That Awkward Moment When a Book Review Becomes a Chance to Blame Atheists for School Shootings

The Creation Museum’s Dr. Georgia Purdom recently came across a copy of a book by Bill Murray, the son of American Atheists’ founder Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Bill was was raised without religion (obviously) but became a born-again Christian later in life.

In particular, Purdom notes a passage in his book where Madalyn picked up one of Bill’s junior high history books, noted all the Bible stories contained in it, and vowed to get them all removed. Here’s Purdom:

Having graduated from the public school system, I was shocked that at one time biblical history was part of the history books! The battles Madalyn and others fought with the public school system have made a huge impact on the information taught there over the last 40–50 years. We really shouldn’t be surprised that there is so much violence among children, especially in school. This is the result of children learning that — instead of being created in the image of God — they are nothing more than the result of time, death, and chance.

The one thing we know about violence in public schools is that there’s no one single factor that contributes to it. You can blame easy access to guns, bad parenting, social rejection, stress, whatever. But if the solution was that simple, we (probably) would have done something about it by now. The truth is that it’s a variety of factors, with some looming larger than others.

But in the black and white world of Creationism — where the complexities of evolution are ignored in favor of a “God poofed the world into existence” explanation — it’s not surprising that Purdom blames violence in schools on the teaching of evolution. It’s such a simple answer that, to her, it has to be right. Plus, it plays right into her belief that you can’t be good without God.

It makes no logical sense, and her explanation is so far removed from reality, that it’s only fitting it comes from “the smart one” at the Creation Museum.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Adam Patrick

    I actually read that whole thing. If I hear “atheism is rebellion against God” one more time, I’m gonna go nuts.

    • A3Kr0n

      How about “”atheism is rebellion against the idea of a God”?

      • Anna

        “Rebellion” seems to imply active dislike of the god-concept, though, doesn’t it? I’m sure there are plenty of atheists who don’t object to the idea of gods. They just don’t see evidence for them.

        • allein

          “I don’t object to the concept of a deity but I’m baffled by the notion of one that takes attendance.” – Amy Farrah Fowler

          • Anna

            Gotta love “The Big Bang Theory!”

  • jtperkin

    I keep hearing that violent video games plus the lack of knowledge of the bible leads to violent kids. Have they not read the violence in the bible? It’s worse than a lot of what is on HBO in late night.

    • Adam Patrick

      Christians? Reading the Bible? They just have to listen to their preacher.

    • I Like Iggy

      People need more guns. Check out the GODLESS PISTOL WAIVERS activity at the Midwest Skeptics Kansas City Meetup.
      Its all about safety.

      • Blasphemous_Kansan

        Sockpuppetry flagged.

        You’re more annoying then any Kansan I’ve ever met, IRL. You also have the benefit of being a liar.

    • Cecelia Baines

      Don’t forget the gays. Those gays just cause untold violent acts and natural disasters by their mere presence.

      If the dumb-ass xian freaks who claim that the gun violence and crap is caused because of permissiveness of gay culture and marriage, video games, sexy TV and movies etc want to spout this and claim it as evidence for the decay of the states, why then do they NOT look at the Euro model?

      Most modern Euro nations allow gay marriage, accept multi-racial couples etc….they also have incredibly restrictive gun laws etc….and they have nowhere near the gun deaths and violence the states has.

      Or look at Japan. Those sick little puppies watch violent porn cartoons nonstop, are not christian based and eschew guns. And they do not have the troubles the states does.


      • Just sayin…

        Its dumb ass Christians, why do atheists in Kansas City have that Godless Pistol Waivers activity at their meetup?

  • Rich Wilson

    This is the woman who knows that the earth is no more than 6 thousand years old. That’s clear in scripture. Any date beyond that is a problem. So science is a matter of finding evidence to confirm what you already know from scripture. And some way to explain away any evidence that is a ‘problem’.

    I’m not sure which is a bigger issue. Her opinion on what causes school violence. Or her ability to ignore overwhelming scientific evidence.

