out when the cucko is merely Atheist rather than Atheist extreme. You’ll hear Charles Manson’s extreme religious mutterings but you don’t hear about it if the views held were mild, mainstream religious. But let the crazy merely be an out Atheist or have a book on Atheism in their house and it’s the evils of Atheism proved over and over again.

    Jack Carlson, the biggest reason Hitler’s religion is relative is because he’s always held out as an evil Atheist example.

  • Ashley Moltzan

    yeah i read this church brief for the church page at my newspaper and had to proofread it. it angered me as well just to read it.

  • Try being a gun owner; we get this all the time. I notice no one else here is saying anything about that. “Books on atheism, and rifles.” I’m an atheist with rifles too, and BOTH of those insinuations are offensive and unjustified, but gun owners are accustomed to seeing some crime suspect’s guns paraded for the media as if they were prima facie evidence of sociopathy.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Even a fair number of (if not most) atheists have one.

    I have one. I find it useful for the occasional crossword puzzle clue.

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