Sunday, February 15, 2015

My take on the Chapel Hill murders

We still, as of this writing, have no definitive explanation for the murders of three muslims by atheist Craig Hicks, who voluntarily surrendered himself to police and is charged with these murders. The media have noted he is an atheist and the suggestion has been offered that this crime may have been motivated by his atheistic "hatred" of muslims and is not just a dispute about parking.  This despite his saying (on June 18, 2012), "While I am an outspoken atheist (obviously), I would never take away a persons [sic] right to religion. I would even fight for their rights to have religion if it ever came to that."  I don't know what the investigation will find as an explanation.  And the results of such an investigation may not reflect reality.

Whatever his motivations, the murder of three people is a heinous crime and it's quite appropriate for atheists to confirm that violence is not an acceptable way to resolve religious disputes.  I think such a  message should be directed primarily toward religious believers, as they seem to be the ones most inclined toward seeking violent "solutions" to disputes.  Need I enumerate all the myriad examples of violence committed as a result of religious extremism?  I think not.  [Please don't bring up atrocities perpetrated by atheist Communist dictators.]  Examples of atheists resorting to violence in the name of atheism are pretty uncommon.  This incident is conspicuous precisely because of its rarity.

Being an atheist carries with it no guarantee of anything, good or bad.  No doubt atheists have committed a full spectrum of crimes, but it's perhaps of some interest to note that our American prisons hold only a tiny percentage of atheists (around 0.2 percent).  It seems clear that being religious doesn't prevent believers from being incarcerated for criminal acts.  Since atheists have no sacred scriptures calling for them to commit violence on unbelievers, there are no universally-accepted atheist clergy who might sanction criminal acts of violence against believers, and there are no doctrines of any sort uniting atheists in a violent "crusade" against believers, then we are left with an inescapable conclusion:  Craig Hicks acted on his own volition to commit murder, for a reason or reasons yet to be determined.

Naturally, when religious apologists are called upon to explain why people professing to be of their faith have committed violent crimes, they like to say that these are not "true believers", with the obvious implication that true believers would never do such a thing.  It seems there are a lot of phony believers in prison.  Now I'm not going to say that Craig Hicks could not have been a "true atheist".  That would be quite comparable to the christian apologists' explanation for christians who commit vile crimes.  If it were valid to say that no atheist could commit a violent crime, then that might be an explanation.  Unfortunately, that's not a true statement.  However, there's considerable evidence that atheists are less likely to commit a violent act in the name of atheism than religious believers in the name of their religion.  Know any atheists who've flown planes into buildings lately?

Muslims have become very frightening to many people around the world.  You can equate islamophobia with racism if you wish, even though being a muslim is not a racial thing at all. But islamophobia is not paranoia;  it's based on the reality that muslim terrorists commit murderous criminal acts on innocent victims in the name of islam (that there are explanations for their terrorism is irrelevant). It's become evident that seemingly peaceful muslims living in our communities can be vicious terrorists.  A concern for islamic terrorism isn't just bigoted islamophobia!  Some of the more well-known atheist spokesmen, like Bill Maher, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins agree.  Muslims have yet to outgrow the propensity to violence codified in their "sacred" scriptures, and so they represent a much more worrisome threat than christianity at this time.  To think otherwise is to be oblivious to reality.  What worries me is that christian fear of islam will lead to a more militant form of christianity - not a more militant form of atheism.  Will the terrorists succeed in creating a real religious war by spreading fear in christians?  They're close to that in their clash with the jews of Israel.

I have no reason to apologize to anyone, as an atheist, for what Craig Hicks has done.  If it turns out to be a parking dispute, of course, that settles the issue.  If he did it from some spasm of anti-islamic fervor, I surely can say I had nothing to do with that - if he'd asked me, I'd have told him to back off and not give in to such passions - that it would be harmful to the cause of atheism to make martyrs of these innocent people. Some atheists seem willing to accept responsibility for the actions of this man.  I don't believe there's any reason for atheism to do so.  My friend RJ Evans has articulated this pretty well here.