Given the popularity of fake hate crimes, I think skepticism should be the default position when it comes to such reports being used to advance someone’s socio-political agenda. A good example of this is The Friendly Atheist blog, where activist Hemant Mehta has previously made it clear that he thinks atheist journalists should be looking for stories that put religion in a bad light. A couple of days ago, he helped to popularize a supposed hate crime where someone threw a rock through atheist Anthony Erb’s car window. Someone wrote “God is good” on the rock, meaning we must have an example of some religious person victimizing someone else merely for being an atheist.
Of course, Mehta and his fans lapped up the whole story without the tiniest shred of skepticism. Confirmation bias works that way. But it would seem to me that there good reasons to be skeptical.
First off, the whole incident reminds me of a Poe. If you’ll remember, a common Poe tactic is to write a nasty, mean-spirited letter and then sign it with something like “God loves you.” Poes have a hard time resisting over the top irony. If the rock had said something like “FU Atheist,” it would be more believable. But it takes an unusual amount of cluelessness to think your “God is Good” message would be received when it was used to commit vandalism.
Second, how did the deranged religious rock thrower know this car belonged to an atheist? There was a sticker in the back window.
The problem is that I doubt there are very many people who would recognize that fancy A symbol as meaning “Atheism.” Most people would not know the meaning of that sticker. In fact, more would probably think it was a symbol for Star Trek than atheism.
So we’re supposed to believe that someone so clueless as to think throwing a “God is Good” rock through a window is a great way to evangelize is also someone who is savvy enough to recognize an obscure atheism symbol.
Third, Erb never reported this to the police. That’s seems awfully strange to me. Even if he didn’t think it was enough of a deal to report to the police, he should consider it his civic duty. For if there is a deranged religious rock thrower out there, what’s to stop the vandal from attacking another atheist’s car? And what if next time a small child is in the back seat? Erb should have reported this, especially given the likelihood that the rock would have finger prints on it. Then again, if it’s a fake hate crime, Erb would get in some serious trouble if he reported it to the police.
Finally, there is the rock. Maybe it’s just me, but the round rock held in Erb’s hand does not look like the rock that broke that window. Look at the bottom of the hole. Notice the two linear edge’s converging on a point. Does that look like something the round rock would make? In fact, if you look through the hole, you’ll see a rock that does look like the culprit. And I think we can be pretty confident that that rock is not the same rock as Erb is holding in his hand.
So a healthy, skeptical approach to life prevents us from accepting this latest atheist-as-victim story at face value. What actually happened? Who knows?