When You Criticize the Godless, It Often Goes Unchallenged

David Niose picked up on something Mike Huckabee said in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre that many people ignored.

First, here’s what Huckabee said:

“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” Huckabee said on Fox News, discussing the murder spree that took the lives of 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown, CT that morning. “Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

He said those suffering from a crisis from faith should look to God in the community’s response to the violence. But he added that “Maybe we ought to let [God] in on the front end and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end.”

A lot of his critics — many Christians included — cringed at those statements because they suggested that church/state separation and not forcing God down everybody’s throats were to blame for the crime. There’s obviously no evidence suggesting that.

What Niose noticed was something very different: Huckabee’s comments directly attacked people who don’t believe in God and who fought to remove mandatory prayer from public school:

Imagine if Huckabee had publicly suggested that the rejection of Jesus, rather than the more general God, was the reason for the Connecticut school violence. In little time, he would be sharply criticized for even indirectly suggesting that Hindus, Jews, and Muslims were somehow responsible for the rampage. Yet when the circle is drawn to exclude only atheists and humanists, the prejudice is seen as acceptable. (Huckabee was widely criticized for insensitivity, but not for prejudice toward nonbelievers.)

It’s great that many Americans, even those who are religious, find the statements of Huckabee and company objectionable, but it’s unfortunate that the objections focus on the wrong issue. Rather than argue about whether God is jealous and vindictive or loving and compassionate (or at least in addition to that argument), Americans should be calling out fundamentalists for depicting nonbelievers as agents of evil.

He’s absolutely right. God isn’t “loving” any more than God is “evil” because God isn’t there, period. So when progressive Christians chastise Huckabee and James Dobson and Bryan Fischer for forgetting that God is really loving, they’re saying the wrong thing for the right reason. They, like us, should be going after those people for blaming atheists (and liberals and anyone who fights for First Amendment rights) for such a horrific crime.

(Thanks to Paula 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.

  • NoCrossNoCrescent

    This is a symptom of a bigger problem: atheists have had a second class status for way too long. Enought is enough. http://skepticink.com/nocrossnocrescent/2012/12/27/a-look-at-the-second-class-status-of-atheists-and-why-it-is-not-dawkins-silverman-et-als-fault/

  • bellj

    I think that Huckabee and others like him were challenged and that’s why he backed down. Sort of. The fact it they are so far out in left field that it is difficult to even make sense of their arguments. They not only contradict simple logic, but their own doctrines and theologies. Their statements are simple knee-jerk, blame laden cliches that are oh, so tiresome.
    I know some Christians and they are nice people. However, there is no way we could have a meaningful dialogue on actual ethical issues and social problems. They engage in gross oversimplification and brush aside complexities and ambiguities. If you point out the obvious flaws, no matter how respectfully, they retreat into their delusions of a perfect world if we all accept Jesus as our savior. They cannot provide real solutions. So what’s the point?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-A-Anderson/100000016895400 John A. Anderson

    See, if the children had been forced to say a prayer that morning, the deranged gunman would not have decided…. Oh never mind.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    I agree that we need to point out the bigotry and intolerance against nonbelievers, which would not be “let slide” if it were about other religious groups, or if it was about other minorities.

    Imagine if Huckabee said that the shootings were due to “God not wanting to protect USA’s desegregated schools”!

    Clearly that would be seen to at least imply intolerance of blacks. Similarly, blaming secularism implies intolerance of secularists (but it does not get noticed or called out as such).

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I thought everyone in the non-theist community saw that as an attack… I couldn’t read that as anything but Huckabee et al saying that I’m responsible.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rusty.yates.7 Rusty Yates

    Another point that has been missed is that god routinely murders children in the bible. Passover is the celebration of god murdering children and that is just one story of many. Jesus plans to torture children for all eternity.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    They, [progressive Christians] like us, should be going after those people for blaming atheists (and liberals and anyone who fights for First Amendment rights) for such a horrific crime.

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for that one.

    Extremely, extremely few Christians, no matter how “progressive” they may be, are ever going to come to the defense of atheists when another Christian slanders us. They’re far more likely to come to the defense of slandered Muslims. I can count the number of Christians I know of who have defended atheists against Christian bigotry on one hand, with fingers to spare. None of them were leaders of any kind, and more importantly, none of them ever expressed their defense of us to their fellow Christians. They only made candid remarks to atheists either to comfort us or to assuage their own embarrassment about the slander done by another Christian.

    Help me out. Can anyone cite any example of a Christian, whether they’re a leader or an ordinary person, who publicly, to their Christian peers stood up and unambiguously objected to slander, or abuse, or bigotry against atheists?

    I’d love to hear about it. I’d love to be wrong about this.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Barry Lynne?

  • Guest

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2012/12/24/dobson-huckabee-get-a-bit-of-push-back-from-mainstream-evangelicals/ It doesn’t directly say ‘it wasn’t the atheists fault’ but it does say ‘God did not cause 20 innocent children to die because prayer was taken out of public school’ which surely counts as a negation of Huckabee and the rest.

