A Random Collection of Shootings Over Parking Spaces, and What They Tell Us About Violence and Beliefs

I stopped searching after 10 minutes. In other words, this is hardly an exhaustive list.

If you’ve clicked through and skimmed the articles, did you notice anything?

How about now?

I’ll give you a hint. Look for the mention of a belief system or a religion in any of these reports.

Interesting, no? We don’t know what these perps believe. The articles don’t tell us. If we go with the simplest statistical extrapolation, three-fourths of the shooters and stabbers are Christians. Of course, it doesn’t really matter one way or the other, unless they killed in the name of their religion, which seems highly unlikely.

Viewed another way, religion does matter, at least a little — if these are people who’ve gone around thinking that they have superior, God-given morals, and who’ve boasted that they live to love their neighbor, as Jesus instructed. In such a case, their faith didn’t propel them to kill — they killed despite of it. That still bothers me, but I certainly understand that no news reports mention their religious beliefs. Journalists didn’t visit the shooters’ Facebook pages trawling for a motive, and if they did, they didn’t view posted prayers or Christian memes as prima facie evidence that faith led to the crime.

Why is it different when the shooter is an atheist? Why so much feverish speculation that Craig Stephen Hicks, a godless man, unleashed his reprehensible and unpardonable violence on three Muslims last night because they were Muslims? The police say he and his victims got in an argument over parking, and he snapped. Of course, it makes no difference to Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, and their devastated, grieving families — or at least, it doesn’t bring the victims back. My heart goes out to their loved ones, and I bet yours does, too.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we have to sacrifice caution and carefulness. There is no reason to jump to conclusions.

Even some atheists have been losing sight of that. On Facebook, my colleague Ali A. Rizvi posted this today:

The reason I am an anti-theist is precisely because I reject “holy” books like the Quran and Bible which prescribe killing, silencing, and torturing (even after death) those who think differently. If you are an atheist who decides to adopt the same approach, you’re no different from the violent religious groups you say you’re opposed to.

If there was a “holy” book of atheism that prescribed killing others (which there isn’t), I would unequivocally condemn it and reject it too. … Atheism is not a belief system or a doctrine. It is simply an opposition to irrational beliefs. Those who are treating it as anything more than that, like Craig Stephen Hicks, should be condemned without excuse.

I liked that enough to repost it without reservation on my own Facebook page. But in the comments on his own page, Ali then does something odd: he takes it on faith — sorry — that

The hard truth… is that this guy did what he did in the name of atheism. … The man was an extreme atheist nut, and killed three visibly Muslim people. Unless we want to lose credibility in the same way that moderate Muslims do when they go into denial, we should accept and condemn what happened. If obvious evidence of any other motivating factor surfaces, I’ll take that back.

Rizvi is getting well ahead of the facts here. He asserts something that he doesn’t know to be true (“this guy did what he did in the name of atheism”), but he thinks it’s OK to publish it anyway because he can always “take that back.”

Even FOX News — FOX News! — is more careful than that. This morning, the FOX Facebook page stated,

Police are investigating a possible hate crime in the murder of three North Carolina Muslim students.

A few hours later, FOX amended the story:

UPDATE: The murder was motivated by an ongoing dispute over a parking space, despite widespread speculation the victims were targeted by an avowed atheist because of their Muslim faith, police said.

That isn’t necessarily the last word on the awful triple murder. It’s a safe bet that detectives and forensics experts are still investigating, and Hicks surely has many hours of police interviews ahead of him. We may yet learn that his strident anti-theism wholly or partially motivated him. I’m OK with floating that not-unreasonable theory — but until we know, wouldn’t it be wiser if we stopped substituting guesswork for facts?

(Image via Shutterstock)

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.


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