Vandals Tag South Carolina Church with Atheist Phrases… but We’re Going to Make Things Better July 12, 2012

Vandals Tag South Carolina Church with Atheist Phrases… but We’re Going to Make Things Better

Sometime between Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, a vandal (or maybe more than one of them) spray-painted the following messages on the property of Shady Grove United Methodist Church in Irmo, South Carolina:

But that wasn’t enough. The vandal(s) came back Sunday night to graffiti this on the side of the building:

I don’t know who committed the crime — and I don’t even know if they were really atheists or people pretending to be atheists — but this is awful behavior and none of us should condone it. If we’re right, we’re right on the basis of our arguments alone. This graffiti proves nothing and it only enhances the false stereotype that atheists are immoral god-haters.

“There is a great group of young people in this community, and to see this go on is disheartening,” said [Pastor Bob] Vincent. “You would think that someone wouldn’t damage a church or do that to a church you would think that is sacred. But you never know.”

The pastor says they will repaint the building and get back to life as they know it, hoping to send a message of his own to whomever did this.

“We have faith that this will be resolved and that there will be a learned lesson from it and especially from the person who has done this damage.”

You can see the pastor talk about the damage in Katie Williams‘ report for WACH Fox News:

You know, this happened last summer, too — atheists tagging a church — and this online community came together to raise money for the church for clean-up. The pastor said he appreciated the gesture, but they had already fixed the damage, so we donated the money to Foundation Beyond Belief.

I spoke with Pastor Vincent earlier today and he told me they’ve mostly cleaned up the damage. He added that he wasn’t even sure it was atheists who did this — “they misspelled ‘atheism’ in the graffiti!” — but he hopes the vandals stop what they’re doing.

So here’s what I’m suggesting:

I’m setting up a fundraiser. The plan is that the pastor and I will figure out a good (secular, non-proselytizing) charity group in his area that could use the donations. Together, we will give that charity whatever we raise.

It’s a gesture to show that, while we have very serious disagreements about the nature of God, we all want to help our communities and make this world a better place. It’s possible to work together toward that cause. It’s also a slap in the face to the vandals — if they wanted to prove anything, they failed. I hope they’re caught and penalized. And I hope the stories about the vandalism talk about how atheists came together with this pastor to support a local charity, and not how some evil atheist(s) did this awful damage.

Please consider chipping in and making a difference:

As always, I’ll provide proof that all this money goes to the right place.

Thank you for your support.

***Edit***: I should have mentioned that Pastor Vincent spoke only for himself during our conversation. He still needs to get approval from his congregation in order for his church to join us on this endeavor. But either way, I’ll keep you all informed as to what they decide to do and the money will go to a good place.

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  • Kudos for this.

  • I don’t get why vandals do what they do on either side. Spray paint a billboard, it can be cleaned. Take a sign, it can be replaced. Graffiti a building, it can be washed. But what good does it do? There’s no way those are Atheists, because only someone mindless resorts to petty vandalism. 

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Of course this vandalism was not done by atheists. It was done by athiests, as you can surmise from their first tag.

  • Gunstargreen

    Don’t invoke a “no true Scottsman.” You don’t know who the vandals are.

    The only thing that matters is they were wrong and our community needs to show we don’t support things like this by stepping in to fix it.

  • Nathan

    That is exactly the way Christians feel when someone who claims to be “Christian” does something hateful. We have a bad rap because their are so many misled “Christians”. I hope this will make non-believers understand that while many Christians are very loving, forgiving, and non-judgmental people, there are many who will spoil the Christian image. Its good to see atheists doing the right thing even if the church will not except the donations and even if it is just an attempt to clear their name and relation to the dispicable act. Very good.

  • Becky Shattuck

    I think it would naive to think that an atheist can do no wrong.  It’s very possible this was a atheist teenager full of angst who thought he/she was making a statement.  Of course, it’s possible it *wasn’t* an atheist, too, but we just can’t know without more evidence.  Either way, I think the idea to raise donations from this atheist community for that church’s community is a wonderful gesture.

  • Ibis3

    Hey, I was just about to respond to Nathan that yeah, except when atheists do bad things, we don’t reclassify them automatically as not real atheists or “atheists” in quotation marks.  Thanks for proving me wrong.


