Friday, February 27, 2015

Atheism Leads to Violence?

Does atheism inevitably lead to violence? Many in the media and in religious circles seem to make you want to think that is the case by the flurry of headlines that followed the tragedy in Chapel Hill. Three Muslim students (Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha) were shot and killed by Craig Hicks.

That isn't the part that has everyone talking though. That honor would go to the fact that Hicks is a self described atheist. As soon as that flash bulb went off the accusations and questions began. Did he kill them because of religion? Is this atheism's fault? Is atheism violent by nature?

The honest truth is that we don't know what Hicks' motivation was yet. There is a history between him and the deceased. But a parking dispute doesn't sound like something to kill over. Yet despite the lack of info, many a believer is pointing at Hicks' facebook page full of atheist pictures and stories just so they can say "See! He did it because he's an atheist!"

Personally I think that's a pretty silly conclusion to jump to, and not just because there's not sufficient evidence. In my opinion I can't see how atheism can be deemed to be what caused this violence. Atheism is not a belief system with a set of rules and demands. It is simply the lack of belief in gods. There's nothing more to it... you just don't believe.

I feel that some believers may feel as though I'm being hypocritical by saying that atheism can't be the cause when there are times where I would say that a particular religion can be considered the cause for some sort of atrocity. I would have to disagree with that claim. That's because where atheism has no holy book, rules, or creeds, religion does. Islam and Christianity both have passages that command the killing of those that don't believe.

The Bible has been used to subjugate woman, oppress homosexuals, justify slavery, and even justify genocide. Through history, there are monsters who have done horrors because they felt they were following the word of the Bible or Qur'an. Their beliefs came from and were justified by the teachings in their holy book. In those cases, I feel religion can be the spark that starts the forest fire. But atheism has no such holy text.

Maybe a potential answer is right at the top of Hicks' facebook page. His header image is none other than one in support of anti-theism. So it would seem that Hicks was more than just an atheist, he was an anti-theist. Anti-theists go further than simply not believing. They actively oppose religion.

Still, even though anti-theists are what many believers would call 'militant atheists', there's still nothing in there that calls for this kind of action. What Hicks did is abhorrent, and I don't know another atheist who would opine otherwise. In fact it has been my experience that atheists as a whole tend to greatly despise and avoid violence. It is possible that Hicks possessed a combination anti-theism and racism or some other prejudice? I could see that causing a perfect storm that could turn violent. But that would also be the case with a racist Christian, so is atheism really to be blamed?

Also, Hicks was also a bit of a gun nut. Why is that small fact being ignored by the conservative outlets that want to blame these killings on atheism? Where are the headlines that read 'Gun ownership leads to violence!' It seems that confirmation bias and sensationalizing wins the day.

Back on the notion that what Hicks did was due to him being an atheist... What about the many Christian murderers? Were they all Christianity's fault because they were Christians? What about the fact that the vast majority of US inmates are Christian? Why is the anomaly of an atheist criminal claimed to be indicative of a larger trend, while the regularity of religious criminals ignored? Surely if one atheist murderer is supposed to prove that atheism leads to violence, then the orders of magnitude more Christian murderers must 'prove' that Christianity leads to violence just that much more.

Obviously Christians will take issue with the notion that their religion is violent due to the acts of individuals. They will point to motive with a Christian killer, just as I suggest we need to learn Hicks' motive in these killings. Now they know how atheists feel about the Craig Hicks story. He does not speak for me, and I feel that what he did was terrible. My heart goes out to the families of the victims of this senseless act.

-Brain Hulk

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  1. Very articulately stated. It is a tragedy and I do no believe it was motivated by his religion, but more of either a fear of the student's religion combined with plain and simple ignorance.

    1. Sorry, I meant atheism or lack of belief in organized religion.

    2. No worries, I know what you meant and don't take offense to such semantics so easily as some do. :) No mater his motivation though, it was a tragedy that never should have happened.