John on March 1, 2010 at 11:29 pm
The NY Times has a new story by James McKinley following up on the two men who burned down 11 churches near Tyler, Texas. Here is how it begins:
Jason R. Bourque grew up in a house full of crosses. At his grandparent’s spacious home here, where he was raised, a small forest of crosses stands on a table by the front door, and one wall of the living room is filled with more than a dozen decorative crosses of wrought iron, ceramic and wood.
Twenty paragraphs later at the very tail end of the story, we finally get to the motive for the arsons:
Clint May, 17, a cousin of Mr. McAllister who knows both young men well, said Mr. Bourque had begun to question his beliefs because “everything was going sour for him” since he dropped out of college.
And though it doesn’t appear in this story, the Times and others ran a story about what was found in the suspects’ home:
Atheists are already complaining about the press treatment of the story. If anything, they should be sending the Times flowers.
The same paper that made every effort to label left-winger Joe Stack a “tea party terrorist“– repeatedly omitting the disparaging references to Bush and capitalism which appeared in his suicide note–left the atheist angle out when it came to Jason Bourque, merely noting that Bourque had begun to “question his beliefs.”
Memo to James McKinley: If someone breaks into 11 churches, creates a pyre of pews and hymnals around the podium before burning the place down, they’ve gone a bit past questioning their beliefs. Don’t you think?
There is far more cause to label these two men atheist arsonists than there is to suggest Joe Stack was a tea-party terrorist. It’s not even close. Yet rather than follow the evidence where it leads, the Times selectively omits the facts that don’t fit the narrative it wants to report. Seriously, can the Times’ ombudsman compare the handling of these two stories and honestly say that politics was not at work here?
Aside from the selectivity of the Times’ coverage, it’s worth noting how similar this case is to the church arsons that took place in Alabama in 2006. In that case, three men about the same age as the two in the current case burned down 10 churches. It turned out that they had begun ridiculing the faith of others around them and had announced they were “Satanists” of a very specific type, i.e. their interest wasn’t in rituals but in questioning authority (or burning its symbols).
Finally, I am not suggesting that atheism leads to arson, but I do think that some of the rhetoric that has been emanating from the new atheists over the last several years has been excessive. Throwing verbal bombs is fun until someone burns down a church (or 10). When you say that religion is the root of all evil, most people understand that you mean this metaphorically, but atheists are a big enough bloc these days to have their own violent fringe. Self-appointed atheist leaders (like the ones who endorsed The Atheist Way) might want to keep that in mind the next time they crank out a stem winder about Churchillian atheism (thereby suggesting the enemy are the equivalent of Nazis). Most atheists would never dream of doing something like this, but as Professor Dawkins recently discovered, atheism and irrational rage do not always mutually exclude one another.