Hemant Mehta, author of the Friendly Atheist blog and two books on atheism, offered to raise money to cover the medical bills or other needs of the Rev. Norman Hayes, who was injured when the boyfriend of a parishioner allegedly attacked him. Photo courtesy Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta, author of the Friendly Atheist blog and two books on atheism, offered to raise money to cover the medical bills or other needs of the Rev. Norman Hayes, who was injured when the boyfriend of a parishioner allegedly attacked him. Photo courtesy Hemant Mehta


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UPDATED WEDNESDAY, OCT. 30:

The “Pastor Norm Medical Fund” has raised more than $5,000 toward its $15,000 goal. Hayes’ son, Andy, thanked atheists for supporting his dad’s recovery:

“My dad just wanted to say thank you all for your donations. It means a lot and it means less stress for him in this time of recovery.  … There have been many responses from the Friendly Atheist post, my dad just wanted to say thanks and that it means a lot. This isn’t about theology, it’s about humanity and how we treat each other.”

(RNS) A prominent Chicago atheist is reaching out to an Ohio pastor who was brutally beaten by a self-proclaimed “militant atheist” after a church service on Oct. 20.

Hemant Mehta, author of the Friendly Atheist blog and two books on atheism, offered to raise money to cover the medical bills or other needs of the Rev. Norman Hayes, who was injured when the boyfriend of a parishioner allegedly attacked him.

The alleged attacker, James Maxie, 28, told local police he came to Bridge Community Church in North Hampton, Ohio, with his girlfriend to try to “regain my faith in God,” according to the Dayton Daily News. Maxie described himself as a “militant atheist” on his Facebook page.

When Hayes asked Maxie’s girlfriend if she felt “safe” with Maxie, he allegedly became enraged and began beating the pastor. Hayes suffered a broken nose, facial lacerations and bruises.

Mehta, a high school math teacher, read about the incident online and took it to his popular blog. “How should we react when a ‘militant atheist’ beats up a pastor?” he asked, and concluded an appropriate response would be to raise money for the victim.

“This guy went through something rough,” Mehta said when reached by phone. “I think it is a nice gesture to say we feel horrible for what you went through. This shouldn’t have happened. We disagree with Christians all the time but that is not how we resolve our debate.”

Mehta said he was also moved to respond when he discovered how deeply Maxie, who has a history of violence and is a convicted sex offender, aligned himself with the atheist community.

“I looked at his Facebook page,” Mehta said. “The things he liked and the things he had on his wall were friends of mine and he is a supporter of groups I like. So he is not just some random dude; he is someone who is a part of this movement in some way, and that is something to think about.”

Hayes’ church was unavailable for comment, and an email address for him on the church’s dormant Facebook page was out of date.

Maxie remains in jail in lieu of a $51,000 bond.

The incident has alarmed others in the atheist community, too. Dusty Smith, a popular atheist comedian, posted a YouTube video decrying the attack that quickly garnered more than 500 comments, many of them condemning Maxie.

So far, Mehta said, his calls to Hayes and his church have gone unanswered. It is not uncommon, he said, for religious people and groups to refuse the charity of atheists.

When a South Carolina church was vandalized with atheist-themed graffiti, Mehta raised about $3,000 from his readers to repair the damage. But the pastor declined the money, so Mehta gave it to a women’s shelter near the church instead.

And just this week, a South Carolina soup kitchen run by a Christian group declined the assistance of a local atheist group.

KRE/AMB END WINSTON

Video courtesy Dayton Daily News

21 Comments

  1. It is great to see Mehta and his readers take the teachings of Jesus* seriously, and do concrete acts of altruistic compassion for others. Perhaps there is more common ground for people of good will than we may imagine, despite our differences in belief structure.

    On the other hand, it saddens me that people who claim to follow Jesus won’t receive the charity and altruism of atheists. Surely if they believe Scripture they will realize that all acts of love are ultimately inspired by the God of Love, even if we do not realize it, or even disbelieve it (cf. 1John 4; Matthew 25.31-46).

    *And yes, I know that teachings on compassion and altruism do not come from Jesus alone, but are part of a worldwide chorus of moral teaching from sages, rabbis, prophets, gurus, and bodhisattvas that echo through the centuries.

    • What on earth makes you think an atheist takes the teachings of Jesus seriously?

      Sure, there is plenty of common ground for all people to work together in, but being deceitful about another’s motivations and incorrectly implying that atheism is a ‘belief structure’ is going to actively damage those opportunities. It helps no-one.

          • Atheism itself is not a religion, just as Theism itself is not. They are philosophical outlooks. Religions are social constructs with organized dogma concerning the treatment of a philosophical view. There are divisions of atheism that may fit under religion (as most theistic views do) but there’s theistic world views that in turn wouldn’t fit under that categorization (as most atheistic views don’t).

            To Adam: It’s a fact based belief system, theism is a faith based belief system. The word “belief” has no superstitious connotation.

      • This article stands as an opportunity to reach out and find common ground. Was Nate’s comment condescending? Absolutely. Was it worth showing your teeth and growling? No.

  2. Barbara G. Barrett

    Nate: altruistic actions and compassionate beliefs have been around longer than “Jesus” or Christianity (or any other belief system). Atheists do not take the teachings of Jesus to heart (in fact speaking personally, I think Jesus took Buddhist teachings to heart), Christians take on (or fail to take on) compassionate beliefs and altruistic actions in exactly the same way any other person does, because its the right thing to do. Crediting our sense of right and wrong to our belief system is backwards. We actually apply our belief systems to our sense of right and wrong. This is true of all humans, regardless what they believe or don’t believe. ~ AtheistsAreUs

  3. This shows you that you don’t need a Bible just to act the right way and being a good person. All of us Atheists think that one shouldn’t harm another person and respect the rights of others. That’s no invention of Christianity or the Bible.

    • “All of us Atheists think that one shouldn’t harm another person and respect the rights of others.”

      Substitute atheists with theists and you would most certainly have an issue with said statement.

  4. I’m NOT saying the pastor deserved the beating at all, but how smart was it of him to ask the girlfriend if she felt safe with Maxie right in front of Maxie? Regardless of Maxie’s character–or lack thereof–it WAS an undiplomatic insult to him. Insult people and a certain small percentage will go berserk as Maxie did.

    • You were,nt there the Pastor might have heard or seen something that made him say that…you it seems are trying to justify this brutal attack which is why this sort of atheism is a destructive belief

      • The point is the moral character of the offender was proven faulty. It had nothing to do with him being a theist or non-theist. What so called militant atheist would want go to a church service? Again one not right in the head to begin with. There are plenty of morally wrong people in the world, some may try to turn to atheism to have something to blame, when all they really want a greater being to fall back on that has never been there to do just that. It’s a shame people even tie this wrongdoing to atheism at all.

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