    My guess on the identity of the vandals: atheist or at least non-religious teenagers dragged to that church by their parents.

  • Ibis3

    Hey, I was just about to respond to Nathan that yeah, except when atheists do bad things, we don’t reclassify them automatically as not real atheists or “atheists” in quotation marks.  Thanks for proving me wrong.


    My guess on the identity of the vandals: atheist or at least non-religious teenagers dragged to that church by their parents.

  • I chipped in. As others have said, evoking No True Scotsman arguments are ill-advised, and I don’t think it’s a contrived frame-up by an atheist-hating Christian.

    My guess is that this is a boy about 15 years old, a social misfit from a troubled family, acting alone. He fancies himself an atheist basically because he thinks that makes him a rebel, and being a “rebel,” as vague as that might be, is how he strikes back at the pain he’s in. If he ever develops mature thoughts about atheism, hopefully he’ll realize the stupidity of his act.

  • Cutencrunchy

    I am okay with it – in the long run it say’s NO you are not sacred – you do not get special privilege – and we will not be silent .. imagine an oppressive regime like a concentration camp where they take out the members brains and turn them to cult like sheep… I say speak out in every form, encourage the ridicule of the ridiculous….
    When dealing with people – respect the people – help the people – contribute time effort education – but when faced with centuries of oppressive, controlling, manipulative abuse rail, rant rave until it comes down.. until crimes are answered for and the system of systematic injustice is  destroyed… then help build an open freedom of expression of religion with equal rights and responsibilities…

  • Edwards Luzardo

    I hate those “athiests”. Always thinking they are “athier” than everyone else, those morons.

  • Edwards Luzardo

    I hate those “athiests”. Always thinking they are “athier” than everyone else, those morons.

  • Edwards Luzardo

    …and terrible spelling skills.

  • Ed Brayton

    Great idea, Hemant. I just donated and I’m asking my readers to do the same. Let’s turn this into something positive.

  • Something Easy

     You’re right that not all Christians are as bad as they portray themselves to be.  Nor are atheists evil as they portray us to be.  Seems sort of one-sided that we as people can’t talk about horrible things some believers do without someone sticking up for the True Believers. 

    The institutionalization of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church and the victim-silencing/priest protection racket is a prime example.  It is the most common deflection to see Papal supporters say “We don’t like it either.” No, but by associating with that organization you give them authority to speak and act in such ways because no one drops their association with the religion.  Adherence to the label is an endorsement of the institution no matter how loudly you proclaim it not the case.  If you really disagreed then you would drop the organizational label.

    Atheists can do horrible, inhumane things.  But atheism is not a homogeneous collective under idealistic banners approved by Secular Writ – my wearing of the label is not an endorsement of atrocious acts, so I feel no need to distance myself from the label – just the acts and the actors themselves.

  • Mark Nowitzky

    athier than thou 🙂

  • No

    A fine cause and all that.

    But I was really annoyed by the pastor (shocking, I know). Once again, a Christian demands special privilege. I guess graffiti is okay on public buildings or private homes, but we should all view their building as “sacred”. Screw that. I’d rather donate to some general graffiti-removing cause.

  • Your attitude makes me sad, Cutencrunchy. It wasn’t these people, or even this church, doing the oppressing. That is like advocating that all women are find to go up and punch random men because of sexism.
    Even if the church is oppressive, there are peaceful, non-criminal, effective ways to communicate the desire for change.

  • John Dillinger

    Christians that all of you think that some are good are not real 
    Christians. Read and live by the bible and see how “good” they really are. This 
    vandalism just sucks for everyone believers & non.

  • Holly D. Atkinson

    Contributed to the fund. Not much, but what I could afford.

  • frankly, no. churches have plenty of money. and they vandalise things that relate to my world all the frakking time. hatred and oppression should be mocked and shamed. if the message of religion weren’t so hateful, maybe i’d be with you on this. but it is and i’m not. deal with the reality that hatred sometimes brings out ‘radical’ opposition. change your message, or accept the consequences. 

  •  I understand what you’re saying here and I appreciate the sentiment. I’d certainly like to see more of a discussion of how to make these issues, in some sense, less divisive. Many people that I have met seem to be unable to discuss differences of opinion in a calm and collected manner. And I certainly wouldn’t hold myself up as the epitome of that kind of virtue, and could surely be swatted down pretty hard if I did.

