- (Photo: Screenshot/WHIO-TV)
A prominent atheist blogger is urging his readers to chip in to help an Ohio pastor pay his medical bills for the injuries he received after a self-described "militant atheist" allegedly beat him for asking the man's girlfriend, a congregant, if she felt safe with him.
"We may not be able to control future incidents like these but we can control how we react as a community. That's why I'm donating to the fund and I'm asking all of you to chip in as well," writes Hemant Mehta on his "Friendly Atheist" blog at Patheos, to help Rev. Norman Hayes of The Bridge Community Church in North Hampton, Ohio.
Hayes was attacked last Sunday. "I questioned his girlfriend in his presence if she felt safe," the pastor told WHIO TV, of the atheist attacker, James Maxie, 28, of Springfield, Ohio. "He was very, very upset that I'd even suggest that he would hurt her. Then he turned around and hurt me very badly," he said, explaining that his concern for his congregant was triggered by Maxie's argumentative and confrontational behavior during the service.
Hayes did nothing to deserve the violent attack on him, while Maxie deserves whatever punishment he has coming his way, said Mehta, who spoke to the pastor on phone during the week. "I asked him how he's feeling and whether he's still injured. He told me he's doing better but he's far from recovered. He's gone to the hospital a couple of times already and will likely make more visits in the near future."
Mehta wrote that Hayes agreed that differences in religious beliefs weren't central to the attack. "I didn't even know he was an atheist [until after reading the news stories]," Mehta quoted the pastor as telling him. "The idea of atheism had nothing to do, in my mind, with what happened."
The blogger told his fellow atheists there is a good reason for them to give money to help the pastor. "I know we have strong issues with his theological positions but I hope you'll agree that they're irrelevant here. We may not be able to control future incidents like these but we can control how we react as a community." Mehta concludes his blog saying, "If God's not looking out for us, we have to look out for each other."
After Mehta's appeal, many atheist individuals and groups have made their contribution. About $4,200 had been raised as of Sunday morning. Mehta gave $50, saying, "Wishing you a speedy recovery," according to http://www.gofundme.com/pastornormfund.
Describing the attack, Pastor Hayes said the couple approached him after the sermon, and he took the opportunity to ask the girlfriend if her atheist boyfriend was abusing her. "He came from nowhere and hit me ... and knocked me down, and then he got on top of me and just kept hitting me over and over," said the pastor. "It was fortunate he did stop," he added. "I really believe my life was in danger if he hadn't stopped hitting me in the face over and over."
Maxie then took off on foot with his girlfriend and ran into a cornfield where he was spotted by two North Hampton officers who were responding to the scene. He was later caught hiding behind a home.
Maxie, who reportedly proclaimed on his Facebook page "I'm proud to be atheist," made comments about Hitler and religion prior to the church service last Sunday.
But in a written statement to police Maxie said he was "trying to regain my faith in God," when he went to listen to Hayes sermon. He explained that he "asked questions about science and faith," which offended Hayes. He said the pastor said his girlfriend was "going to hell for dating me. That's when I made the worst mistake ever."