Tim Lambesis of As I Lay Dying

Tim Lambesis of As I Lay Dying. Photo by Matthias Bauer, via Wikimedia Commons.

Tim Lambesis—lead singer of metalcore band As I Lay Dying, who last month was sentenced to six years in prison for plotting to murder his ex-wife—made headlines over the weekend after admitting that he was actually an atheist.

This admission was a surprise to many. Lambesis publicly identified as a Christian for many years and As I Lay Dying gained a large Christian following. As the Christian Post wrote in 2011: “In a genre known for its secularism, As I Lay Dying stands out from the crowd by spreading God’s message in mosh pits.”

But then things changed. In a lengthy interview with Alternative Press, Lambesis said:

[While studying religion in college] I’d get three pages of the traditional evangelical conservative point of view, then three paragraphs or sometimes even just three sentences from the atheist perspective. But even in just a few sentences, I’d think, ‘This point of view makes more sense,’ even when it wasn’t being well represented. In the process of trying to defend my faith, I started thinking the other point of view was the stronger one.

Why did he keep his atheism secret? “I was afraid it would affect As I Lay Dying sales, which would affect my overall income,” said Lambesis. “Truthfully, I was an atheist. The ‘strategy’ I had at the time was cowardly.”

While he started to drop hints about his changing worldview in song lyrics and on social media—in 2012 he posted a Facebook status about watching Christopher Hitchens debate, and in 2013 he published a blog post saying he “felt that it was unreasonable to call myself a Christian in light of the evidence”—most people still thought he was a Christian.

So when he was arrested for plotting to murder his then-estranged wife, a number of atheist blogs posted the news that a “Christian metal singer [was] arrested for hiring a hit man to kill his wife.”

TJ Kincaid, creator of the popular atheist YouTube series “The Amazing Atheist,” went a step further in a video entitled, “TIM LAMBESIS: The Murdering Christian Rocker.” In it, Kincaid said, “I guess [Lambesis] asked himself ‘What would Jesus do?’ and Jesus said, ‘I’d kill my f—ing ex-wife.’”  The video currently has nearly 150,000 views.

Now that Lambesis has opened up about his atheism, a number of conservative and Christian publications have jumped on the story—fueling the idea that his atheism and the plot to murder his ex-wife are connected. As a writer for Christian News wrote, “He turned away from Christianity… And one sin led to another, turning his renunciation of Christ into justification for his actions.”

Unfortunately, the narrative linking his actions to atheism will probably continue to gain traction now that Lambesis no longer seems to identify as an atheist. In April of this year, As I Lay Dying issued a statement saying that “[Lambesis] was not a Christian at the time of his arrest… [but he] has spent much of the last year reevaluating what originally convinced him to abandon belief in God… After much brokenness and repentance he sees things differently [and] considers himself a follower of Jesus.”

The moral of this story? It’s not a good idea to use someone else’s personal tragedy to score points against a worldview held by many people. Casting an entire worldview as guilty by association isn’t just wrong—it’s ugly.

The mutually accusatory Christian and atheist responses to Lambesis’s story reveal a common problem. People are quick to jump to conclusions that conveniently fit their agenda of demonizing another group. But just as it was wrong to imply that Lambesis’s murder plot was connected to his Christianity, it is equally wrong to attribute it to his atheism.

You cannot make generalizations about atheism or Christianity based on a single person’s ideas or actions. As an atheist, I reject efforts to implicitly or explicitly blame Christianity as a whole for the actions of an individual—and I hope my Christian friends will reject any attempts to pin Lambesis’s actions on his atheism or to smear all atheists by association.

15 Comments

  1. The Great God Pan

    “But just as it was wrong to imply that Lambesis’s murder plot was connected to his Christianity…”

    But was anybody doing that? It seems to me that the example you cite–TJ Kincaid’s “WWJD” comment–was clearly sarcastic. He was not actually claiming that Lambesis literally thought Jesus would kill his wife, but rather was pointing out that Lambesis felt free to disregard the supposedly vital moral tenets of his religion when they were inconvenient to him. The point is not that being Christian caused him to take a hit out on his wife, but that it did not PREVENT him from doing so. It is not, as you say, a connection between his faith and his actions that was being proposed, but a DISCONNECT between his faith and his actions.

    The distinction is relevant because proponents of Christianity frequently and fervently claim that Christianity induces its adherents to be moral and kind and generous. Moreover, they insist that this is a self-evident and objective fact that nobody could possibly argue against (cue statistics about Christians giving to charity). So, when we see evidence that Christianity has not induced someone to be moral, kind and generous, why are we expected to keep quiet about it? What could be wrong with pointing out that the medication does not work as advertised?

