This weekend, the Atheist Alliance of America is hosting their 2014 national convention in SeaTac. Prominent atheists, including Stephen Pinker and Rebecca Goldstein, are headlining a full docket of panels and banquets and field trips. One author, who publishes under the pseudonym Horus Gilgamesh, was scheduled to attend the convention in support of his new book Awkward Moments (Not Found in Your Average) Children's Bible, a study of the Bible's most contradictory and cruel episodes intended for adults, but presented in the guise of a children's book. At the last minute, Gilgamesh canceled his appearance at the convention after receiving two death threats in the mail this week.
On Monday, Gilgamesh opened the mailbox at his Washington state home to find a letter addressed to both his real name and his pseudonym. The letter, which arrived with a Tacoma-Olympia postmark, began "Do I have your attention now? You think your [sic] so safe to hide behind a fake name to spread lies about God and attacking Christians? You aren't." This is followed by a lengthy quote about putting idolaters to death from the King James translation of Deuteronomy 13. The verse warns that if anyone you know "serve[s] other gods," you should "surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death." The letter ends: "I'll see you up in Seattle next week. You wont [sic] see me." It's signed "God's Little Helper."
Gilgamesh writes about receiving the letter on his blog. He immediately reported the letter to local police and the United States Postal Service. Over email, Gilgamesh tells me he also notified the organizers of the Atheist Alliance convention, who "began working with the event site and arranged for private security from off-duty police officers." Gilgamesh then received a second letter in the mail from what appeared to be the same person—"police have the second letter and I have been asked to not reveal any more details about the case for the time being," he tells me—and he ultimately decided to cancel his appearance at the convention. He notes that atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris often travel with a security detail due to death threats, but says, "I'm just not comfortable with the idea of a stranger putting themselves in harm's way—all because of my lack of belief."
Why, out of the dozens of speakers at the convention, was Gilgamesh singled out for death threats? "I have a feeling that other [atheist] authors/speakers have similar situations," he says, but "[it's] new to me, so we weren't really sure how to handle it." Gilgamesh's book has been near the top of Amazon's atheism bestseller list since its publication about a year ago, so he's become a higher-profile target in recent days. The fact that Awkward Moments looks like a children's book might inspire more outrage among Christians than a more traditional book.
So Horus Gilgamesh is staying home. Does this mean "God's Little Helper" won? On his Facebook page, Gilgamesh notes that many of the attendees of the Atheists Alliance are wearing name tags reading "Hello. My name is Horus Gilgamesh" in a show of solidarity with the author. "In my mind, ‘God’s Little Helper’ has already lost by showing how such horrible threats can still be justified by the Bible," Gilgamesh writes. He continues:
Of course, I do NOT think all Christians would want to do me physical harm - that would be a wildly inaccurate generalization... I don’t actually feel silenced, just annoyed by the timing and circumstances that forced me back-out of the event at the last moment, letting down all of the amazing organizers and supportive fans. Aside from skipping the convention, this situation has done nothing but further strengthen my resolve and I’m not going anywhere!