  • bethelj

    It is a little shocking for those born in the 1970s and on to realize how religious general society used to be, including public schools. When I was in public elementary school, we had to be bused off campus to go to a Christian club so as not to infect the other children. That was in the late 70s and early 80s.

    • Anna

      Oh, there’s no lack of religion in many of the public schools in rural areas and in the Bible Belt. Have you heard of the “Good News Club?” Those are clubs set up by evangelical Christians specifically to indoctrinate elementary school children with the most rigid form of fundamentalism possible. It’s constitutional because they meet after school, and it’s “technically” not endorsed by the school itself, but many teachers and volunteers get away with promoting those clubs to students.

      Your childhood experience shows quite a lack of regard for separation of church and state as well. Why on earth were public elementary students being taken off campus to a Christian club during school hours? It’s legal to have “Bible Club” or whatever as an extracurricular activity, but not as part of the school day.

      • bethelj

        It was during lunch, once a week or something. And before school later on. You had to opt in. I’m not especially fond of fundamentalism, but I also don’t think religion is the pernicious influence you do. I’ve known a lot of people who’ve only felt strengthened by their church communities and faith.

        • Anna

          Interesting. It sounds like it would almost certainly have been unconstitutional, if it took place during the school day and was endorsed or promoted by the school. But such abuses are a dime a dozen, especially in rural, Southern, and/or religiously homogeneous areas.

          I don’t think religion is necessarily a pernicious influence, but public schools have no business trying to get children to believe (or disbelieve) in a particular religion. That’s what private religious schools are for. If parents feel religious instruction is necessary during the school day, then they can send their child to parochial school. And they can also send their children to Sunday School, Hebrew School, etc. on the weekends.

          It’s simply not appropriate for government schools to abuse their access to children to recruit them into a particular religion. I don’t even care what religion it is. It could be something totally benign like Unitarian Universalism, and it still wouldn’t be right. When I send my children to school, I don’t want their teacher handing out flyers for a “special club” that will instruct them to believe in Hinduism, Mormonism, Judaism, Islam, or any other religion.

          • bethelj

            I don’t know if our little Bible club was unconstitutional, but I resented having to be shipped off campus like a criminal or something. Still do.

            The religious have to pay twice to send your child to a private, religious school – in taxes and tuition. It’s not like you have the option not to support public schools or to send that money in other directions, religious or private secular.

            • Anna

              You can resent it if you want, but your school was breaking the law. Such events are not supposed to take place on campus during the school day. Religious events are not supposed to be endorsed, facilitated, or promoted by the school at all.

              You were not a criminal, but the adults who orchestrated this event were breaking the law, and they surely must have known that. They should not have been doing it at all. Perhaps the unease you felt at being “shipped off campus” was due to the fact that they knew they were doing something wrong, and felt the need to hide it by spiriting the children away from school.

              It is simply not appropriate in any way, shape, or form for public schools to indoctrinate children into any religion. Your Bible club was unconstitutional, since your school was helping an outside(?) group provide Christian indoctrination to elementary school students. If a group of Muslims tried that, can you just imagine the screaming? Fox News would never shut up about it.

              Separation of church and state protects everyone. It’s funny how so many Christians don’t seem to realize that, but they’d realize it in a hurry if they ever found themselves in the minority. In a majority-Muslim public school, it’s illegal to make children recite Islamic prayers or allow teachers to promote “special clubs” that teach children how to be good Muslims.

              I don’t really see what your point is about tuition. As you told me, your son attends a Catholic school. That’s your choice. You could send him to a school that’s open to all children, but you decided that the religious environment was more important. You can’t expect the public school to teach your child how to be Catholic. That’s not its purpose. It’s the same for all parents, religious or nonreligious.

              If I, as an atheist, want a school to teach my children that all gods are imaginary and all religions are false, then I need to pay a private school to do that. Similarly, if you want a school to teach your children that one particular god and one particular religion are true, then you must also pay a private school to do that. It’s perfectly equal. The opposite of promotion of religion is not neutrality, it’s discouragement. Public schools cannot encourage or discourage religious beliefs in their students.