    However, here are a few things to consider:

    1) As atheists, it’s not our job to say who are really Christians and who aren’t. I realise that someone, as a Christian, might want to distance themselves from, say, the Westboro Baptists. But I don’t believe in any form of Christianity, whether it be mellow, liberal Christianity or the gay bashing non-sense spewed by some conservatives. Therefore, while one form is presently more pleasant in its effects than another, I think both are about equally as unlikely.

    2) Consider that the more people are willing to *act* on their faith (in either good ways or bad) the stronger their faith must be. Seriously, the terrorists on 9/11 must have had the strongest faith of any of the people who died that day. And the fact that the less people are willing to stick to the letter of their holy books, the less severe they are in their religious sentiments, the more we seem to like them — that doesn’t speak too tremendously well of religion. After all, the Bible *does* have condemnations against male homosexual sex (amongst other things.) If a Christian says that they are not against gay people, it is only by specifically rejecting a part of their own religion’s traditional doctrine. And, again, if the only way to be ethical is to reject certain parts of one’s religion, that doesn’t speak very well of that religion.

  • Gunstargreen

    Well said, I was going to respond myself but you nailed it.

  •  There are some mindless atheists out there. S.E. Cupp for example.

  • I don’t think it’s a frame-up. They might be less than thoughtful, and Hell, they might be kids who haven’t even really made up their minds, but a conspiracy seems rather far-fetched. At the very least i think that kind of theory ought to come out only when there is specific reason to believe it,

    Damned shame to see though.

  • I always wonder when I see atheist spelled Athiest, who really is the most atheist, ie. the Athiest atheist.

  •  Lol, hadn’t even noticed.

  • Given that “Atheism” is spelled wrong, I’d say it’s more likely the vandals were Christians.

  • LesterBallard

    Yeah, fine idea, we’re better than they are. Cool.Hhave any churches ever done anything about the vandalism done to atheist billboards and the like?

  • I think more likely they used some sort of phone app to come up with the message.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    Man… I hate saying this, but…

    Fuckin atheists!

  • Annie

    My hyperbole meter flew through the roof when the sheriff referred to this as a “heinous” crime.  Sure, this wasn’t very nice, but heinous? 

    I chipped in because I liked how the pastor continued to take the high road in the video.  I hope you two can find a nice, secular cause.

  • Noam Chomsky

    Chipped in and shared!

  • They can’t even spell “athiesm [sic]”. Sad.

  • Does it change things that the money isn’t going to the church, but to a to-be-decided secular charity?

    Hey Hemant, can we get this money to go to something to support LGBT rights?  I don’t see anything.

    is the only thing that jumped out as being one that I think I’d be happy to see my $ go to. 


    Or maybe 

    but there’s NO info about them other than what bots scavenge.

  • Something Easy

     Ha!  Not sure that she’s even an atheist.  She is a rare concoction of the Murdoch History-and-Reason-Assault-Machine, of that, I am sure.

  • Ha! One of the churches that you raised money for last year was the one I grew up in. Those people didn’t need it, trust me. That church has MONEY. My brother likes to brag about the cool equipment and sound stuff they’re always getting. Can’t step foot in that place anymore.

    Anyway, that’s besides the point…I obviously don’t have issues… LOL

    I like the idea of collaberating with a church to raise money for an agreed upon charity. Sure we could argue against doing something like that because when would a church ever reach out to an athiest (or atheists plural)  in need? But, I think that’s the point. We are giving without holding the expectation of a like kindness being returned over their heads. That’s the point of being a community and being charitable. We are demonstrating that not all of us are bitter and angry, but that we are GOOD without god and religion. Yes?

    I will chip in what I can. Thanks for being awesome, Hemant!

  • mordacious1

    The red “A” with a circle around it is the symbol for anarchism, not atheism. A lot of the teens in my area paint this around town. If this person was an atheist (and I kind of doubt it), he/she is not too bright.

  • Freebird285

    Don’t believe Atheists did it, not for one second.

