I’d like to focus, however, on the way that this attack is being portrayed in the media. A friend of mine pointed this out earlier today:
A quick Google search of “preacher beaten in church” brought dozens of incidents like this one. Not a single article, other than this one we are discussing now, indicated the religious preferences of the suspect, and certainly didn’t include it in the headline, unlike several articles about this incident. This article does seem to be biased, although maybe not as badly as some of the other articles which highlighted not only the attacker’s religious preference but made mention of his “militant atheism” in the headline itself.
Now perhaps the Dayton Daily News might be able to defend their reporting here on the grounds that Mr. Maxie’s lack of religious belief did lead to the initial verbal confrontation between him and Rev. Hayes, but that is a somewhat tenuous connection to make, given that the “fighting words” preceding the attack were not about religious doctrine but rather about domestic violence:
“I questioned his girlfriend in his presence if she felt safe,” Hayes said. “He was very, very upset that I’d even suggest that he would hurt her. Then he turned around and hurt me very badly.”
Maxie and the girlfriend, who attends the church, approached Hayes after the service. She told police that Hayes asked her if Maxie was abusing her, and Maxie became furious, striking pastor several times in the face in the church hallway.
Why, then, the focus on Maxie’s atheism? Presumably, it is because it furthers a well-known and widely-believed cultural narrative, that unpopular religious minorities such as Muslims and Atheists are to be feared as militant.
Consider this article in the newspaper of record. It purports to investigate Scott Roeder’s motivations, but barely makes mention of the role that Christianity played in radicalizing him and turning him militant, including just one remark from his ex-wife implying how this process took place, “…he turned to the church and got involved in anti-abortion.” No mention of his contributions to Prayer & Action News or involvement with the Army of God or any other of the radical Christian groups and publications with which Roeder has had some connection and which openly promote anti-abortion terrorism. By contrast, the New York Times is apparently completely unflinching in repeatedly assigning religious motives when the perpetrator is a radicalized Muslim.
This is the sort of claim that is very difficult to accurately quantify and assess using non-subjective datasets, so I’ll try to be somewhat circumscribed here. It seems to me that atheists and people of minority faiths are generally thought to be motivated by their religious worldview (or lack thereof) whereas Christians are generally given a pass on that score by both media and culture. This needs to stop.