Was Timothy McVeigh an Atheist?

Timothy Mcveigh - BRESCOLAFor you young ‘uns, Timothy McVeigh was the Oklahoma City bomber. Prior to 9/11 this (and the Waco siege) dominated discussions about terrorism, conspiracy theory and so forth in the United States. If you want to know what happened you can read up here. The short version is that a very disturbed, right-wing, nutcase detonated a huge bomb next to a federal building as a sort of ‘first blow’ in a war on ‘socialism’ and the government. Keep in mind that the rhetoric surrounding Obama has been much worse and yet nothing similar seems to have happened, yet.

These kinds of things go in cycles and, of late, much seems to be being made of Timothy McVeigh’s supposed atheism. When you bring up religious bombings, incidents and acts of terror someone inevitably points to McVeigh as an example of atheist terror. Even if one were to accept this characterisation, having to go all the way back to 1995 would show that ‘atheist’ murders and acts of terror occur with a great deal less frequency than religious ones. Still, we don’t have to accept this.

First and foremost, atheism is not a religion, an ideology, a philosophy, a system of belief or anything similar. It is the singular lack of belief in god/s. That is atheism in its entirety. If someone who happens to be an atheist commits some travesty it cannot be atheism that motivates them because atheism provides no motivation, no excuse, no impetus to commit such acts. Religious and ideological texts on the other hand, may very well have such exhortations to violence. The Abrahamic religious texts are replete with examples of this.

Secondly, McVeigh was not an atheist. At least not at the time of the bombings.

McVeigh was raised a Roman Catholic Christian and was confirmed in 1985. He was a registered republican, a member of the NRA and voted Libertarian. The bombings took place in 1995 and prior to the bombing his ‘goodbye’ letter to his childhood friend contained the following line:

I know in my heart that I am right in my struggle, Steve. I have come to peace with myself, my God and my cause. Blood will flow in the streets, Steve. Good vs. Evil. Free Men vs. Socialist Wannabe Slaves. Pray it is not your blood, my friend.

In 1996, after the bombing, when he was interviewed and asked about his religious position he said that he still believed in god, though he had lost touch with his Catholicism. He said he still maintained core Catholic, Christian beliefs.

By 2001 he proclaimed that he did not believe in hell and that ‘Science is my god’.

This is the line that people quote but it is one that is attributed to him a full six years after the bombing. It is unusual that he seems to have had a deconversion in prison. Many people claim religious conversion, especially in American prisons, because it gets them better treatment and increases their chances of parole. Being on death row perhaps McVeigh was feeling more fatalistic or didn’t see the need to claim a faith as it would make no difference. He did resist a great deal of urging to become a Muslim during this time.

When it came time for him to be executed McVeigh seems to have rediscovered his religion. A day before he wrote to a paper describing himself as agnostic. On the day of his execution he took the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and read the poem Invictus, which contains references to god and souls.

We’ll likely never really know what he thought or felt or believed, because he is dead. This is part of the waste and uselessness of the death penalty, it eliminates our capacity to learn and to understand. Nonetheless he seems to have been raised and died a Christian and to have been one when the bombing took place.

The truly perverse thing is that, having taken the Sacrament and ‘returned to the bosom of the lord’, by Christian doctrine, this mass murderer and right-wing terrorist would be in heaven, if such a place existed.


20 responses to “Was Timothy McVeigh an Atheist?

  1. Reblogged this on myatheistlife and commented:
    I could take this opportunity to chant that religion ruins everything but instead I’ll simply ask this: If religion makes you good, why doesn’t it work for everyone? Don’t spout that he was not a true Christian or that he had moved away from god somehow. Religion lead him to that point in life where he decided to blow up a building and the people inside. Religion was there the whole time and never made him a better person .. or if it did I hate to think of what he would have been without it. In the end a believer, through his beilefs and convictions, decided to kill others in the name of an ideology and not as self defense or protection of others from physical harm.

    Was he crazy? Check
    Was he theist? Check
    Did he kill for his ideas? Check

    I don’t see how any of that praying and belief did any good.

    • Therefore, logically (by your standard) if ANY atheist, anywhere, has ever committed a crime, then “atheism” encourages crime.

      He chose to do what he did as an individual.

      And he was an atheist because he SAID SO, as far as we can judge. No one knows what was really going on in his head. Very little, probably. He strikes me as having been rather dimwitted.

  2. You have to remember that theists are generally desperate to off-load all of the horrible people that call their side home, they will claim that Hitler was an atheist, when clearly he wasn’t, they will claim that McVeigh was an atheist, when as you point out, that’s just not so. When it’s clear they can’t just pretend all of their various psychopaths aren’t religious, they just declare that they weren’t “real” theists.

    These people are nuts.

  3. Why is it important whether he was an atheist or not? Even if he was, why should it taint atheism in any way? Why do you resort to “No true Scottsman” arguments so loved by Christian apologists?

