When Atheists Kill – (or when our assumptions go wild).

When Atheists Kill – (or when our assumptions go wild). February 11, 2015


10968372_10152805486440914_7276563995922633153_n  This may be an inconvenient truth in certain quarters, but Christians and Muslims don’t have a monopoly on waging war or killing people for ideological reasons. Indeed, the two worst genocides in human history were waged by atheists – Stalin and Mao.

A horrible triple murder that took place last night in North Carolina may prove to be the latest instance of a militant atheist killing – at least in part- due to his prominently declared ideology.

“A call to the Chapel Hill Police Department confirms the arrest of one Craig Stephen Hicks. 46 years old. Craig Stephen Hicks turned himself in to the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office in Pittsboro, NC.  The crime scene location is governed by Durham County, NC. Hicks has been transferred to the Durham County Jail.

According to the press release from the Chapel Hill Police the three victims were Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, of Chapel Hill, Yusor Mohammad, 21, of Chapel Hill, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh The victims were shot in the head.  More information will be available later today. Hicks it is reported has been charged with three counts of First Degree Murder.

An atheist member of a social media forum I’m active with said, “It’s possible his atheism did not play a role in this murder. I think we should demand the facts before we go around accusing his atheism as a reason. Here is a report that claims this man had issues with his victims regarding parking. That may have had more to do with it than his atheism. Until we know for sure, we need to remind people to wait for the facts first before assuming that atheism has anything to do with it.”

To which another member responded saying, “I agree with you, but then we should all remember this argument when a religious person does this, too.”

One news source indicated that this violence may’ve arisen from a “parking dispute with neighbors.” And, that may be indeed part of the case. Many factors tend to be involved when humans kill fellow humans.

However, another news source indicates that Hicks is an atheist with a history of intimidating the very people who he killed execution style. His Facebook page makes it plain to see that he is an atheist who is clearly proud of his .38 revolver.

His Facebook profile pic  doesn’t feature a photo of him  – but rather an image of his primary affinity group “Atheists for Equality.” It seems clear that he identifies as being an atheist – to the point where that is his identity.
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Well, let’s give Mr. Hicks what he wants- to be treated equally. For years now, many atheists quickly assume that the motive of various people who commit all manner of crimes – is the fact they’re religious – generally Muslim or Christian. Well, equality would suggest that turn-about is fair play.

So, a surface level journalist might take note of the following and make over-stated declarations because of them.

The cover photo for his Facebook page is militant — and deeply ironic.
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Adding credence to the concept of atheists having animosity toward Muslims in particular, someone who I know and trust shared these words this morning on an inter-faith Facebook page:

“I have many atheist friends and respect many in the atheist community, but much of the hate speech against Muslims that I have heard over the past few years has been from within some of those atheist communities, so this isn’t very surprising. For anyone to think that Christians are Muslims worst rivals would be very misled. I hope groups like this forum in fact help us become some of each others best allies by focusing on our common heritage of peace, love, and community.

Moreover, a case could seemingly be made that Hicks was driven to commit this dastardly deed by the constant condescending hatred the atheist “movement” puts out. Explore the memes he’d been exposed to here. 

And yet, perhaps most striking is the fact that Hicks, this clearly ideologically driven individual, is also someone who posts occasional memes and video clips that have nothing to due with atheism or religion, and instead are notably cute, sentimental, funny, and even sweet. This is inconvenient to we who would wish to make him an “atheist monster.”

Hicks’ most recent post is a viral video of a man training a puppy to ding a bell to request treats. Sort of a reverse of what psychologist Pavlov did with his salivating dogs.

 One of the many comments that I came across on articles about Hicks’ crime is this “Blood is on the hands of the GOP and FOX news.”  This of course would suggest that Hicks was in some way influenced, motivated, and/or triggered by hyperbolic and inflammatory rhetoric from the pundits on Fox News. There can be little denying that that “news” channel has a long track record of fanning the flames of xenophobia. Some even refer to it as “Fox’s War on Islam.”Ironically, to the extent that this is true, Hicks may’ve been triggered to turn his frustration about a parking dispute into willingness to commit lethal violence against those particular persons due to their being Muslims. In this scenario, Fox rings the bells that help cause people to kill.

Given that many, if not most, mass killers in recent history have suffered from some form of inadequately treated mental illness, it seems statistically likely Hicks does too. Indeed, it may be that simple -and that his murders had nothing to do with his atheism.

A recent video that is making the rounds features prominent atheist Stephen Fry pronouncing a scathing rebuke to God. That rebuke would actually have some merit if the only form of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam were the easy to lampoon fundamentalist kinds that distort the Bible and Quran by interpreting them overly literally. The thing is, those aren’t the only forms of any of those faith traditions. The over-whelming majority of the people involved in each of those faiths are not fundamentalists. And progressive forms of each of them are on the rise. [Tragically, Hicks seem to have been unaware of the first two Wild Goose Festivals which were held at a camp-ground right near where he lives – outside of Pittsboro, NC.]

It’s all too common for people of any tribe to project onto the other tribes their own tendencies. It’s all too common for members of the various theological camps to assume and assert the worst about members of the rivaling tribes. Yet, it is a truism that that which we criticize most in others, tends to be that which we struggle with most ourselves.

A lesson that might be learned here is to avoid rigid, either/or and all/or nothing ways of viewing fellow humans – including groups of humans such as theists, Muslims, Christians, Jews, and agnostics and atheists.  Hicks described and defined himself with these words underneath a photo of him sporting a new suit – this past Christmas Eve: Modern me: same ugly, stupid, fat person with less hair now.

Craig, you want to be treated fairly. How about if we instead treat you a bit more than fairly? 

While it is the case that what you did to those three fellow human beings was stupid and and ugly, let’s call forth the Post-modern you – the Craig who is a full human being who has many motivations and many strengths and weaknesses – perhaps including mental illness.

Let’s call forth the Craig who is fully remorse, fully contrite, fully repentant, and fully willing to serve life behind bars. Let’s call forth the Craig who is fully willing to rigorously scrutinize his life, let go of xenophobia, let go of hate, let go of fear, and who is fully willing to treat Muslims and other religious persons who you meet in prison – as well as he’d like them to treat him. Let’s call forth the beautiful loved, forgiven, and fully accepted child of God – or the universe – who you are.

“May those who have eyes to see, see.”

xx Roger
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p.s.. Since I wrote this piece, I’ve noticed a number of atheists posting comments on various forums saying variations of “Hicks wasn’t a true atheist since he engaged in violence.” I can’t help but think of the numerous times that numerous atheists have posted comments to various articles or comments that were defending certain people who identified as Christian – by calling out the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. Those who dish out that logical rebuke, need to be prepared to receive it. Bottom line. We’re all just humans – and none of us are fully consistent, logical, immune to self-sabotage or dysfunction.

Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor who directs the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and is author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity

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