This morning, The Washington Post, Fox News, and The Daily Mail, among many new media websites, have been covering an attack that took place in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, wherein three young Muslim students were killed by a 46-year-old atheist who turned himself in after the crime. The widespread speculation about his atheism has led to a series of proclamations very similar to the kind that mine and my colleagues use: that faith–or in this case, anti-faith–was responsible for heinous and tragic acts.
Despite the fact that Fox News has reported that the attack was caused over a parking space and not religious bias (they state their source is from a police report which, if true, seems more solid to me than CNN’s glossing over the murderer’s Facebook page in order to find motivation), I’m not entirely convinced that any motive that might be stated could criminalize the idea of atheism or the atheist community’s aims and goals, even if he were to outright comment something as blatant as: “I killed them for atheism.”
This sounds immediately like a hypocritical statement. But, while it is true that faiths like Islam have inked within their primary tenets of morality mandates to slaughter those who leave the religion or those who outright oppose it, as do Christianity and Judaism with equally horrific language, we must absolutely remember that atheism does not have a series of standard social doctrines. We do not have a Bible. We do not have a Koran. The atheist mentality is stemmed from the simple truth that there are no gods, and thus the individual acts on philosophical bases on his own choosing. This contemptible man, whether over a parking spot or because of an innate psychopathy or any other reason, cannot be said to have killed anyone because his non-god told him to do it. In this instance, “atheism” is exactly as responsible for this repellent event as it was for the Gulag or the Cambodian Killing Fields–that is to say: not at all.
Killing someone because you have a faith that demands it is a legitimate charge. But one doesn’t get assigned missions from the void.
A social, political, or economic factor may have come into play — but I’m not as big on speculation as many of the current social media seems to be. What we have is a tragedy–that three young students with apparently remarkable potential were gunned down without sincere provocation in the prime of their life. There is no condolence, contrition, or platitude powerful enough to assuage such a vomitous act. My heart, with all sincerity, goes out to the families and the memories of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, Razan Abu-Salha. For their sake, and the sake of a civilized world in which bloodshed is committed for reasons that don’t require rabid speculation, let’s not rush to erroneously villainize atheism in order to cheaply balance the scales of a global, divided debate. We owe it to them and to ourselves to have a bit more honesty than that.