11:21 a.m. July 23, 2012

Blame The Atheists

In the wake of the Aurora, Colorado shooting, conservative Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) gave a radio interview in which he implied that American secularism causes both violent terror and military suicides. As a secular American myself, I have some responses to Congressman Gohmert's comments.

(Before I begin, I should note that Gohmert has since complained that some of his interview statements were “grossly taken out of context.” Therefore, I encourage everyone to read the full transcript for themselves. The words in bold below are exactly what the Congressman said.)

Gohmert: "What really gets me as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs and then a senseless crazy act of terror like this takes place."

Me: First off, Congressman, my Jewish wife respectfully asks that you leave the Jews out of this.  “Judeo-Christian” is a term conservative Christians often use to give their political ideas some extra heft. But since most American Jews are liberal (78% voted for Obama in 2008), it’s a bit presumptuous to assume they agree with whatever it is you’re using the term to promote.

You don’t hear Jewish politicians justify their policies on the basis of their “Judeo heritage.” And even if they did, it’s been my experience that Jews never presume to speak for Christians. Please be so kind as to reciprocate.

Gohmert: "You know, when people say, where was God in all of this? Well, you know, we don’t let … in fact we’ve threatened high school graduation participants that if they use God’s name that they’re going to be jailed, we had a principal of a school, and a superintendent or a coach down in Florida that were threatened with jail because they said the blessing at a voluntary off campus dinner. I mean, that kind of stuff … where is God? Where, where? What have we done with God? We told him that we don’t want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present."

Me: So God allowed the shooting of dozens of innocent moviegoers because he didn’t get his name called at graduation? No wonder people don’t want him around.

More to the point, it seems like you’re saying that the more religious – or really, the more Christian – a country is, the more that God will protect its people from gun violence. Let’s see if the evidence backs that up:

According to Gallup data from 2006-2008, the least-religious country in the world is Estonia, where only 14% say religion is important in their daily lives. That’s compared to 65% of Americans. According to the latest data from GunPolicy.org, Estonia had a rate of 0.52 gun homicides per 100,000 people in 2009. In the same year, the United States had 2.98 gun homicides per 100,000 people. Compared to the Estonians, Americans are over four and half times more devout and over five and half times more likely to be murdered by a gun.

If God were really fair, of course, he would vary his protection on a state-by-state basis. Surely he’d look with greater favor on pious Mississippi, where the Gallup data shows 85% say religion is important, than godless Vermont, where only 42% say the same. Strange, then, that in 2010, Vermont had the lowest firearms murder rate in the country – and Mississippi had the eighth highest.

Given this data, Congressman Gohmert, it’s difficult for me to accept that American secularism is to blame for gun violence. In fact, judging by this data, it seems one possible answer to America’s high gun homicide rate may be for more Americans to decide they don’t want God around.

Gohmert: "But, ya know, I might mention something else that had not been public yet, most of us that follow the military know we have had an extraordinary increase in suicide in the military . . . . And there was a study commissioned … And, what they found, and I don’t know if they will make it public – one of the participants told me ‘the results may not go public’; but, all of the people who committed suicide, within their thousands of people studied, were part of the 2-percent most atheistic members of the military. We’ve lost our faith."

Me: Thanks so much for sharing such fascinating, unreleased, unconfirmable “proof” of how terrible atheism is. And here I was thinking that military suicides were due to the unimaginable stresses and horrors of the job.

No doubt that same dogged dedication to facts was behind your claim that overseas terrorists want to have terror babies in the United States. Or your more recent insinuation, with Michele Bachman and others, that the Secretary of State’s Deputy Chief of Staff could be part of a Muslim Brotherhood plot against the United States. Senator John McCain, a member of your own party, said those claims "have no logic, no basis, and no merit. And they need to stop now."

So, you’ll just have to forgive me, Congressman. Given your track record, I’m disinclined to take your latest revelations as gospel.