Hearts break today in North Carolina.
I think of atheists as slightly over-educated modernists who are harmless, almost quaint, in their ardent non-belief. It had not occurred to me that non-believers were inclined to shoot people over parking slots. But now the Associations of Non-Believers have to explain, just as we Baptists have had to do for centuries, how their style of belief in UnGod can make one mean enough to be kill.
Of course, Atheism doesn’t make you mean any more than Islam, Christianity, Bhuddism or Hinduism. But every one of those structures of meaning have given harbor at some time to dangerous people who kindled the energy of belief into the fire of violence. Belief—and unbelief—can warm or burn.
Someone who believes in nothing is indistinguishable from one who says they believe in God but who do not believe in what that God tells them to do toward others. Groups of people, whether Islamic or Christian, can claim to follow God, but actually believe in their guns, banks, drones or grinding, blinding anger.
No French cartoonist, or student trying to park their car can be entirely safe from delusional nutters. Mental illness often hides in the fog of ardent belief and unbelief. It deserves pity, prayer and, often 21st century pharma. Turning this man’s delusions into a reason for religious or anti-religious rant only serves the demons.
The most dangerous nutters are the ones who gain control over the instruments of state power. The mentally ill man who shot three students in Chapel Hill is not as scary to me as the elected wackos 25 miles away in Raleigh where an unhinged legislature is considering a bill to prevent Muslims from imposing Sharia Law on the good Christians of Northern Carolina. These guys have a whole police force, not just some guns in a closet. They don’t want your parking place; they want the whole enchilada.
We Baptists remember times when we were strangers in this land, too, and know to fear any government that thinks it is holy enough to know who to punish on behalf of God. The first duty of any Christian—or believer of any other faith—is to work to make their own faith safe for the world and especially for anyone who does not share your faith. You or your children might be a refugee someday, too. This is why every religion that lasted longer than a few seasons raising high the priority to care for the stranger, the weak, the poor, the widow or motherless child.
The actual followers of Islam who pay taxes here are mostly students and a previous generation of students now serving as our doctors, nurses, dentists, computer programmers and anchors of our civilized way of life. There is no clinic or hospital in the entire state (or any of the other United States) that could operate an entire week without the medical professionals from many faiths well beyond my own Christian circle. Our community strategy of “proactive mercy” depends on the powerful faith of saalam-seeking healers of Islam. So our grief extends to the families and friends of the UNC students in a double portion because we share their commitment to the healing arts their entire family so obviously embraced.
I’m a Christian, trying to follow Jesus. He said that God would sort out the right and wrong, sheep and goats later on. The twisting plot of the story made clear God’s decision would surprise everyone involved. Don’t guess God. In the meantime, love mercy, do justice and walk humbly.
Cry with us and lend us with your prayers of mercy.