              • bethelj

                I’m not at all sure they were breaking the law, and I certainly did not feel dirty or “wrong.”

                I don’t expect the public schools to teach my son religion, but the public schools are not worldview free either. I’m not politically left, and schools often are. I have to pay (again) to opt my son out of being taught what I don’t believe.

                • Rich Wilson

                  Well, if you’re sending your son to a Catholic school, then you’re probably not upset by Evolution. So I’d put my money on the lesson in which we learn that sometimes two mommies love each other very much and adopt a couple of kids. And Annathat kid and her moms aren’t going to hell for that.

                • Anna

                  Or maybe she’s talking about sex education in general? I don’t know. That’s not really a political issue, though. Of course if someone wants their child to be taught the Catholic view on sex, then it would make sense for that instruction to take place in a Catholic school. You can’t expect a public school to promote a particular religion’s view on sex.

                  I can’t remember politics ever coming up in elementary school, that’s for sure. We didn’t discuss whether Reagan was a good guy (I later learned he wasn’t, despite those fan letters I’d sent him, LOL). We didn’t talk about politics at all until middle school, and then only in the context of current events. We had the Junior Scholastic magazine which taught us about the different sides of political issues. No conservative or liberal bias. The teachers didn’t tell us to take a certain stand on an issue.

                • bethelj

                  Sorry, no. I don’t have a problem with evolution and I don’t have a problem with gay people. One of my son’s best friends at his Catholic school has 2 dads. But I don’t particularly want him being taught a utilitarian view of sex either. My public primary and secondary schools weren’t overly concerned with politics, but the public universities I went to were downright hostile environments for anyone who wasn’t on the left side of the political spectrum. And that’s the environment that produced most of the public school teachers in the past 20+ years. I can’t get behind much of what the NEA is endorsing these days.

                • Anna

                  Well, it sounds like you may be talking about “released time,” which, to my surprise, appears to be legal.

                  The concept of release time, whereby students leave public school during the day for religious instruction offsite, was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1952. It’s important to remember, however, that public schools aren’t required to permit outside groups to run release-time programs. If a school chooses to do so, it should not promote the plan or encourage students to take part in it. In addition, schools should not punish students who choose not to take part. Students who don’t want to participate in release-time programs should not see their education suffer. They should be given meaningful instruction while the program runs.

                  It seems I may have been wrong about the illegality of the entire operation. However, your school most assuredly would have been breaking the law if they had allowed such classes to take place on campus.
                  And if you don’t expect the public school to teach your son religion, then why the fuss about having to go off campus for religious instruction? Religious instruction isn’t supposed to be provided by the school. I mean, surely, if your son was at public school and a bunch of pagans came in to teach the children to perform rituals to honor their goddess, you could see why that might be a problem, right? I’m assuming you wouldn’t want your son encouraged to worship that goddess, just like I wouldn’t want my children to be taught that.
                  Re: politics, as far as I know, schools can’t teach children they’re supposed to be Democrats or Republicans anymore than they can teach them they’re supposed to be Christians or Muslims. I don’t really know what “worldview free” means to you. The public schools are set up to teach academics and civic virtues, not promote a certain political party or a certain religion. It would indeed be improper if a school was telling children to join a particular party or vote for a certain candidate.

            • Rich Wilson

              People who don’t have kids also have to pay for public education via taxes. If people paid a fee based solely on how many kids they had in school, then I’d agree that one should not have to pay twice. But the fact that your kids go to a private school should not exempt you from paying taxes any more than people with no kids should be exempted from paying taxes.

