I woke up Wednesday to the news that an “anti-theist” in Chapel Hill, North Carolina had killed three Arabic Muslims. There are reports that it was caused by a fight over a parking space, but the Christian right will seize on this as proof that atheists are immoral and dangerous — just as do whenever a Christian commits some horrible act. You want disturbing irony? This is the cover photo on his Facebook page:
He condemns religion because it leads to killing people, then he goes out and kills people. What an asshole.
Let’s start with the obvious: I unequivocally condemn this ghastly brutality. So does every atheist I know. I was glad to see the Center for Inquiry put out this statement:
Everyone at the Center for Inquiry is horrified and deeply saddened by the senseless murders of Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. These three young people were clearly full of life, love, and a genuine desire to use their talents and intelligence to help others. The world is a little bleaker today for their loss. Our sincere condolences go out to their families, friends, and the Chapel Hill community.
“We hope that what ultimately emerges from this tragedy is a deeper understanding between people of all faiths and no faith that each one of us has the capacity to do good, to help in our own small ways to make the world a better place,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “Despite our differences in beliefs, we are all part of the global human community, and we are all responsible for each other.”
Added Lindsay, “The alleged killer is reported to have promoted ‘atheism’ in some of his writings as a ‘solution’ to world crises, but there is absolutely nothing about the lack of belief in a god that supports the murder of innocent people, or doing any kind of harm to anyone. As secular humanists, we at CFI will continue to work toward fostering a free and enlightened world for everyone, no matter who they are or what they believe.”
American Atheists as well:
The staff of American Atheists is saddened by the deaths of Yusor Mohammad, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Deah Barakat, who were killed on Wednesday, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. We mourn with their families, their friends, and with everyone touched by this tragedy.
“American Atheists condemns violence in any form, including violence against people of faith,” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “No person should be a victim of violence because of their religion. Anyone who would attack a person because of their religious beliefs, or lack thereof, attacks the very foundation of freedom. We must work to understand one another as people and recognize that our differences are an important part of our shared humanity.”
The obvious response to this tragedy is that he didn’t do it because of his atheism because atheism has no doctrines or tenets, but I certainly hope no one uses the “he wasn’t a true atheist” argument. Atheists are every bit as capable of and prone to violence and brutality as any other group of people. One of the distinctions between a rational atheism and religious belief is the recognition that all human beings are capable of both extraordinary kindness and horrifying brutality, often at the same time. In contrast to religious beliefs, we do not claim that being an atheist will make someone a better person.
I think one thing it brings into focus is the fact that atheism is not enough. Atheism only indicates you what you don’t believe, not what you do believe, not the ideals by which you live your life. For that we need more. For me, that more is humanism, but not all atheists are humanist. And some atheists, as we’ve learned from harsh experience over the last few years, are really terrible people. I see no need to run from that fact or pretend otherwise.
Update: And we have our first “he wasn’t a true atheist” sighting on Facebook, a guy named Scott Maddox posting on a Facebook thread. “”The guy is actually a Christian,” he declared without a shred of evidence. When asked to support that claim, he said:
“Because liking god delusion and no other books is obviously how a Christian imagines atheists to be. Either the profile is fake or he’s lying to not besmearch Christianity.”
My eyes nearly rolled out the door and down the street. And then he continued to defend that claim, again without a shred of evidence:
“Ok so my current theory is that there already was an atheist Craig hicks and his profile got hacked and the photo album “Me” was created in the past, but updates recently with media photos and the privacy settings were set to hide when these photos of the shooter were added to this profile.”…
“You guys are missing the point. The guy is anti religion not pro killing believers. It smells of fake profile. His real profile, if he even has one, is probably hidden already because that’s usually what happens when a high profile case happens.”…
“Also, who uploads thousands of atheist memes to their album? I just post them to my wall because it’s easier. Whoever did this hack, had time to upload a ton of data.”
Then he declared that he’s just “being skeptical.” No, you’re channeling Alex Jones’ idiotic paranoia. This is all just proof that atheists are as capable of mindless tribalism as any other group. Maddox and some others are doing exactly what they undoubtedly scoff at and mock when Christians use “he wasn’t a True Christian” argument. That’s ridiculous! Except when we do it, of course. Then it’s perfectly rational.