Have you seen the headlines? The Evangelicals are all a-twitter on Facebook talking about the Chapel Hill Shooter and his New Atheist identity and anti-religious sentiments. After millennia of religious violence and in the face of continuing worldwide genocides of one religion against all others, we finally have an example of an atheist killing those of another faith… well not really. Apparently, in Chapel Hill, someone who happens to be atheist allegedly killed three who happened to be Muslim because of a parking space dispute. On the other hand, the Washington Post reports one victim’s father saw the shooter as anti-Muslim or at least anti-Arab. We atheists will be quick to downplay the shooter’s beliefs and find another excuse. But we are also quick to point to religious motivations for other atrocities. That is a contradiction. We should act 100% the same when faced with violence carried out by some who is religious.
Just to make sure no one misses it, let me be clear: The headline of this article refers to the media hype about this issue not the reality of the situation.
The Virginia Tech shooter was angry at God but certainly Christian. The shooting, however, had nothing to do with his beliefs. Anders Breivik posted a manifesto with a cross on the front and killed over 90 people. This was explicitly due to his religious beliefs but Christians tried to distance themselves from him. US culture and atheist culture struggle mightily with the question of how to denounce Islamist terrorism without denouncing all Muslims. Religious people are quick to point to Stalin or Mao as those who killed for atheism. They were most likely atheist, but they didn’t kill because of their beliefs. Those who commit atrocities may have strong beliefs about religion but that does not necessarily mean they committed atrocities because of their beliefs.
Prominent atheist spokesperson Richard Dawkins has already spoken out to denounce the killings. He has immediately been questioned by those who think we atheists shouldn’t have to denounce a killing not related to atheist beliefs. But why not? The first common ground is to denounce the violence. We should denounce violence whether or not we share something in common with the person who may have committed the violence. We should look closely to understand the many motivations they may have had. We cannot just dismiss violence as having not explanation. We cannot just pick one reason and ignore all others. Violence plagues the human species as do dogmatism and blind faith. When faced with atrocities, we should look for what we all can do to change. And just maybe we might each have to question our own beliefs. But for the grace of God … but for the serendipity of my own circumstances… go I, or you.
And consider this hard question: Will atheists and humanists in the area take time to visit? We can be sure that Christians and Muslims have strong communities of belief in jails and prisons. In Oregon, an atheist was given an almost unprecedented religious accommodation for his atheist beliefs. Without assuming guilt, we know Hicks has turned himself in and is detained now. Even if he is known to be a killer, should he be simply thrown away? Should we turn our backs on a black sheep? I think many nontheists agree with the Humanist Manifesto III which says, “We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity”. So how do we express those values toward a killer, a killer with a wife and a family? I hasten to add that our first and greatest sympathies and support should be toward the victims and their families.Below I have posted, with permission, an insightful comment from Alison Smith. She posted on alleged Shooter Hicks’s facebook page. Read on:
Several people have messaged me to make me aware that I am Facebook friends with Chapel Hill Shooter Craig Hicks, and some have responded in confusion that I still am, and haven’t unfriended or blocked. So, here is some explanation.
I don’t condone murder. I hope Craig pays dearly for his crimes.
This is being touted in the media as a hate crime.
So far, there is no evidence that is true. In fact, recent evidence indicates this was over a parking dispute. They were neighbors.
Now, I feel as though if I unfriend/block, I am tacitly supporting media rhetoric – that I am backing away from an argument because I find it uncomfortable to be associated with it.
And that’s not really my style. Because here’s the thing – I’m friends with nearly 5,000 people, and am being followed by around 300. Some of you are great examples of human beings. Some of you are probably terrible examples. That doesn’t change that I have chosen to share my life with you, and to share in yours.
If I find out that you’ve done something awful, my response is not going to be to run away and try not to get any of your filth on me. Determining motivations is important. Asking questions is important.
If you are friends with this man, you can browse right on through his statuses and see that he sounds an awful lot like any one of us. Some of you have been disturbed by that, thinking of him as a monster in our midst, calling him a terrorist.
I think, instead, this illustrates that we all have the capacity to commit monstrous acts.
Now, again, in case this is still unclear – I do not condone murder. But I also don’t condone classifying people and actions under labels to keep them removed from me.
And also – I really dislike that this has become a story about an atheist and Muslims. These are people – with lives and dreams; who have experienced love and have families. You do the victims a disservice by classifying them as only a headline. #muslimlivesmatter. Well, no shit. All lives matter. Even killers’ lives matter.
Of course, as more information comes to light, I will alter my view in order to examine it. But at this stage, I am not going to bow to what the headlines want me to believe, and I am not unfriending anyone.
I apologize if that makes you unfriend me. It’s been lovely sharing with you.