            • Daniel_JM

              Looks like someone doesn’t know how taxes work…. You do know that you don’t pay taxes based on your number of school-aged children, right? (You actually often get tax breaks for having children). I don’t have children at all and still pay taxes, but that doesn’t mean I’m taxed for my non-existing children to go to school

              • bethelj

                I understand how taxes work. We pay for public schools via local property taxes and state taxes, and yes, we pay them whether we have children or not. But public schools don’t really offer a neutral take. Vouchers would be fairer and offer more choice to parents about how they want their children to be educated. It’s not like the public schools are teaching only the basic (and objective) 3 Rs.

                • Daniel_JM

                  You don’t understand how taxes work, because you said parents sending their kids to private school were still paying taxes for their kids education. That is untrue, I’m paying as much in taxes as most parents and I don’t have kids.

                  Vouchers are a terrible idea, they encourage fraud (tons of new schools with inadequate facilities often get set up to snatch the money, like the atrocious ACE schools, which I attended in high school), tax money goes to help almost exclusively the children of the upper middle-class leaving less funding for poor schools, it inflates the education budget, and a lot of taxpayer money goes to Christian schools that teach abject nonsense about science, history, and theology.

          • Rich Wilson

            Without knowing any details, that doesn’t sound unconstitutional to me. As long as the chess club and the straight-gay alliance club and the secular students club can also meet during lunch, then nobody should have to bus off campus.

            • Anna

              I think there are laws in place to prevent groups from providing religious instruction to students during the school day. This wasn’t a student-initiated, student-led extracurricular club. We’re talking about elementary school students, who were probably all between the ages of 5 and 10. Adults would have had to set up the club and teach lessons to the children.
              “Good News Clubs” get away with this kind of thing because they meet after school and are (supposedly) completely separate from the school itself, even though abuse is rampant and many teachers help the clubs recuit children.

  • Richard Cunningham

    Its funny. No god in schools = school violence but are we forgeting Sodom and Gomorrah? Or that his all loving God flooded the planet in the biggest act of genocide all because they were non-believers? Sending men to kill their own sons? Allowing women to be raped so his “angels” will be spared? Has he even read the gruesome details of how Jesus was sacrificed? This book teaches you how to be good? Damn, ive seen horror movies with less blood and dismemberment. Not even getting into killing all the first borns…

    • Just Sayin…

      Impressed by that? Try reading about the Gulags.
      Atheists are quite skilled at killing.
      And no BS about it was not “because” of atheism…sure it was, they were atheists and because they were they wanted to eliminate believers.
      Just above you have Cipher saying he wants to eliminate beleivers from higher education…after all, ya gotta start somewhere! …snicker…

      • Nox

        Apparently the only thing you’ve read about the gulags is what they told you in church. Once again, you are assigning motives to atheism that no atheist holds, and attributing actions to atheism that have never happened (and it is way more visible than you realize that you are only doing it to deflect blame for the actual mass murders that have actually been committed by your church).

        If Stalin was trying to “eliminate believers”, why did he leave so many christian churches open.

        • Just Sayin

          What I read about the Gulags can be found in The Three Volume Series…The Gulag Archipelago, by the Nobel Prize Winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
          No doubt about it, atheists went after believers because, as atheists, they wanted to eliminate religion. Many of the “churches” left open were fronts and show churches…or “mousetraps” to keep the few leaders in line.
          Its a fascinatng series of books. Atheists don’t like to talk about it.
          Moreover, I learned about a lot from my grandparents about what atheists did.
          Are you seriously trying to deny that those mass murders in the Gulags took place? If so, from a simply political perspective, look at The Black Book of Communism, issued by that well known right wing fundie group, The Harvard University Press.

          • Rich Wilson

            Your frequent diatribes on here about what atheists in the Soviet Union did to your grandparents come off like a Jew in the US constantly talking about Nazi Germany to his German-American neighbor.

            You know, atheists didn’t miss out on Stalin’s purges, either. It’s not a good idea to gauge a large population based on the online rhetoric of a few individuals. If I did that, I’d never leave the house, because I’m surrounded by Christians, and the occasional Christian online says they want to punch me in the face, or deport me, or stone me and let God decide my fate.

