Last week Gregory A. Weiler II was arrested in Miami, Oklahoma for plotting to firebomb multiple churches in the surrounding area. Police found 52 Molotov cocktails in the man’s home. Weiler kept a journal and one of his entries read “Self-promote for the next 4 years while beginning list of goals written out in Oklahoma having to do with destroying and removing church buildings from US a tiny bit at a time, setting foundation for years to follow.”
So far that’s all we know.
We don’t know his motive. We don’t know his religious affiliation.
But the fact that we don’t know any of this won’t matter to people who will jump on the chance to go “Aha!!! Evil atheists trying to burn churches!!!1”
Weiler might not even be an atheist. We simply don’t know. What he does appear to be is crazy. According to Weiler’s cousin, his parents committed suicide, he suffers from drug addiction, and he has a history of mental illness. (All of which people are sure to claim stems from his atheism)
Let’s talk about crazy for a moment. There are crazy people out there in the world that do things for crazy people reasons. Unfortunately sometimes these crazy people are aligned with ideologies also held by non-crazy people. When a crazy person linked with an ideology does something horrible, it then makes all the other non-crazy people connected to that ideology look bad as well.
Proponents of said ideology will always point to the crazy person and say “they did this because they were crazy, not because of our ideology,” whereas opponents of the ideology will claim they did it precisely because of the ideology.
I think it really depends on the situation and the individual. There are situations when sane people do horrible things because of ideology and when crazy people do horrible things just because they’re crazy. Someone is not simply just “crazy” because they do something horrible. To write off every act of violence in the name of an ideology as simply the work of a crazy person is overly simplistic.
Timothy McVeigh, the deadliest domestic terrorist prior to 9/11, was not crazy. He was calm and had rational reasons for wanting to kill people. In his case it was in retaliation for the government’s crackdown on the religious cult at Waco, TX.
The 9/11 hijackers were not crazy either. Many of them were college educated and had rational reasons for attacking the US; primarily a combination of religious and political, like McVeigh.
It’s really up to a trained psychologist to examine an individual to determine if they are crazy, but most people, especially those in the media, don’t want to wait for that. It’s much easier, quicker, exciting to just write the person off as crazy or driven by ideology and then make wild assumptions and accusations from there.
The speed and impetuousness at which people point fingers at atheists whenever anyone possibly connected with the ideology does something wrong paints a picture of the situation for atheists in the US.
We’re in the situation of having to be perfect all the time, every time, constantly having to prove ourselves against a hostile population. It doesn’t matter that we make up 16% of the population but less than 1% of the prison population. It doesn’t matter that many atheists are philanthropists, leading scientists, and performers. It really doesn’t matter what good things atheists do for the country. The rest of the population is hostile to us and the moment someone seemingly linked with our ideology missteps all our accomplishments are washed away and ignored.
It’s the same situation any under-represented minority has to go through. Women breaking into the workplace for the first time had to prove themselves by being perfect all of the time. Blacks had to do the same thing. Regardless of the group, the pattern is the same:
Unreasonable, impossible, and unfair expectations followed by only scorn and disgust when any member of the group in question fails in the slightest. Eventually you overcome them through persistence, but the temptation to say “fuck you” and give in to all their stereotypes out of spite is always there.
Personally I’m inclined to just tell the critics of atheists to go fuck themselves, but I’m not planning on sticking around here anyways, so it’s not really fair to the atheists who do have to try and make a life in this place. Unfortunately there are just some people who you can’t win with. It doesn’t matter how nobly you live, they’ll always despise you. Trying to please them is futile.