  • newavocation

    It seems like you have to believe in some supernatural being like the FSM before you can become a legitimate group worthy of respect. You see it even in places like UU churches, which respect all sorts of religions and weird practices but when it comes to humanists or atheists asking critical or demanding questions, look out! Need an example, just ask FFRF what happened after they spent a lot of time and money on ads that appeared in the UU World and then were abruptly censored and cancelled. Heck the UU World even accepts and allows ads from polygamists! So even religiously liberal and progressive groups have a problem with non-believers.

  • King

    Well not all secularists are atheists and not all atheists are secularists. There are some religious people who want prayer taken out of schools (or at least not officially mandated). So if Huckabee is attacking people who want state and church seperate, he isn’t attacking atheists and only atheists. I agree that his main target was probably atheists, because most atheists are secularists, but we shouldn’t conflate secularism with atheism. Secularism benefits minority religions and minority Christian sects as much as it benefits us.

    Dobson’s comments are much more explicitly anti-atheist.

    I’m not surprised the liberal Christians focus more on defending God than defending atheists. For one thing, they do believe in him, or say they do, and so it’s their duty to defend him (why, I don’t know; can’t God speak for himself?). And it probably causes them pain, to think that something they love could be associated with such a brutal series of killings. It’s also the common language them and the fundamentalists Christians share, so maybe it’s good that they are challenging that concept of God. It’s not an arguement an atheist can make, after all, so maybe it’s good to have people attack false statements from many angles.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Yeah, a little. I kind of see the vague implication there, but any exoneration of atheists per se is very indirect, so indirect, that I don’t think people who are prejudiced against atheists would be challenged to reconsider their prejudice. It’s much more directly a defense of God, saying he’s not such a vindictive jerk. Believers in the Nice Guy God who reject Huckabee’s Nasty Asshole God are still capable of blaming secularism in public schools and then by association, atheists for the mayhem.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Yes, there’s one, Thank you, Rich. I admire Barry Lynn, and I’ve been a member of Americans United for Separation of Church and State for quite a long time. His being an ordained minister lends some credibility to the principle of church/state separation that some Christians might respond to.

    Hmm. At the risk of seeming too hard to please, Barry has built a career on being a nexus for believers and nonbelievers, primarily with an emphasis on law and First Amendment issues. I don’t want to minimize whatever difficulties he may have personally faced by working with atheists, but he does not seem to be in a position where he has much to risk. For instance, I can find no information that he has ever used his ordained ministry to be a minister to a congregation. If you think I’m building a No True Scotsman argument here, you might be right, but while I’m very grateful for what Barry does, I’m not that impressed by him being an example of what I’m looking for.

    Maybe I need to be happy with smaller results…?

    I’m not.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I agree. Not so much that Barry isn’t a True Christian, but that he doesn’t speak up to defend atheists in particular. Not that he wouldn’t, but it’s not his raison d’être. I know I have Christian friends who respect my rights, but I’m honestly also drawing a blank on specific cases where one theist has admonished another theist for their position on an atheist.

  • Urbane_Gorilla

    There was an outpouring of outrage by many religious groups over Huckabee’s absurd statements. But, if God doesn’t kill people in religious settings, then why did he allow these?:

    ** In September of 1999, Larry Gene Ashbrook walked into the Wedgewood Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, Texas, with two guns. He murdered seven people, injured seven others and then killed himself.

    ** In March of 1999, in Gonzales, Louisiana, Shon Miller, Jr. entered the New St. John Fellowship Church, fired two rounds into the ceiling, and 17 more shots, murdering his son, his wife, a deacon and injuring four others.

    ** In Columbia, Tennessee, 1999, two men were shot in the parking lot of the First Freewill Baptist Church

    (There are plenty of examples. I found these three on some gun-nut’s site that was arguing for armed priests..Sheesh! )

    More importantly, you have to ask why God would stand by silently and allow mass pedophilia on church grounds. Does Huckabee think sexual predation by priests is OK? Truth is Huckabee is an ass and his illogic is supportive that professional religious personages like him, Jesse Jackson and Mitt Romney should never be allowed in politics.

  • disqus_w2FOwvYm9z

    This is a minor nitpick. Passover isn’t the celebration of god murdering children. Oh, the child-murdering definitely happened (if you assume the story to be true), but that’s not what is celebrated. Traditional seders actually bring up the ten plagues and the murder of the Egyptian army as things to mourn, and why the celebration should not be totally happy/joyful.

    Also, bringing up the Passover story and then Jesus strikes me as very odd. Passover is a Jewish holiday, while Jesus is definitely not a Jewish deity. So Jews, while unquestionably celebrating an event that included mass murder, don’t celebrate that the dead will be tortured forever because they don’t believe that. It’s bad enough already- don’t make it worse by mistake!

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson
  • http://www.facebook.com/ntngander Alex McDowell

    “They, like us, should be going after those people for blaming atheists
    (and liberals and anyone who fights for First Amendment rights) for such
    a horrific crime.”
    And true conservatives! Anyone with a whit of sense could see this as an attack on all freedoms. Your version of God, or Jesus, or holy texts is up for grabs by these nutcases.

