How Should We React When a ‘Militant Atheist’ Beats Up a Pastor?

Over the weekend, a man named James Maxie went to church with his girlfriend… and ended up severely beating the pastor, Rev. Norman Hayes, after Hayes asked the girlfriend if she felt safe with him:

James Maxie

“I questioned his girlfriend in his presence if she felt safe,” Hayes said. “He was very, very upset that I’d even suggest that he would hurt her. Then he turned around and hurt me very badly.”

Hayes said Maxie was argumentative and confrontational during the service.

“It looked like he was looking for an argument,” Hayes said.

Maxie and the girlfriend, who attends the church, approached Hayes after the service. She told police that Hayes asked her if Maxie was abusing her, and Maxie became furious, striking pastor several times in the face in the church hallway.

“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,” Hayes said. He pleaded for the beating to stop, stating he thought Maxie would kill him.

“It was fortunate he did stop,” Hayes said. “I really believe my life was in danger if he hadn’t stopped hitting me in the face over and over.”

The reason I mention this story is because it turns out Maxie is a “militant atheist”:

A self-described militant Atheist, according to his Facebook page, a day before the assault Maxie shared a photo from another page titled, “I’m proud to be Atheist.” Hayes said Maxie made comments about Hitler and religion prior to the church service.

In a statement Maxie wrote to police, he said he was “trying to regain my faith in God,” and went to hear Hayes’ sermon. He said he “asked questions about science and faith,” and claimed the statements offended Hayes. Maxie said Hayes said his girlfriend was “going to hell for dating me.”

“That’s when I made the worst mistake ever,” Maxie wrote.

It doesn’t matter what the pastor said; Maxie did something indefensible and awful, no matter how he felt afterwards. My heart goes out to Rev. Hayes for what he endured.

One thing worth noting is that Maxie has a violent past:

He previously spent two years in jail for a felonious assault conviction, and became a convicted sex offender after have unlawful sexual contact with a minor in 2008. He was also charged, but never convicted, of four counts of animal cruelty in 2004.

You could make an argument that it’s wrong to say “an atheist beat up a pastor” because it’d be much more appropriate to say “a criminal beat up a pastor.” Fair point. I completely agree.

There’s no getting around that detail, though: Maxie was an atheist.

Can we deny that? No, and we’d be foolish to pretend he wasn’t “really” an atheist just because he attended a church or was trying to regain his faith.

Does he represent all of us? Of course not.

Should we condemn his actions wholeheartedly? Absolutely.

Will people use this incident to say awful things about atheists? Yes, and they’re wrong to generalize, and we’ll deal with that later.

But here’s another, more important, question worth asking: Can we do anything to help?

Last night, I left messages with a reporter who wrote a story about the incident for a local newspaper as well as with Hayes’ church to see if he needed help with medical bills or anything like that. I’ll let you know if there’s anything we can do to show that Maxie is an anomaly and that the atheist community at-large is sickened by how Rev. Hayes was treated. We may have our differences, but violence will never settle the issues.

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.

  • Sparks13

    You treat him like anyone else guilty of a serious assault in front of multiple witnesses, including a complete mental exam because he’s either terminally stupid or he’s not wrapped tight enough.


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