  • Be on the lookout for Jethro Bodine, aka “ATHIEST” agent extraordinaire!  Cunning super agent with book learnin’ all the way to the sixth grade level!  Unintentionally hilarious because the MORAN who tried to perpetrate this frame job couldn’t spell.  You know it is just some hillbilly teenagers pissed off at the church and acting out their weird “ATHIEST” fantasies.  The reference to Richard Dawkins is a DEAD GIVE AWAY that this is an “inside” job of creationist lunatics.  (God Delusion ref).  The only people in South Carolina that have EVER heard of Richard Dawkins books are lunatic fundamentalists who vilify him to their kids as an Anti-Christ because of his “belief” that evolution is real and God is not.  This kind of obviously “fake” agitprop graffiti is what happens when fundamentalist South Carolina teens mix their paint huffing sessions with their religious indoctrination classes.  Enjoy.

  • GBJames

    I chipped in. Just wanted to make sure, though, that the chip-in link you provided goes to this particular cause… (Chipin says it is for SSA, which is a fine group I give to, too, but…)

  • Thanks for the donation! I did receive it and I updated the ChipIn settings to make sure it says Friendly Atheist instead of SSA 🙂

  • Alan Williamson

    It is to bad that stuff like this happens.  It is giving the 
    East Germanic tribe “Vandals” a bad name.

  • Andrew F. S.

    I am an atheist from South Carolina.

  • Spherical Basterd

    What a “Moran”..

  • noodlezoop

    I think I like this idea. I did a little poking around about Irmo, and I have a tentative suggestion for a donation destination: the Irmo Okra Strut Festival. It’s at the end of September, and the website ( says that “money raised by the festival is put back into the community through civic and school organizations, scholarships and improvements of public areas.” That sounds really nice. Apparently, the town got their first library financed through this festival!

    Besides that, my default charity suggestion is always “food bank.” Their local-est one looks to be Harvest Hope Food Bank in Columbia, which is about 10 miles away. It has four stars on Charity Navigator, too.

  • Some of us should apologize to them:
    Kill ’em with kindness. 🙂

  • Cary

    I agree to an extent that endorsing an organization endorses the act itself, but only if the organization does not repudiate the act of one of it’s members. In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, in fact if those priests had followed what the Church taught on sexual morality and virtue (particularly on lying here and sins of omission) the issue would fail to exist. You said: “But atheism is not a homogeneous collective under idealistic banners approved by Secular Writ – my wearing of the label is not an endorsement of atrocious acts, so I feel no need to distance myself from the label – just the acts and the actors themselves.” but in the case of Catholicism neither is it a “homogeneous collective” nor does the Church proper condone, endorse, or accept the actions you have laid out. Rather, the Church proper condemns them as mortal sins and immoral acts. Does that make sense?

  • Tria MacLeod

    I’m glad he at least noticed the spelling mistakes.  Put me in the camp who doesn’t think this was actually done by Atheists, but I’ll contribute to a good cause any day.

  • Tria MacLeod

    I see a mixed message in the response of the Catholic Church.  Publicly they condemn the actions of the rapist priests yet at the same time it is the church themselves (itself?) that hides these rapists, prevents secular investigation and criminal charges from being filed and scurries the known rapists off to new Parishes complete with an unaware pool of fresh victims.  This has happened often enough that it is the rule rather than the exception.    IMHO it is a prime example of actions speaking louder than words.

  • Cary


    to be against an act is not to be against the innate dignity of the personhood of those committing the action. For instance, I condemn the act of unintentional manslaughter but I dont condemn the person who commited it, who indeed may be contrite. to say this: ” If a Christian says that they are not against gay people, it is only by specifically rejecting a part of their own religion’s traditional doctrine” is not factual. A Christian may reject the act (in conformity with traditional doctrine) and still love gay people (in conformity with traditional doctrine). This is often summed up in the simple phrase to hate the sin and not the sinner. Make sense?


  • Cary


    I see what your saying but individuals in the church are different from the church itself.

    What you say here: “it is the church themselves (itself?) that hides these rapists, prevents secular investigation and criminal charges from being filed and scurries the known rapists off to new Parishes complete with an unaware pool of fresh victims. This has happened often enough that it is the rule rather than the exception”

    seems a common enough complaint and rightfful but the people doing the cover up are people within the church not the church (even if they are Bishops they are not the church) and in fact in their actions that have implicitly condoned or allowed the immorality of abuse. As I said before if these Bishops/church people had merely done what the church called them to, namely live a life of virtue, these things would have have happened.

    I am also not sure this was the rule rather than the exception. Also on another note you should check the stats on child sexual abuse across society…the problem is great from schools, to churches, to well just about everywhere. The number of cases in the Catholic church is not any sort of anamoly…in fact there are many that report it as lower than society at large, not just as a result of a lack of reporting either but maybe you have better info?


  • Martin Wagner

    You’re going to hate me, but this sounds a lot like “If she didn’t want to get raped, she shouldn’t have worn that.”

  • CarlosSutter

    Whoa there Cary, slow down a bit. THE VATICAN, that means those that run it, those in charge, hide and shuffle known pedophile priests among  its many churches, especially those poor ones where every one is too afraid to raise a finger against a powerful church. It shows they care more about their “reputation” than the children they are suppose to protect. They also rush to quiet down the victims with intimidation. They also get in the way of investigations to this effect. This happens over and over again. So, the writing is on the wall man. But, there is also the matter of a horrible book that you guys “follow” (like a soldier follows a map through a mine field) that speaks of genocide, racism, sexism and other horrible acts, but with your rose colored blinds are able to ignore all that. This blinding exercise repeated since childhood is what prevents you later on as an adult from seeing Reality, and allows you to write today incredible feats of blindness that you actually believe the Vatican has repudiated these acts despite the overwhelming evidence.

    Still, any damage to property that it’s not yours is WRONG. I would have preferred that local Atheists would have gotten together with church members and help clean up the graffiti supporting the idea of construction and respect of ideas instead of destruction and silence.

  • CarlosSutter

    Cary, this is nonsense and it sounds to the rest of us as very hypocritical and to me, as cowardly; you hide your true feelings behind this… passed-down circular reasoning that only can make sense to indoctrinated people such as yourself. Linford 86 is right on.  BTW, when your parents were hating Black for trying move on to your neighborhoods, or marry White women for example, you suppose they were really Loving them (LOL!) but hating what act specifically?

  • CarlosSutter

    I’m with you with the point of women not beating men at random because sexism exist (in the past and now), and being at first a good analogy for not beating all churches because Religion oppression existed and exists. In deed not all do the heavy oppression. STILL, something was bothering me. It’s not quite a good matching analogy in the end. You see, ALL Christian churches, moderate or extremist, believe in a book that believes in oppression and in really despicable, hateful acts, they also believe in ignoring evidence as a “virtuous” practice, and relying instead on the wisdom and beliefs of 3000 year old desert nomads and taking their writings on Faith alone, again as a “virtue”. Now, whether some try to abide or ignore some of these beliefs is not the point. The point is that they don’t have a ruler or criteria to discriminate good from bad beliefs; it’s a mixed bag of old and new testaments, with some poor contradictory reasoning, poor science, and superstition. However, there are NO such analogous clubs or congregations for ALL Men, good or bad, who all must attend or are members of just for being men, where they celebrate womanhood under one hand but also believe in a sacred book at the same time which values women somewhere between a donkey and two sheep.  ALL churches do however, even the “good” ones. I have a hard time rubber stamping these “good” churches because they just happen to ignore or surf over some of the serious oppressing views with crap like: “we don’t hate homosexuals, we hate the act” horseshit.

  • John L

     Living not far from Irmo, I wouldn’t characterize the people from that area as “hillbillies.”  I also have to disagree with your assertion that the only people in South Carolina familiar with Richard Dawkins are “lunatic fundamentalists.”  He spoke at the University of South Carolina three years ago and I believe that about 2,000 people attended.

  • amycas

     In what way are the Christians “hating the sin and not the sinner” when they block the lgbt community from being equally protected under the law and from having equal marriage rights?

  • amycas

     I don’t really want to contribute until I know which charity it is going to.

  • Gus Snarp

    It needn’t be a conspiracy to be a frame-up, though I think even “frame-up” is probably too strong a word. Anyway, all it takes is one or two dumb, and probably drunk, kids who thought it would be funny to paint this stuff on a church. They may or may not have been atheists, but this is just what trolling looks like in real life. Somewhere a couple of stoners are laughing their idiotic asses off at both us and the church. And if they’re actually atheists, then they’re even bigger idiots.