            Really, get a grip.

          • Daniel_JM

            All your comments are so tiresome. I wish you could tell the difference between totalitarian communism and atheism. It really isn’t that hard. One is a totalitarian belief system with tenets that followers believe and act on, the other is simply the lack of belief in a god and is compatible with many political and ethical philosophies.

          • Patterrssonn

            The interesting thing is they were all raised as Christians. Perhaps it was being raised as Christians and being exposed to all the violence and genocide in the bible that resulted in the gulags. And it was the change from Christian totalitarianism to Communist totalitarianism that brought out this Christian propensity for violence. After all similar waves of violence swept Europe with the emergence of Protestantism. Protestants, and Catholics slaughtering each other.

        • bethelj

          The Reds committed horrible atrocities against the Russian orthodox faithful: murder, torture, mutilation, imprisonment in jails and mental wards, child stealing, theft. Well over 100,000 priests were murdered in 1937-38 alone. Nearly all churches were closed and stripped of all valuables and relics, public religious gathering of any kind was prohibited. The communists were utterly ruthless. Just because no one talks about it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. There was a deliberate attempt by the atheist government to destroy all conception of God or gods and replace it was official atheism.

          • Nox

            “Nearly all churches were closed and stripped of all valuables and relics” is not true. And JustSayin wrote it with intent to deceive and no effort to check whether it was true.

            “Public religious gathering of any kind was prohibited” is not true. And JustSayin wrote it with intent to deceive and no effort to check whether it was true.

            “There was a deliberate attempt by the atheist government to destroy all conception of God or gods and replace it was official atheism” is not true. And JustSayin wrote it with intent to deceive and no effort to check whether it was true.

            Is this blatant enough for you Elemenope? Can I call him a liar now?

          • advancedatheist

            Western christians shrugged when the Tsars and Russian orthodox authorities sanctioned violent persecutions of Jews to try to make Russia uniformly orthodox christian. When a new regime decided to change the country’s religious character by persecuting christians instead, suddenly Western christians got alarmed and indignant. Funny how that works.

          • coyotenose

            They didn’t go after people in the name of atheism. Atheism isn’t an ideology. Christianity as an enemy of Communism was laid out by Marx as PART OF MARXIST IDEOLOGY. Jesus, why can’t you people logic?

            • Anti Iggy

              Of course atheism is an ideology. And it killed million.
              Quit yur lyin!

      • coyotenose

        It doesn’t matter how many times you come here and distort facts, it will remain actual fact that the Soviets went after anyone who was a threat. Christianity was a threat because IT WAS A MANIPULATIVE RELIGIOUS IDEOLOGY JUST LIKE COMMUNISM.

        Oh, and how many different names have you used here so far in an attempt to make it look like you have support? Five? Six? Why does God make you a dishonest sack of crap? You should ask him.

      • cipher

        Imbecile. That isn’t what I said.

        Again, you aren’t bright enough to understand this, and you’re too terrified to think outside of your Christian paradigm. You’re embarrassing yourself – or rather, you would be, if you had the presence of mind to see it.

  • ortcutt

    “This is the result of children learning that — instead of being created in the image of God — they are nothing more than the result of time, death, and chance.”

    Fewer people believe in evolutionary origins of humans in the US than in other developed countries, but we have more school shootings and more homicides in general. In other words, his theory is complete bullocks.

    • Anna

      Not to mention, plenty of school shootings have taken place in the Bible Belt, and homicides tend to occur within the lowest socio-economic brackets, which also happen to have the lowest rates of atheism. Some of the poorest, most crime-ridden communities also tend to be the most religious.

    • advancedatheist

      What if we learn some day that god “got there” as a result of “time, death and chance”?

  • RobMcCune

    Sadly this is not surprising, given the right-wing tendency to go off on tangents whenever the mood strikes them and macabre fascination of fundamentalists with how horrific events were caused by the enemy du jour.

    People like Purdom love this stuff because it reaffirms their own sense of righteousness.

