Meredeth Cooper hands flowers to a police officer guarding a road block near the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on Nov. 6, 2017 in Sutherland Springs, Texas. On Nov. 5 a gunman killed 26 people at the church and wounded many more when he opened fire during a Sunday service. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) (Texas shooting, Devin Patrick Kelley, Atheist, Christian response, Trent Horn, Patrick Madrid, Scott Hahn, Kenneth Henley, Ray Comfort, Apologetics)
Not all atheists kill people. Not all Christians do not kill people. Devin Patrick Kelley was an atheist who killed.
On Sunday morning, Nov. 5, wearing full combat gear, Kelley walked into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs and shot at Christians gathered to worship God; he killed 26 and injured 24.
The Daily Mail reported that his former classmates from New Braunfels High School described him as an atheist who aggressively preached his non-belief online. Kelley regularly called people who believed in God “stupid,” so that several Facebook friends tired of it and deleted him.
Coincidentally, while reading Father Solanus Casey by Catherine Odell to prepare to report on his beatification later this month, I came across his quote on atheism: “Atheism is the very climax of intellectual stupidity or moral insanity, or diabolically devilish perversity. The height of insanity is not to believe in God, for only a fool says in his heart that there is no God when the heavens and each proclaim his glory. Atheism robs man of supernatural hope—the very soul of happiness.”
Kelley was unhappy, clearly insane, and diabolically perverse and without supernatural hope. I am not suggesting that atheism made him that way. But neither did it help him not to be that way.
Aside from the formation that comes from groups of like-minded thinkers, is how they respond as a group. Atheism makes no suggestions. Christianity, however, if rightly lived, evokes a knee-jerk response to reach out to those who suffer.
The father of an atheist who wishes to remain anonymous wrote to me: “Here's what the atheists don't want to admit: this guy was clearly an outcast and a loser, but there are plenty of churches that would have done whatever they could to help him. How many atheist organizations out there maintain a benevolence fund, take the time to visit elderly folks who can't leave the house, or help abused women move to a safe location? And no copouts by citing organizations that aren't faith based. I'm talking about groups that are expressly atheistic in worldview.”
I can think of none. Help will not come from the like-minded when it’s about unbelief in God. I’m not saying they do not care; it’s simply not what they are about.
If atheists believe that this life is all there is, shouldn’t they care even more than Christians that this life be a good one? Yet, actions speak louder than words. Christians believe that loving Jesus means loving others, because whatsoever you do to others you do for him (Matthew 7:12), and Jesus gave us the command to love our neighbor as our self (Mark 12:31).
The Christian Difference
There is no such atheist creed to love and care for one another. There are no charities to serve those who suffer; no bandying together to reach out.
For Christians, it is a first response. In a statement from Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he announced: "We stand in unity with you in this time of terrible tragedy — as you stand on holy ground, ground marred today by horrific violence."
Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio extended condolences: “I extend my prayers and the prayers of my brother bishops for the victims, the families, the first responders, our Baptist brothers and sisters, indeed the whole community of Sutherland Springs.”
At times like this, religion is both a comfort and a motivator. “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart.” (Psalm 34:18)
Many, many atheists are decent, caring, law-abiding citizens. They choose to be that way. But at times like these, the chasm of emptiness versus the fullness of Christian faith and comfort is stark.
Here are some excellent resources that could help lead people from atheism to God. They are even more suited to the believer who can understand and be prepared for dialogue: