Massachusetts Senate Candidate Calls Boston Bombings a ‘Godless Act’

***Update***: The Sullivan campaign has issued a clarification statement here.

Michael Sullivan, a former U.S. attorney and current Republican candidate for Senate from Massachusetts, used a throwaway line the other day to describe the Boston bombers… but in the process, he slandered all of us who are law-abiding, patriotic atheists:

“I don’t have any doubt in my mind that they are going to identify the person or people responsible for this horrific, cowardly and godless act. I think there is going to be so much evidence available to the investigators that they will be able to put the pieces together.”

Horrific? Absolutely.

Cowardly? Sure.

Godless? Where the hell did that come from? Without evidence, that’s pure prejudice at play.

It’s easy to suggest that “godless” people committed this tragic crime because the stereotype is that we’re immoral, awful people with no regard for the sanctity of life. None of that is true. You can argue it’s just a figure of speech and he wasn’t actually referring to atheists, per se, but that doesn’t excuse the use of the word. It’s irresponsible and completely out of line to accuse someone who doesn’t believe in God, even in passing, for doing something like this.

But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he didn’t know what he was saying and he just needs to be educated. But he sure as hell should apologize for it.

Let him know how you feel via Facebook, Twitter, and email and let’s see if we can get him to issue a retraction on his statement.

(Thanks to Magerin for the link)

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.

  • chicago dyke

    although all the facts are not established, judging by the media reaction so far, this was likely very much a god-ed action.

  • C Peterson

    While I won’t speculate on whether religion played a role in motivating this crime, it seems rather certain at this point that both bombers took their Islamic faith very seriously, and were about as far from “godless” as anybody can be.

  • DougI

    Of course it was a godless act because it wasn’t someone from the correct religion doing the bombing. When Christians bomb, it’s godly, when religious non-Christians do it, well…that’s godless.

  • 3lemenope

    Nothing is “rather certain” at this point. There really has only been evidence that the elder brother took his faith very seriously. I agree, though, that “godlessness”, whatever-the-fuck-that-is, is unlikely to be a factor.

  • Dvd Bach
  • Jason Sullivan

    I’ve never been more embarrassed to be a Sullivan

  • Chengis Khan

    Mr. Sullivan, It ain’t a godless problem, but I bet t’is the other way around. In fact this might indeed turn out to be an example of one of the worst thing religion did this week, month, year, decade…
    Religious freedom – It is time to dismantle the oxymoron.

  • CompanionCube

    I went to Mike Sullivan’s facebook page and posted the following, which was something I posted on Tuesday after reading this article here:
    Let me start by saying, I am NOT writing this
    to insult those who are offering prayers for the victims. You are
    motivated by sympathy and love for your fellow humans. I want to make
    you understand that just because I don’t pray, does not mean
    that I do not feel the same sympathy and love for my fellow humans. I
    feel the same pain in my heart for this senseless tragedy that you do. I
    mourn for the innocent lives that have been harmed. If I see some way
    to help, such as donating blood, I will do that. But in the wake of
    this, the chorus of voices blaming ‘the godless’ for this is
    overwhelming. I am one of the 20% or so of Americans who do not believe
    in any god, and I am not an immoral, sinister, criminal demon. I live
    on your street, I love my family, I shovel my elderly neighbor’s
    driveway when it snows without ever being asked. Ask yourself what kind
    of person you would be if all of a sudden it were somehow completely
    proven that there is no god: would you behave differently? For most
    people, I think the answer is no. You would love your family, you would
    abide by the law, you would treat strangers with courtesy, you would
    treat your colleagues with respect, and you would cry for the victims of
    a horrible tragedy like this, all the same. I believe this is the
    human spirit that we all share. In America, you are free to worship and
    pray as you choose, in church, at home, and in school (students are
    allowed to pray, and read the Bible, in school, it is school
    administration that is banned from leading prayer or requiring Bible
    study). I do not wish to discourage anyone from enjoying that freedom.
    I am only asking that before you express a sentiment that paints all
    atheists as horrible people, if that is really how you feel, or if
    instead of “godless”, would it be more accurate to use the word
    “immoral” ? There is a difference.
    (link to the article)
    we’ll see if it stays up.

  • Losing Faith

    The important thing at this time is to score points for atheism!

    Show the people how GOOD atheists are!

  • KeithCollyer

    he’s quite right, it was a godless act, just like everything else ever done in the history of the universe

  • Chas Swedberg

    I agree about making our opinion known. There have been other words that are some stereotypical (and mostly negative) attributes from a disenfranchised group: African-Americans, gays, women, gypsies, etc. Social pressure has worked to lessen their usage over time, and in many cases; a politician pays a potential political cost to use them.

  • C Peterson

    Who are you referring to? I didn’t say anything about atheists or atheism at all. I only countered the comment of the Senate candidate with the observation that the bombers were not godless, and there was no reason to think that they viewed their act as godless.

  • Cameron Willadsen

    All atheist comments have been removed and the ability to post comments has been removed from the page.

  • aoscott

    Seems like he was saying the act itself was godless, his definition of godless probably being “without compassion or morality or feeling” or something like that.

  • James

    Of course it was a godless act! So was the appointing of Pope Francis or the Easter celebration at my parents’ church. What I did in the bathroom this morning was certainly a godless act!

  • Rich Wilson

    To bring God into it one way or the other implies that there are Godly acts, and that would presume that atheists aren’t capable of Godly acts, or at least not of our own volition. I’m ok with everything being Godless by default, but when describing something horrific as Godless, there’s the implication that something good that I’m not really capable of is Godly.

  • GCT

    So, let me get this straight. This guy connects godlessness to bombing in a way that demonizes atheists, and you’re here yelling at us for standing up for ourselves? What is wrong with you? This is rank and ugly religious privilege and victim blaming run amok. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  • Manduca

    Here’s my email to him:

    Dear Mr. Sullivan:

    Setting off bombs at a sporting event is certainly horrific, and may be cowardly, but is definitely not “godless” (

    Using the term “godless” as if it is synonymous with “immoral” insults all non-religious citizens, the vast majority of whom sympathize as strongly as you do with the victims of Monday’s attack. Violent crimes are more likely to result from a lack of empathy than a lack of religion. (In fact, history tells us that religion, not the lack of it, is often a strong motivating factor in acts of terror.)

    Please consider the effect of your words on a sizable percentage of the population – the implication that the non-religious are criminals detracts from the power of your message to inspire sympathy with the victims and to express optimism that the perpetrator(s) can be brought to justice.

    Sincerely yours,

    [real name]

    [real MA town]

  • DKeane123

    You might be correct. We tend to get these long diatribes (Op Eds and Blog Posts – but sometime on TV) about how horribly immoral atheists are. We are the Stalins, Hitlers, and Pol Pots of this earth. Yet whenever some extreme act of violence occurs, the first thought in our collective consciousness is not “Probably those damn atheists again”

  • rx7ward

    Riiiight … ’cause only religious folks have “compassion or morality or feeling” … WTF?! Isn’t that sort of the whole point of this article?

  • Rev. Achron Timeless

    So, killing people for no good reason is a “godless act”? This is the same god that supposedly leveled 2 towns on a whim, released horrifying plagues, and killed everyone on the planet except for one family with a boat.

    I’d say the only act you could call “godless” in relation to their god is being decent to each other.

  • Randomfactor

    The presumed bomber is a Caucasian religious adherent.

  • Randomfactor

    Pretty sure he thinks Islam is godless.

  • Frank LaFerriere

    So it takes the godless to commit evil? Hmmmm. Say that to the almost 1 BILLION people in just the Christian religion history last 700 years who were put to death in all manners of evil ways by the Christians. How easy it is for them to forget the Crusades, where they sliced open the bellies of women because they believed they had swallowed gems, or waded in the “blood of the pagan and infidels” to their horses bridles in the utter delight to their god and religion. Or the Inquisitions. Or the genocide of the Native Americans because they were “heathen goddless people” and we gotta show them the love of our god by butchering their old men, women and children. Hmmmm just gotta love the hypocrisy of those who claim they know and follow the Christian god eh>

  • Frank LaFerriere

    The same as the Christians have taken their Christian faith very seriously when they butchered millions during the Crusades, or burned at the stake and tortured millions during the Inquisitions, Or how about the genocide of the Native Americans, those godless heathens, where Christians butchered their children by smashing their heads on rocks and boulders to save bullets. Or how about even more recent Christian BS? Hmmm you got ministers screaming from their pulpits how we should build nazi style concentration camps, put all gays and lesbians, all atheists and liberals in them and let them starve to death to shouts of hearty amens from their congregations. Or the Speaker of the Parliment of Uganda, Rebecca Kadga, who promised her fellow Catholic Christians that for a christmas present to them, she would make sure the Kill the Gays bill is passed. Of course the former Pope Benedict went there and got down on his knees and blessed her and said she was a shining example of a good christian.

    Makes much more sense to focus on the Islamists and attempt to remove the mote from their eyes before removing the logs from your own.

  • Alan Mauldin

    Turnabout is fair play. Any time a person in America commits any crime, it would be accurate four out of five times to speculate that the perpetrator was a Christian. After all, Christians make up 75 to 80 percent of the population. Atheists actually are much less represented in the U.S. prison system than their actual numbers, so it also could be argued that they are more law abiding people. And are LESS likely to murder, rape and robbery.

  • LesterBallard

    Another reason I don’t care about being included in a interfaith service; it’s automatically assumed that I’m a worthless, moral-less godless piece of shit.

  • Frank LaFerriere

    Their examples of their love for others come shining through. The Crusades, the Inquisitions, the genocide of the Native Americans and other indegenous populations. Or how about more recently? Their ministers and pastors demanding we build nazi style concentration camps and put all gays, lesbians, atheists, liberals, etc, anyone they disagree with in them and let them starve to death. Or how about Rebecca Kadga, the Speaker of the Parliment for Uganda who last year promised to the Catholic Christians that for a christmas present to them, she would make sure the Kill the Gays bill be passed and Pope Benedict then going down there, getting down on his knees, blessing her and saying she was a shining example of a good Catholic christian?

    Hey let us not forget all the child rapes by priests and ministers of the faith and the coverups of these rapes by their leaders. Not one leader, not one Cardinal or Pope, credibly accused of the coverups have ever been prosecuted for their crimes, but hey, they got every right to preach they are the moral beacons for all of us to follow right?

  • rhodent
  • pete084

    Perhaps he meant it wasn’t the right god, the god whose ass HE kisses.

  • GodlessButNotEvil

    A Facebook friend of mine used the same term to refer to this event just the other day. I took exception to his poor choice of words, but he and others pointed to the dictionary and it’s secondary definition of Godless. Perhaps it is time to ask the FFRF to petition Webster’s to remove this slanderous definition?

  • aoscott

    Probably, but let’s not forget the context. I understand that it was not a good way to put it, but to him, he probably doesn’t realize it. So I was attempting to get into his way of thinking in order to try and help everyone understand a bit better that this guy probably wasn’t trying to slight anyone. He was just reacting to some pretty fucked up news, and using terminology that he probably has all his life without really thinking about what it might mean to people like us (Atheists)

  • Matthew Maxon

    He is now saying that “godless” is a “misquote”!.

  • GCT

    That’s not OK on his part.

  • SeekerLancer

    Because you wouldn’t be pissed if someone were blaming Christians, right?

  • Rich Wilson

    They’re now saying:

    Team Sullivan Statement: Mike’s real quote in reference to the tragic events that took place at the Boston Marathon was:
    “I don’t have any doubt in my mind that they are going to identify the person or people responsible for this horrific, cowardly and gutless act.”

    “Godless” was not stated and is a misquote.

    Which a) gives us a chance for all the people to pat him on the back for saying ‘godless’ in the first place and wonder what the problem was.

    And b) gives the rest of us the chance to wonder why it took so long for him to come up with a back pedal, and why everyone who complained has been blocked from commenting further.

    At this point, I’m thinking Mike Sullivan is the one who is ‘gutless’.

  • sailor

    To be sure, when he calls it godless, he raises the wrath of atheists. Horrific absolutely! but ever since 9/11 and maybe before, the word cowardly has been inappropriately used by politicians, for their own devious ends. It was evil and stupid to fly planes into the twin towers but it was hardly cowardly for those that did it. These guys; one is now dead. Unless they were were completely devoid of imagination and unable to too see what was going to happen, to call them cowardly is just the wrong use of the English language. They were lots of things, most of them bad, but hardly cowards. However, unlike the godless, I think the association of real cowards is probably too cowardly to put up a spirited defense of their name. Cowards run, and they don’t fight unless there is no risk of danger. I think it is time for politicians to expand their vocabulary.

  • Mairianna

    Yes, it was a “Christian” godless act, as Sullivan believes his god to be. And, really, let’s face it, is there any other god????? (She asks facetiously…)

  • Zachary_Bos

    Manduca, I’d be proud to know that you’re already part of the Secular Coalition for Massachusetts. If you’re not, I’d like to invite you to get involved.

  • Wild Rumpus

    Why is everyone here so upset? It was both godless and gutless. It also proves Christian hypocrisy and might get people thinking…

    “Waaaaait a minute, how can an omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient force, be missing in just this one person…?”

  • GCT

    Well, if you actually read the OP and the comments, then you might see why we’re upset.

  • Denis

    Of course it was a godless act. Without a god, all acts are godless.

  • Denis

    Why should atheists be offended ?

    When a politician calls an act “godless” , it is one of the very very rare occasions when they are speaking the truth !

  • 3lemenope

    The meaning entailed by a word often extends far beyond its literal definition. In this (alleged) case, godless would not merely mean “without God”, as it would also carry pejorative moral connotations.

  • Banner


  • Dajake

    Millions were killed during the inquisition? Not only are you misinformed, but you are a bigot.

  • HermitTalker

    There is very often a huge distance between what true believers of all Faiths and their actions show. Christians should totally respect all human life and reject gratuitous violence at least. Jews and Christians should respect and reverence the Earth as gift and not destroy or pollute it and be careful with exploring the other Planets- the race to the Moon was a Cold War slap at the then USSR. Islam’s sacred text the Ku’ran is at best ambiguous about the human family and who is in or out of their Allah’s Record Book. Their scholars are not on the same page. Atheists deny the fact of a God’s existence but we have seen many of them be more in tune with the Natural Law than some professed Christians and Jews. Stereotyping any group and pointing to sins and failures hundreds of years ago to pour scorn on them is selective moral outrage. That only perpetuates divisive conduct and throws rational discourse out the window.

  • kcthomas

    Godless is just to mean that that there is no consideration of rules and any feeling of humaneness.. Actually some people believe in destruction in the name of God. They sincerely believe that destruction of those who do not agree with them is a great and pleasing act for their God. How to tackle this faith and this ideology ? What do the atheists think is a solution .

  • kcthomas

    Godless is just to mean that that there is no consideration of rules and any feeling of humaneness.. Actually some people believe in destruction in the name of God. They sincerely believe that destruction of those who do not agree with them is a great and pleasing act for their God. How to tackle this faith and this ideology ? What do the atheists think is a solution .

  • Frank LaFerriere

    Truth hurts eh? It is estimated that over 1 million were killed during the Inquistions. There were actually three Inquisitions, not just the one dealing with the “witches”

  • Anna

    Well, not remove it, but I think they should identify it as offensive. There are plenty of other slurs in the dictionary, but it’s noted that they are considered negative and inflammatory.

  • Anna

    The entire point is that it’s not acceptable to use “godless” to mean cruel, evil, inhumane, etc. There is nothing wrong with not believing in gods. Being godless has absolutely nothing to do with not following rules or committing violence, and it should not be considered okay to use the word “godless” to describe those acts.