  • LesterBallard

    Same shit, different day.

    • I Like Iggy

      Well sure, since ATHEIST spells EATSHIT in the first place.

      • Baby_Raptor

        Are you 3? Leave, the adults are talking.

      • nope

        hhahahaha holy shit it does! That’s fucking hilarious.

      • Patterrssonn

        Gosh that must mean something, but I think you have to be under 15 to know what it is.

  • A3Kr0n

    Purdom is one of the persons I mention as my reason why I don’t find academic credentials credible.

  • cipher

    The fundies continue to ignore Western Europe…

    And since I haven’t had the opportunity to say it in a while, I’ll do so here. Fundies should neither be enrolled in graduate science programs in secular universities, nor should they be awarded graduate degrees. If they earn the degrees honestly, then flip out later, those degrees should be rescinded. Awarding them or allowing them to keep them cheapens the degrees for those who come after them.

    They have their Christian clown colleges, which they all tout as being vastly superior to secular institutions, anyway; let them attend those. And please – I’m not at all interested in getting into any arguments about freedom of speech, the marketplace of ideas, etc. Don’t even bother.

    • Ibis3

      Interesting idea. In effect, treating intellectual dishonesty akin to other academic offences like plagiarism. Of course even in such a system, “fundies” ought to be allowed to enrol in graduate science programmes, since presumably they could come out the other end educated and scientifically-minded, right?

      • cipher

        Undergraduate programs, perhaps. By the time they reach grad school, the damage is done – and they’re incapable of fulfilling their obligations without, as you say, resorting to intellectual dishonesty.

        There has been an increase in recent years in the number of PhD’s awarded to creationists by secular (including Ivy League) institutions. They then go to work for creationist “think tanks”, such as AIG and the Discovery Institute, or for pretend universities such as Liberty and Regent, while those institutions tout the “credentials” of their employees. It’s time to stop giving them ammunition.

    • Just Sayin…

      Ah, religious discrimination called for by an atheist.
      We all knew it was there, its just nice to start getting it out in the open.
      You may not be interested in bothering about freedom speech, etc, but a lot of people are.

      • LesterBallard

        Poor persecuted Christians. They can’t do anything.

      • cipher

        You really aren’t bright enough to understand the argument, and you haven’t the courage to think outside of your authoritarian box.

        • Just Sayin

          Says the one who is calling for authoritarian control of higher education.
          And so stupid you can’t even see it, can you?

      • DougI

        Yeah, it’s like discriminating against sick people by giving them health care. Oh, the oppression by calling for a segment of the population to receive an education. the tyranny!

      • coyotenose

        Too dense to know that this has nothing to do with Freedom of Speech. You poor stupid, lying dear.

  • Paul Emmert

    This, of course, completely disregards violent incidents at houses of worship all around the country. How is that explained away by the religious? As noted, there are plenty of reasons we have so much violence in this country, but no rational person could explain it away because of a lack of god, whether it involves kids, or people sitting in church pews.

  • DougI

    Considering how well kids are doing in science I should think that America would be crime free according to the knuckle dragging fundy. Not surprising is we find nations with a higher percentage accepting the obvious fact of evolution having a much lower gun violence rate.

  • advancedatheist

    William J. Murray says contradictory things about his murdered family. In the book he writes that Madalyn understood “atheism” to mean a swinging sexual utopia, like we see in atheist conventions. Yet elsewhere he writes that his brother Jon and his daughter (Jon’s niece) Robin couldn’t find lovers and lived pretty much like sexually abstinent christians right up to the time of their murder in 1995. He even implies that Jon died as a 40-year-old virgin.

    I haven’t seen whether William can reconcile these contradictory claims. Apparently Jon failed as an atheist according to Madalyn’s own standards.

  • Sandy Kokch

    As easy a stupid myth to dispel as “the god argument”

    There were school attacks long before the teaching of evolution was accepted and widespread in US public schools. Argument therefore is invalid.