David Harsanyi, Discussing the Chapel Hill Murders, Rejects the Equivalence Between Atheist and Muslim Violence

I’ve been following David Harsanyi‘s always thought-provoking writings for five or six years now. A former staff columnist at the Denver Post, Harsanyi is currently a senior editor at the Federalist. In his latest piece, he gives his take on the Chapel Hill shooting by an atheist gunman that left three young Muslims dead. His central point is that, as he says in the headline, “Atheists have nothing to apologize for.”

There is no excuse for any hate-motivated violence, but there is an enormous difference between the isolated murder of three people and the substantial theocratic movement within the Islamic world. The most obvious difference is that in the United States murders are condemned by nearly everyone without stipulation. Those murders are prosecuted by the state, they aren’t funded by it, and the murderers certainly aren’t celebrated as heroes.

David Harsanyi

Moreover, the philosophy of the New Atheists, who spend a lot of time condemning the illiberalism of political Islam, has no basis or tradition that could be misconstrued by anyone with a brain as violent. This is why, whatever you think of them, no radical contemporary atheist groups have burned people alive. Sam Harris does not demand the submission, or even the respect, of Christians. Richard Dawkins does not fund state-sponsored atheist cells or schools of extremist philosophy in your country. Christopher Hitchens made his case for atheism using open discourse that was provided by a majority-Christian nation. It’s the kind of free expression that can’t be found in any Islamic state. Never once, in any of his speeches or books, did Hitchens argue that believers should have fewer rights to proselytize than he did.

What this episode proves again is that Western apologists for illiberalism and terror refuse to make a differentiation between race and ideas. This is the easiest way to embrace moral equivalency and ignore proportionality and history. Their main goal, as always, is to discourage free expression.

I would add that I don’t think you’ll ever hear an atheist say, “He can’t be a true atheist if he did this.”

Atheist evildoers are not one bit more virtuous than Christian or Muslim or Jewish ones, nor are their crimes more excusable. But at least they don’t pretend otherwise. They don’t claim to have permission or divine guidance from a Higher Authority, a revered atheist figurehead, or a central text that covers what non-believers must and mustn’t do. Atheists have no shared orthodoxy or theology to violate.

Also, Craig Stephen Hicksdetestable crime doesn’t fit into any trend or continuum I’m aware of. Even if we allow that he was motivated by his anti-theism (which we actually don’t know yet), the last American crime that I remember involving an atheist who went violent on a believer was the 2013 case of James Maxie, to which the atheist community responded not just with swift condemnations, but by raising a substantial part of the medical-recovery fund for Pastor Norm Hayes, the man Maxie had beaten up.

On that note: As we’ve seen, atheists are much less prevalent in U.S. prisons, percentage-wise, than they are in the U.S. population. That points to almost the opposite of a violence problem.

Atheism is a known motivator of so few U.S. crimes that it is unique, or nearly so, among the creeds. Even Hicks’ berserk, abhorrent, and senseless act of violence does nothing to change that.

(Photo via the Federalist)

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.