  4. Many of the defenses argued by atheists include what atheists will or wont do. Like carry out an attack on another group of people like christians did toward jews or muslims toward christians etc etc. Stating that religion itself is to blame for much of the worlds conflicts. So of course when a situation where a atheist is taking out these types of attacks non-atheists will take the time to point out and prove to you and yours that you are no different than the rest of us. Making statements like if we didn’t have any religion in the world it would be a better place. Timothy Mcveigh had lost touch with his religion as stated in your piece are flawed. He was raised Roman catholic but i would argue that most of todays atheists were also raised in such a fashion. Ive even heard the catholic church being called an “Atheist Factory” and many self proclaimed atheists continue to carry some sort of christian values as it was engrained in their childhood and in the tapistry of society. A couple thousand years of influence will do that. There is two parts to christianity, there are biblical christians and cultural christians. Cultural christians have there beliefs based more on the general interpretations of the basic tenets of the religion but are not necessarily religious so to speak. You’re right, atheism isn’t technically a religion or belief system or whatever but in the west many of the “new atheists” share many ideas beliefs and positions consistent with a belief system, such that there was event talk of making an atheist church in london recently, “cultural atheism” perhaps? As this group grows in strength and power they can become directly at odds with groups unlike themselves and i believe it could be very detrimental. The ideological war has already started with charlie hebdo and the attack in denmark today and on the other side of the coin, the “gun toting atheist” who killed 3 muslims at chapel hill. The hatred that is within humanity is not ruled by any religion it is ruled by our shared human condition. Making posts like this put atheists in the precarious position of sooner or later having to justify the actions of some of their own that is counter to years of arguments to the contrary. Blaming religion for the actions of men who are crazed or mentally disturbed leaves atheists to defend themselves in the same boat. The main cause of religious conflict is that they are different. Muhammed himself started off a man who followed jewish teachings, but because he was an Arab and for political reasons the jews did not believe he could be a prophet if the jews accepted someone who was different all those years ago there would be no islam. People have killed, maimed, raped and slaughtered people throughout time based on nothing more substantial than “difference” that fact alone. Certain groups of atheists are different than many other groups religious or not throughout the world. The day may come where you here an atheist has firebombed a church or a mosque because religion is bad. What will you say? Does it represent all atheists? No. But you are setting yourselves up to be forced to defend it on that basis. There are gonna be atheists that are gonna do a myriad of horrible and evil things, that is inevitable. A lot of atheists who have been in power already have. Just like we separate extremists from regular everyday, christians and muslims, you will have to adopt that same mentality about crazed athiests and regular everyday atheists.

  5. I’m an atheist. You people are Atheists. Capital “A”. That is a religion.

    McVeigh did what he did because he was a hate-fueled nut case. But he was an atheist because he SAID he was. That is the definition.

    Unlike you religious zealots I don’t concern myself with trying to blame “religion” for everything that goes wrong in the world.

    If you’re scared, go to church. Methinks you doth protest too much.

  6. I cannot imagine maintaining a blog about my atheism. Don’t you see that you are evangelists?

    I judge people on their individual merits and individual actions. Their belief in invisible men in the sky, or lack thereof, is of no consequence.

    I believe I’m right in that matter, and they’re wrong, but I don’t for one second consider myself “superior” as a result.

    You idiots are everything you accuse “religion” of being. You use your belief as an excuse to fuel your own egos. Grow the hell up. Believe what you want to believe, and mind your own business.

  7. I find it interesting that you, grimachu, tell Mickey Bitsko that he has found a way to feel superior to “everyone else”. With a blog name like “The AtheFist: Brains in your Face”, are you sure you’re not projecting your own need to be “the smartest guy in the room” onto him? If you’re really confident in your beliefs, why do you feel the need to “beg”? I can respect Mickey’s atheism. He quietly, confidently, and, I might add, intelligently, goes about his life and his business without feeling the need to “address” people of faith. He doesn’t need to beg people to see his intelligence.

    Some atheists in the top ranks of academia have theists for friends and colleagues. They respectfully agree to disagree. These atheists are embarrassed by angry, boastful, and bombastic “evangelistic” atheists. The world needs more of them.

    • Does it though? Should bad ideas be left unchallenged? A bombastic title reveals nothing but a desire to have a bombastic title, this suggests you’re projecting rather than me.

      I have theists as friends, but I’m not about to leave their beliefs unquestioned on religion any more than I would any other topic on which It think they’re wrong. That’s part of friendship.

      • That is not referencing a particular sin per se other than denying the authority and divinity of God. In doing so a person places themselves in a place beyond God’s mercy. Free will affords each of us to make that decision before we take our final breath so to speak. Up to and including that time if we ask God for forgiveness and mercy with a contrite heart we will receive it. If not we have sinned against the Holy Spirit and we experience the consequences; a permanent existence outside of God’s mercy and love. That is what hell is.

  8. No. He admitted to being a Catholic (non-practicing) and that he believed in a God. He did not elaborate but he did admit to that. Why is there this long dumb ass conversation? He was not a racist. PERIOD.

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