I am a huge fan of NPR. I listen to it almost every day, even if I’m just hanging out at home. The commentary is incredibly intelligent, the spin is little-to-none, and the quality of the content is far above nearly any other news organization out there. So I was a bit surprised by the subject that came up during an interview as I was listening yesterday.
Yesterday, Here and Now host Robin Young spoke with David LaDue, who is the father of John LaDue. In 2014, after a neighbor tipped off law enforcement, John was caught in a storage shed with pressure cookers and bombs. John was planning to kill students at a local high school in Minnesota, along with his family and law enforcement officers. John accepted a plea deal for a felony charge, and spent two years in jail. He’s since expressed great remorse over what almost happened, and has earned a welding certification from a community college.
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Robin Young interviewed John about the situation in February 2018.
There is undoubtedly an undue stigma associated with the families of perpetrators or would-be perpetrators of horrendous crimes. Obviously, victims of tragedies have an enormous amount of trauma to work through. Too often we’ve seen unimaginable losses due to violence. However, the families of the perpetrators also experience trauma. Not only are they likely to feel personal guilt associated with the incident, questioning what they could have done differently to stop the tragedy or otherwise intervene, but they will have a lifetime of people questioning them and judging them.
So I thought it was an extremely interesting idea to examine how these types of crimes affect the criminals’ families.
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Robin asked David if he saw any warning signs from John, or what he could share with other parents to potentially stave off a similar situation occurring in the future. You could hear the confusion and sadness in David’s voice as he spoke:
Possibly. I don’t know how — in the current environment, it’s very strange. I guess anything that I felt was a concern, most people that I know would think I’m kind of an extremist and I’m worrying about phantoms. His lack of violence or even general lack of anger issues. He might have had frustrations over things and we talked about things, but there’s nothing really concrete to hang onto. And I think I should’ve demanded more interaction with him and him to explain to me why he seems to be increasingly reluctant to spend more free time around other people rather than spending more time by himself.
There didn’t appear to be anything noteworthy or outwardly concerning. And perhaps that’s part of why David may feel guilt about the situation.
But then David takes a hard turn into something totally different:
My biggest concern was when he expressed a belief in atheistic outlook, and some of the statements he had made were very concerning to me. And most people that I know would think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Not all atheists are violent people.
Somehow, for some reason, he’s connecting the dots between atheism (which, to be clear, is the disbelief in the existence of gods) and violence. Nevermind the fact that it’s impossible for an atheist to commit an act of terrorism in the name of atheism… That’d be the same as committing an act of terrorism in the name of not believing in unicorns. It doesn’t make any sense.
What’s more, is when you look at actual statistics, societies that are more religious actually are more violent. Generally, the more secular a society is, the less serious crime there is:
Take homicide. According to the United Nations’ 2011 Global Study on Homicide, of the 10 nations with the highest homicide rates, all are very religious, and many — such as Colombia, Mexico, El Salvador and Brazil — are among the most theistic nations in the world. Of the nations with the lowest homicide rates, nearly all are very secular, with seven ranking among the least theistic nations, such as Sweden, Japan, Norway and the Netherlands.
Now consider the flip side: peacefulness. According to the nonprofit organization Vision of Humanity, which publishes an annual Global Peace Index, each of the 10 safest and most peaceful nations in the world is also among the most secular, least God-believing in the world. Most of the least safe and peaceful nations, conversely, are extremely religious.
As professor Stephen Law of the University of London observed: “If a decline in religiosity were the primary cause [of social ills], then we would expect those countries that have seen the greatest decline to have the most serious problems. But that is not the case.”
Unsurprisingly, David prayed for John. In the interview, David said:
This kind of negative outlook on people and why we’re here made me feel compelled to pray for him. I asked for intervention on his behalf, and within two weeks from that day we certainly got it.
What he’s done, through the lens of hindsight, is connect dots that he didn’t even know existed to solve a problem that he didn’t know was there. He was praying for his god to intervene with John, simply because he expressed belief that gods don’t exist. David himself said that there wasn’t physical violence or threats of violence.
And it was interesting, I found myself sitting talking to my son at Red Wing juvenile detention facility talking to him about parables in the Bible as he was trying to understand them. He was given one there and was having difficulty understanding it. And I just thought, here we are. Three months ago I was praying for an intervention. And now here he is willing to contemplate things in life that he hadn’t been prior to that. So I guess I got what I was asking for.
In the February interview, John explained that he felt contempt for other children his age, that they were succeeding without seeming to try, and that he felt he was getting left behind. He said he wanted to feel power by dominance. It sounds as though John had or has some very serious mental health issues that need to be addressed with a professional (and hopefully he did and is still receiving help with them). Praying and reading Bible verses at someone isn’t going to cure or treat any mental health issues.
Perhaps it brings David comfort to think of things in these terms, but it’s a false comfort built on a lie. And if belief in a god is the only thing keeping John or others from committing heinous acts of violence, that’s absolutely terrifying.
What disappointed me was the lack of pushback from Robin during the interview. There was no attempt to clarify this (or perhaps it was cut from the radio interview).
This all derives from the objectively false notion that being religious makes you more “moral” than an atheist. This has been proven wrong time and time again. People simply use religion as a shield to protect themselves from criticism that would otherwise be directed squarely at them.
If you were God, and you had the power to end world hunger, cure cancer, stop all wars, and end all human suffering, would you? The fact that these things have existed for millennia and will continue to do so is sufficient evidence to me that God does not exist, or if God does exist, he isn’t moral and he isn’t all-powerful, with makes him a rather impotent God after all.
You can listen to the full NPR interview with David below: