An obviously deranged man shot a female student and then killed himself at a community college over the weekend. As you watch the news report, you’ll note that Anthony seems to be having a very hard time with the idea of evolution. He was raised Christian, and taught, as are many Christians, that evolution is false, and that we are most certainly not descended from monkeys. (Yes, I know, we’re not descended from monkeys. I’m… (ahem) aping what he’s been taught.)
As I skimmed through a lot of web chatter about this story, I’ve noticed the predictable rhetoric coming from both sides:
Atheists: See! You shouldn’t indoctrinate your children! This poor man killed a woman because of Christianity.
Christians: NOOOO!!! His Christianity didn’t have anything to do with it! He’s crazy, and would have snapped regardless of how he was raised.
I submit to you that they are both wrong. We simply can’t go back in time, raise Anthony as a freethinker, and see if he’d still snap and kill somebody. The Christians might be right. He might have been so mentally deranged from birth that something like this was inevitable. The atheists might be right, too. The cognitive dissonance of higher science based education might have been too much for his indoctrinated, inflexible worldview, and it might have been the catalyst that drove him to murder and suicide. There’s no way to know for sure, and I don’t think there’s any reason to speculate.
Nevertheless, I think there are things we can learn from what we certainly do know. From Anthony’s own video, it’s obvious that he had some issues with evolution. We know that these issues were near the front of his mind when he was contemplating suicide and murder, and we can see from his own reactions that he was convinced that evolution is a lie. The only reasonable conclusion is that this viewpoint came from Christian indoctrination. We can therefore reasonably conclude that Anthony’s indoctrination also included many, or perhaps all of the other traditional Christian teachings. We can imagine that he felt he was sinful for lusting after his victim. He might very well have believed that she was a sinner for dancing provacatively, or perhaps for sexual promiscuity with someone else she was involved with. Maybe he didn’t like the way she dressed.
I’m not trying to establish anything concrete here. What I’m trying to show is that there are dozens of Christian teachings about morality, women, sex, evolution, and other subjects that are patently, demonstrably false. We must conclude that it’s very likely that Anthony was taught some, or perhaps most of these demonstrably false worldviews. What specifically his beliefs were doesn’t matter so much as the fact that they were demonstrably false.
The question I’d like to ask my readers is this: Can we realistically imagine that any of these Christian beliefs were not potentially part of Anthony’s depression and subsequent murder/suicide? Can we suggest that an unstable man, presented with a glaring cognitive dissonance about his most fervent feelings, emotions, and desires, would be better off than someone who at least saw consistency in the world?
I’d like you to think for a second about the most fervently religious people you know. Think of someone who genuinely believes that the world is 6000 years old, or that women shouldn’t speak in church, or that fantasizing about a woman before marriage is a sin. Realizing that most people with these beliefs are not mentally unstable, can you see how such drastically wrong thinking can screw up even a sound mind? Christian fundamentalists do remarkable pretzel logic, and come up with bizarre conclusions about a wide variety of subjects. I used to know a man who prayed before dinner that God would put a spiritual barrier around the table so no demons would enter him through his mouth while he ate. No kidding. Another family I once knew would make a big show of pretending to put on armor while standing in the driveway before going out “into the world.” These were basically normal people who, if examined by a psychiatrist, would probably have checked out as basically well balanced.
If otherwise normal people can be convinced to put on invisible armor, or to believe in force fields around the dinner table, can we really say that it’s a good thing for unstable people to be taught the same kinds of beliefs? The difference between unstable and stable people is that stable people have a mental filter that stops them from doing really crazy things, but let’s be honest — religion teaches crazy things!
If you haven’t cracked a Bible before, or if it’s been a long time, maybe now would be a good time. Look at what the Bible says about slaves, or menstruation, or wives, or marriage. Consider the teaching that a man ought to hate his family, or that he ought to sell everything he owns. The Bible is filled with ridiculous and dangerous instructions that sane people don’t follow. Instead, they dismiss them, or write them off as irrelevant to today. The reality, however, is that there is no real distinction. The Bible doesn’t come with instructions for discerning what’s insane and what’s just a little bit odd. To a reader without normal inhibitions, it’s a terrible book of instructions for sociopathic or psychotic behavior.
No, I can’t say that Christian teachings drove Anthony to murder and suicide, but I can say with pretty good certainty that they didn’t do anything good for him. Regardless of whether he would have done this kind of thing without Christianity, it’s easy enough to say that had he been raised a rationalist, at least he’d have had one less potential catalyst.