    To draw a parallel, for many years people used the phrase “to jew down.” Perhaps some who used that phrase were only using it because it was familiar. Perhaps they were not personally anti-Semitic. But the term is based on a stereotype and obviously implies that there is something wrong with being Jewish and links a negative attribute to that religion.

  • Len Blakely

    Thanks for the mention.

  • kcthomas

    It is to be taken as a phrase. Such simple things the western world takes seriously…may be because most of the populace are godless.With pride I say that God means “fullness of all virtues ”


  • Dajake

    Did a priest have his way with you?

  • GCT

    It what point did it cross your mind that bringing up yet another religious atrocity would help your argument?

  • GCT

    Religiously privileged.

  • GCT

    Godless is just to mean that that there is no consideration of rules and any feeling of humaneness.. Actually some people believe in destruction in the name of God.

    You just answered your own question…so to speak.

    The religiously privileged view is that godless is without consideration of rules and humanity. Being godless is seen as being “cruel, evil, inhumane, etc” as Anna put it. Yet, we also know that people who are full of god can be just as “cruel, evil, inhumane, etc.” as anyone else. Yet, the stereotype persists that godless is bad, and godful is good. To pass it off as, “Well, it’s just a phrase” is to ignore the very real consequences that negative stereotypes can hold for the people who are on the receiving end of those stereotypes.

  • Anna

    So you think bigoted language is acceptable? If that’s where you’re coming from, then I don’t think we have much to say to each other. I find it sad that so many Americans associate lack of belief in a deity with negative attributes.

    There’s nothing wrong with being godless. I do not believe in any gods, and I am a peaceful, responsible, honest, contributing member of society. I think it is disgusting the type of bigotry that atheists have to face in a world that assumes faith in the supernatural is some sort of virtue.

  • kcthomas

    No one can believe in God unless he /she pursues. I do believe that atheists can be peaceful, responsible,honest, contributing members of society. It shows that a spark existing in you and me are same.Let us pursue that spark in our own way. Let us not become angry or throw slush.

    k c thomas

  • Anna

    I have no problem with you believing in a god. I don’t think that fact makes you a better or a worse person. I would form a positive or negative impression of you (like I would anyone else) based on the things you do and say.

    If you believe that atheists can have all those positive attributes, then all I’m asking is please not to defend the derogatory language that is associated with atheism. Using “godless” to mean “without consideration of rules and humanity” is wrong. People who don’t believe in gods are no more likely to commit acts of cruelty and violence than are those who believe in the supernatural.

  • kcthomas

    No polemics please. I was not defending any phrase, but expressed the general attitude of people. Many such things may not be correct when scientifically analysed. Some People beleiving in God may not have sagaceous expression on account of their preconception about what is good. thank you for your understanding

    k c thomas

  • Anna

    Polemics? I’m not attacking anyone. I’m just saying that using the word “godless” in a negative way isn’t acceptable, and dismissing it as unimportant trivializes the whole problem.

  • Rich Wilson

    People beleiving in God may not have sagaceous expression on account of their preconception about what is good.

    Right. That’s why there were representatives from a wide variety of faith backgrounds at the Boston Memorial, save the non-believers.

    It’s not the worst thing in the world, and you may not think it’s very important, but it’s one that can be changed for the better. Hence the polemics.

    The polemics will continue until change is achieved.

  • kcthomas

    I agree that we individuals have the prerogative to accept or refuse to accept a thing. In that sense, I respect your assertion. None can prove “godfullness’ or “godlessness”.Even though words have assigned meaning, it slightly varies depending on countries, culture, tradition etc. So I cannot insist that others should follow my interpretation.

    k c thomas

  • Frank LaFerriere

    Why yes he did Dajake. What about it? Or are you one who stands up for rapist priests?

  • Frank LaFerriere

    Dajake is all for Christians slaughtering people they disagree with. But heaven forbid any other religion trys to take their thunder for Christianity being the most murderous and evil religion that ever came upon mankind.

  • Heidi McClure

    Mikey forgot he where was running for senate. Ed Markey thanks him for his support.

  • Banner

    etymologically challenged