We have seen that Devin Kelley, the mass murderer who killed 26 people in a Texas church, was likely an atheist. But as I also mentioned, I don’t think you can make the case that mere atheism was a causal motivation behind this atrocity. Could there be something more involved?
What we have learned over the last decade or so about the New Atheist movement is that there are types of atheists. Back in 2013, Christopher Silver from The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga did some research on atheists and found there to be six different types. One type he labeled the “anti-theist” and described them as follows:
The fourth typology, and one of the more assertive in their view, we termed the Anti-Theist. While the Anti-Theists may be considered atheist or in some cases labeled as “new atheists,” the Anti-Theist is diametrically opposed to religious ideology. As such, the assertive Anti-Theist both proactively and aggressively asserts their views towards others when appropriate, seeking to educate the theists in the passé nature of belief and theology. In other words, antitheists view religion as ignorance and see any individual or institution associated with it as backward and socially detrimental. The Anti-Theist has a clear and – in their view, superior – understanding of the limitations and danger of religions. They view the logical fallacies of religion as an outdated worldview that is not only detrimental to social cohesion and peace, but also to technological advancement and civilized evolution as a whole. They are compelled to share their view and want to educate others into their ideological position and attempt to do so when and where the opportunity arises. Some Anti-Theist individuals feel compelled to work against the institution of religion in its various forms including social, political, and ideological, while others may assert their view with religious persons on an individual basis. The Anti-Theist believes that the obvious fallacies in religion and belief should be aggressively addressed in some form or another.
As I noted at the time,
In addition to characterizing their subjects, the researchers carried out various empirical psychometric measures. And among all atheist types, the New Atheists scored highest for Narcissism, Dogmatism, and Anger. What’s more, they scored lowest when it came to agreeableness and positive relations with others.
There is a significant overlap between this description and a description of Kelley:
…[Danielle’s] family didn’t approve of him because of his lack of respect for everyone he encountered…he was awful to be around. Everything about him from the way he spoke to people from his lack of respect. He was rude and uncouth and had a very short fuse…he came from a great family but I guess that didn’t matter. He was weird and narcissistic. An angry person and anti-social…he was an awful person. He was just arrogant and honestly a jerk.
So the question is not whether Kelley was an atheist, but whether he was an anti-theist. Was he anti-religious and/or anti-Christian?
Since we don’t have his actual writings we cannot say for sure. Yet consider what Nina Rose Nava said about his Facebook postings:
‘In (sic) in complete shock! I legit just deleted him off my fb cause I couldn’t stand his post. ‘He was always talking about how people who believe in God we’re stupid and trying to preach his atheism’
Christopher Leo Longoria replied: ‘I removed him off FB for those same reasons! He was being super nagtive (sic) all the timd (sic).’
Michael Goff added: ‘He was weird but never that damn weird, always posting his atheist sh** like Nina wrote,
These observations fit nicely with Silver’s description:
proactively and aggressively asserts their views towards others when appropriate, seeking to educate the theists in the passé nature of belief and theology. In other words, antitheists view religion as ignorance and see any individual or institution associated with it as backward and socially detrimental.
As we all know, it is very common for the New Atheists to be always talking about how people who believe in God are stupid. And “always posting his atheist sh**” sounds like New Atheist activism to me. So, this witness testimony (to the degree it can be trusted as factually accurate) paints a picture that is more consistent with Silver’s description of an “anti-theist” than some atheist who merely explores the issue of God and religion for intellectual reasons.
What’s even more significant are the contents of the Facebook pages Kelley liked. None of these pages address the issue of God and atheism from a calm, rational, even-handed position. They are all clearly activist pages whose focus centers around two main objectives:
1) Mock religion, especially Christians and
2)Stir up anger among their readers by portraying religious people, especially Christians, as bad and potentially dangerous people.
Both objectives are typically carried out by posting meme after meme. In fact, any of those Facebook pages could be accurately subtitled, “Why you should mock and hate Christians.”
For example, when Nina Rose Nava said, “. ‘He was always talking about how people who believe in God we’re stupid,” consider what is on the Atheism Facebook page:
You get the idea.
Recall also that The Friendly Atheist has encouraged his readers to mock Christians:
For example, Mehta recently mocked a man who died from an infection caused by his religious tattoo.
As for trying to stir up anger at Christians, remember the time Mehta portrayed the child abuse from a mentally unstable alcoholic as something that was caused by Christianity.
I could go on and on documenting examples where these Facebook pages mock Christians and seek to enrage their readers with stories about religious people cherry picked to make them look bad, but suffice it to say that those Facebook pages are far more focused on portraying Christians in a very negative light than they are in having some calm, rational discussion about issues related to theism. Those pages appeal to the dark emotions, not the intellect. From my perspective, they are hate sites.
We also know two other things about Kelley – he had a serious problem controlling his anger and often went off in fits in violent rage. And while he had above-average aptitude test scores, he mostly got C’s in school and was thus unable to follow his grandfather, father, and siblings by getting into Texas A&M University. In essence, he was a failure.
It would seem to me that the contents of those Facebook pages would nicely meet the needs of Kelley. The “religious people are stupid” theme that is constantly reinforced on such pages would help him psychologically compensate for being such a loser. And the stories that portray religious people in a bad light would satisfy Kelley’s need to rage. Thus, while a mentally healthy person could consume the contents of those FB pages without developing any murderous impulses, one has to wonder what effect they would have on someone who was as mentally disturbed as Kelly.
If Kelley was indeed a bitter, angry anti-Christian, it would not be his atheism that was relevant to his murders. It would be his hatred of Christians and religion. If you are having a problem seeing this, let me close this entry with a simple analogy. Imagine that Kelley visited a black church and killed the same number of people. Now imagine further that his FB page “liked” four different white supremacist sites. None of the sites advocated for violence, but they all consistently mocked minorities as stupid and sought to portray minorities in a bad light by cherry picking stories from the internet. What’s more, imagine five people claimed that Kelley constantly complained about welfare, affirmative action, and civil rights organizations. He also claimed that blacks were stupid. Based on this evidence alone, would it be reasonable to infer that racism played a role in Kelley’s murders?
Even if Kelley was a militant anti-Christian, it doesn’t really explain why he crossed the line and so violently acted out his hate. A mind so marinated in hate still needed a spark to set it on fire. Perhaps this is where the domestic dispute comes into play. We’ll explore that next.