  • Anna Lemma

    Rather than argue about whether God is jealous and vindictive or
    loving and compassionate (or at least in addition to that argument),
    Americans should be calling out fundamentalists for depicting
    nonbelievers as agents of evil.

    This is exactly the same reason that I posted the information about Chaplain Bill McCoy (http://undergroundunbeliever.blogspot.com/2010/10/real-mccoy.html) on my blog, but worded so much better that I could have stated it. McCoy was saying that trouble happening to military units was directly the fault of non-believing military members. He also implied that getting rid of nonbelievers would remove the problem. Thereby implicitly condoning fragging (murder of said nonbelievers). It was time for something to be done. Perhaps we should play hardball. Getting McCoy fired took himself(he posted pictures of his pee-pee on a few adult sites), several soldiers, me, some friends at MRFF, a nameless federal agent, a NY post reporter, and my blog. I should tell most of the story some day.

    Perhaps the same thing should happen to some of these right-wing freaks. Who made them so high and mighty? Maybe they need to come back down to earth. They are no better than the rest of us.

  • Anna Lemma

    Excuse the extra tags and typos. I’m not used to commenting over here, even though I read the blog almost daily. Can I edit the post?

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    If you connect via FB or twitter, or create a disqus account you can. At least I think all of those options work, and perhaps others. “It can be done”.

  • Anna Lemma

    Thanks Rich, I’ll give it a try.

  • WoodyTanaka

    “Passover isn’t the celebration of god murdering children.”

    Perhaps not, but it is certainly the celebration of a god who routinely murdered children. The religious might try to dress it up, but the fact is that they worship a being which they believed murdered these innocent children after hardening Pharaoh’s heart. That’s mighty fucked up regardless of what words you use to describe it.

    Also, there is nothing odd in mentioning Jesus and Passover. While Passover is a Jewish holiday, it also exists in the Christian tradition, and those stories are claimed by both. While the Jews still celebrate Passover, the Egyptian-slavery myth and the story of the Exodus are claimed by both and are not, in any way, primarily or exclusively Jewish.

  • http://bsoi.st/ bsoist

    I don’t have a large audience, but I am very vocal about my support for equal rights for everyone – including atheists.

    My note at the bottom of the post I link to below is a good summary of my thoughts on the matter. If you have time, you can read the entire post. If not, read my note at the bottom. I know some will read it as mere lip service, but I’ve been reminding my Christian friends for years that atheists are in the minority and we should care deeply about how that impacts their lives. There is no “war on Christianity,” America is NOT a Christian nation, and those poor children were not murdered because atheists stick up for their rights under the law.


  • TheodoreSeeber

    Given that most atheists are pro-choice, and think that since there is no God there is no God-given value in human life, Huckabee is completely correct.

    When you stop murdering a million children a year, then maybe you will have some moral standing to criticize the atheist Lanza family.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I read your entire post, and left this comment:

    “Thank you for making this courageous, honest, and clear statement. I hope that your fellow Christians hear you and stop their naive and dangerous flirtation with establishing a theocracy in the U.S. There is nothing down that path but nightmarish tyranny, as the Founding Fathers vividly remembered from their European heritage. I wish you well, and I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you to defend everyone’s freedom to think, speak, and worship or not worship as their conscience requires, including the freedom of those who disagree with me. Persevere!”

    I said in my original remark, “I’d love to be wrong about this.” Thank you also for showing me that I’m wrong.

  • http://bsoi.st/ bsoist

    Thank you for taking the time to read it.

  • MelissaLitwin

    Oh, I completely agree it’s a celebration of a god who routinely murdered children, as you’d note if you read my original post. There is still a distinction, however trivial you might consider it, between celebrating a god who murders children and celebrating that a god murdered children. As I was taught the story, no one was happy that children were murdered and it’s actually brought up as a mitigating factor to explain why our joy at freedom is incomplete: ie, we can’t be totally happy about it because while freedom is awesome, children and innocent adults did die to make us free and that is sad. Note, none of this makes the Jewish God any less of a murderous psychopath, it just makes the Jewish celebration of Passover a tiny bit less icky.

    I must disagree with chaining Jesus to Passover though. While both religions claim the Exodus story, they interpret it and use it very differently. Christians do not celebrate Passover as a holiday. They assign very different theological implications to the story. And Jews certainly don’t think anyone is going to be tortured eternally! To conflate Jewish holidays with Christian beliefs is sloppy at best and does a major disservice to both religions.

  • WoodyTanaka

    I’m not sure I agree that it makes it less icky. In my mind it makes it more troubling. The recognition that this god is a cold blooded murderer should lead them to abandon their religion, not merely make it less joyful.

    And, no, the adults and innocents did not die to make anyone free. Besides the fact that the entire thing never occurred and the Israelites were never slaves in Egypt, in the story, the deaths occurred because the god character wanted to cause the deaths. He hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to make it so the killings occurred.

    You are making the exact mistake I discussed before. The Jews celebrate Passover as a holiday and Christians don’t. So what? There is nothing exclusively or primarily Jewish about the Exodus story and your point that they use it differently would only lead go the conclusion that it is wrong to connect Jesus and Passover if you assert a Jewish primacy over the Exodus story, which is nonsense.