  • Gus Snarp

    I just noticed that the reporter says the deputies think it was the same person who spray painted a swastika on a backboard at another nearby church three months ago? Where’s their evidence for that? Is there only one set of teenagers with access to spray paint in town? Obviously in their minds there’s some connection between atheists and Nazis. Wonder where they got that idea. 

  • I find it extremely disturbing that you would equate homosexuality to involuntary manslaughter in your analogy.  I would like to think that such an equivocation is not meant to be offensive, but indeed it is.  As a former roman catholic, I can get the gist of what you’re saying and how you are rationalizing it.  However, I would point out to you that just because the bible or mother church says something is wrong religiously, does not mean it is wrong morally or ethically.  Saying that homosexuality is wrong based on biblical precepts or church doctrine is no different than saying eating meat on Fridays/eating pork/not wearing a burka is wrong and has about the same value to someone not of your faith as saying homosexuality is wrong.  As long as its between consenting adults – we see it as just fine and dandy.

  • colourmegone

    I too chipped in. I found your site through Edward Tarte for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration. Please keep up the good work.
    Such behaviour is despicable but thankfully seems to be limited to minority. Most of the atheists I have encountered would never commit such an atrocity.

  • Bo Tait

    This is always the response from Catholic rape apologists. Nobody is saying abuse happens only in the Catholic church. We all know the stats.

    The difference is the cover ups. Anyone who covers up systematic abuse of children should be skewered, figuratively speaking.
    See PENN STATE for how to deal with those that enable abusers.

  • Bo Tait

    Got a bullet-proof argument for that one? I’d love to hear it.

  • Captainmcdad

    Maybe I read a different article to you. I didn’t see the Pastor demanding anything.

  • Love

    As a believer brought here, by chance I suppose, I think this is a wonderful act on your part! Not because you partnered with a church specifically, but because you put humanity above difference in (non) belief.

    Thank you for showing that beyond the debates and endless arguments about logic, there are REAL, compassionate people of every (non) faith. I hope your group gets the recognition it deserves.

  • Bond

     All atheists are this way.

  • Bond

    This is clearly someone pretending to be atheist – likely a christian trying to make the atheist community look bad or a punk trying to be cool that doesn’t understand any of this.   Like Richard said, likely a kid wanting to be a rebel.

    They spray painted essentially hate words on a building, spelled atheist wrong and they capitalized god;  3 acts an atheist would never do – and an atheist would never ‘assert’ that there is no god as the burden of proof is on the believers.    No true atheist would ever say that there is no god – this just sounds like a christian looking for attention.

    Perhaps a christian trying to spread an image of hate from the atheists – which by the way most atheists are not capable of having hate toward anything – only the belief in gods can condone and conjure up hate.

  • Love

    That’s as foolish as me saying all Christians are that way.

  • I do not have a “very serious disagreement about the nature of God”, with people of faith. I just don’t share their view and don’t care to make a big deal out of it. I’m aware of losers of all makes and models. That defines vandalism. Losers without enough in their lives that they need to strike out at those lucky enough to have relatively normal lives. My primary complaint about religion is the collection of money that has become so extreme, yet remains tax free, and is used to sway public opinion. Good luck with your charity.

  • Dagwood

    No, but just like everything, a “bullet-proof” argument isn’t needed.  There isn’t any reason to believe an atheist did it, any more/less than there is no reason to believe Martians did it.  The fact that the word “atheist” (albeit misspelled) was used signifies nothing but the intent to inflame emotions.  Nothing more.  So there is no need for a defense of  “I don’t believe” in this case any more than there is a need for a defense of “I don’t believe in God” or “I don’t believe in Santa Claus” or “I don’t believe in Zeus.”

  • Dagwood

    You misspelled “Athiests” – at least the vandal got it right!!


  • Dagwood

    You say that the burden of proof is on believers (rightly so, as it’s a logical argument), but then say “no true atheist” – as if (a) the No True Scotsman fallacy hadn’t already been mentioned in the post, and (b) “Atheism” has some sort of code/creed/doctrine.  Atheism is the simple admission of a lack of a belief in a deity, due to a lack of convincing evidence for a deity’s existence (which you alluded to).

    This *could* have been an atheist.  Or it could have not been.  The point of all this is: it was wrong, it was criminal, and that action can – and should – be opposed by everyone.

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