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Michael Carneal, 14, blasted away at a group of students openly engaged in prayer at a public school in Kentucky. The press, frothing at a chance to twist this tragedy into an exciting new hate crime, has focused on rumors that he is an atheist or that he hung with "Goths" -- who aren't atheists, per se, but run the gamut of anti-Christian sentiments.
When I was 14, I never held the same sentiments for longer than 23 minutes. Who my friends were I really could not say; no one group fully accepted me. Like Michael, I was easy prey for "Jesus Freaks" who spoke of love and other things warm and fuzzy. Upon seeing that Jesus isn't all that he's cracked up to be, I was left in a deeper fog than before, with few skills to sort things out.
As a new "lamb," the Jesus types tend to give you a grace period. If it turns out that you're a little weird, it's cold shoulder time. They don't know any better.
While I wouldn't excuse Michael for one second, I can certainly empathize. There, but for a loathing of guns, go I.
So America now has a new hate group to hate: atheists. Sure, Michael's pastor, all decked out in his graduation gown and in a rare moment of Christian honesty, denied claims that Michael is an atheist. The principal questioned reports that students heckled the prayer group. (Didn't the Jesus of the Gospels forbid public prayer in the first place?)
Is it happening again? Whenever a plague hit, the Jewish ghetto was leveled. If a farmer's pigs got fidgety, a "witch" was burned. If a village got plundered (as Mark Twain so aptly puts it), "I know what it was: some Midianite had been pissing against the wall. I am sure of it."
This thinking is the basis of the Bible. When evil hit, some "force" or judgement was behind it.
The Bible's entire philosophy and morality is based on this understanding -- rather, this misunderstanding of reality, and frames a believer's outlook.
People no longer burn witches over a bad batch of beer, but some still blame malevolent entities for such complexities as the emotional and sociological quirks felt by some adolescents. (Oddly, I don't remember any talk of atheists or demonic forces when a young Christian killed John Lennon, who lacked a god-belief.)
So, fellow atheists, are you ready to take the rap for this and other crimes against humanity? In Mirriam Webster's, the synonyms for the word "atheism" are "godlessness" and "wickedness." Is this why his pastor tried to spare Michael from the label of "atheist"? Will his not being one soften the blows of justice?
See also: Mr. Walker said the only realistic things about Michael by Valerie Hawks (Michael's Friend)
See also: Letters From the Earth by Mark Twain
Copyright ©1997 Cliff Walker; Portland, Oregon