    To my mind, the fact that Lambesis subsequently renounced his Christianity (then reclaimed it in what seems a transparent bid for lenient sentencing or jury sympathy) does not refute the atheist response to his crime, but actually strengthens it. It illustrates the argument that Christian faith may not be, in fact, a deeply-held “worldview,” but rather that it functions more as a social tool to be picked up or abandoned as the situation dictates. How much respect are we actually obligated to hold for such a tool? How seriously must we take the claims of those who utilize it as a means to their ends? Why does the Christian expect us to grant him/her special exemptions or deny other people rights based on the Christian’s beliefs, when we can’t even be sure that the Christian believes what s/he says s/he believes? I think these are important questions that shouldn’t be shoved aside in the name of getting along (particularly with people whose idea of “getting along” is doing as they say).

    The Christian response to Lambesis’s transitory atheism, on the other hand, isn’t up to much. Atheism does not claim to save souls or generate righteous behavior. It merely claims to be the most reasonable answer to a certain question, and so pointing out that an atheist did something wrong doesn’t carry much weight as an argument against atheism. It may rally the faithful, but it doesn’t expose any flaw in atheism’s claims. Atheism has only one claim, and it isn’t refuted by Lambesis trying to purchase his wife’s death. Frankly, I don’t care if they want to crow about that, particularly at a sewer like Breitbart.com.

  2. I truly believe if Tim were still a Christian at the time, he wouldn’t of thought about hiring someone to kill her. When he lost his faith, he gave up his morals too. Thus he didn’t see any consequences if his plan succeeded. God sees all though. Glad it didn’t succeed, and I pray he truly repents and comes back to the Lord. He used to be a great humble man, but when I met him in 2012, he sort of seemed like an irritated lifeless zombie. Perhaps he was just having a bad day.

    • Look up “No True Scotsman” fallacy. There are probably two billion Christians in the world. Many of them will have views that are anathema to other Christians, including yourself. They don’t have to try very hard to find bad values to emulate – the bible is full of examples of divine-sanctioned bigotry, rape, murder and genocide. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”, as well as killing thousands in Europe over the last millennium thanks to pogroms and the Inquisition, is still having people killed in sub-Saharan Africa. I think the best measure of the goodness of a Christian isn’t how they follow the bible, but how they depart from it. If you can read the vile parts of the bible and say “that’s horrible, I’m not going to do that” then you’re already more moral than your god.

      • Kiernan, If you read all of scripture, you will understand that there was a transition that took place when Jesus came. People were set free from the law and were called to an understanding that our battle (as Christians) is not against flesh and blood, but against the dark spiritual forces of this world. The New Testament reminds us we are no longer under the law tells us that the most important commandments are to love God above all else (meaning we will seek to live a righteous and holy life that honors Him) and to love others as we love ourselves. None of the instructions to deal with sin in the New Testament command killing someone for their sin. I’m sorry you seem to have such a negative view of Christianity. I’d encourage you to read the New Testament and the hope and freedom that is offered through Jesus.

        • “For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:18-19 RSV)

          Leanne, I hate to be the one to break this to you, but Jesus himself disagrees with what you’ve said.

        • “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.” Matthew 5:18. Leanne you are full of crap.

  3. Why do we sometime pretend to know what is inside of a person. We do not know for a fact that he was ever a Christian. Being Christian or Atheist did not make him commit a crime. I know a lot of Christian minister that have fallen from grace and I even question if they were truly ever a Christian. It is easy to call oneself a Christian and quite another to be a Christian. Christianity is a lifestyle not a label.

  4. “Be a Christian.” By whose standard do you make that evaluation? Please understand that I am not asking that question to be sarcastic. I would genuinely like to know the answer.

    It seems to me that each Christian has, in his/her own head, a set of criteria for what constitutes being a Christian, and uses that criteria to judge others, without regard to the list of criteria held by other Christians. My friend, what you’re saying is almost an exact definition of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

  5. It’s funny, when I stopped believing I became a far more conscientious person. The imperative to live well, to treat others the way I want to be treated, being derived not from holy text with magical stories, but the hard reality that I don’t get another chance to be the person I want to be in life. This is it, the show is going, and if I screw this up, well, there isn’t anyone waiting in the clouds for me to dry my tears and make everything all right.

    The fact that this guy was going around being a fraud is probably tied into why he would look into doing such a vicious thing. When you take refuge in things you know are lies, you don’t have peace. It doesn’t matter if you’re an atheist or a theist, if you dress yourself in lies, you will not be at peace with yourself, you will not be happy, and you will lash out at others. Most won’t to the degree that they try to have someone killed, but they will still do things out of their uneasiness in their own skin.

    If you’re not true to yourself, you’re going to do messed up things. If you live what you know are lies, you’re going to do messed up things. It doesn’t matter if you’re a believer or an unbeliever, if you’re out pretending to be what you know inside you aren’t, you’re going to have a lot more trouble in life than if just chose to be content with who you are.

    And the reality of the human condition is, even when you are content with just being who you are and living life from that reality, you’re still probably going to do messed up things. Because that’s what human beings do. Sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes out of emotion, sometimes out of malice, and sometimes out of the best of intentions. Belief or no belief, this is true of us all.

  6. Tim Lame-a** is not, nor ever was, an atheist. He’s pretending he wasn’t both to absolve himself of his crimes, and to demonize those who are atheists.

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