Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Do Atheists Need to Dial Back the Rhetoric?

My answer is:  "NO!"

And this grad student who has a column in the WaPo agrees. Excerpts:
No, atheism does not need a moment of reckoning... Neither does Christianity, Islam, or any other group

After the discovery that the man who murdered three Muslim students in North Carolina on Wednesday was an atheist, it was a matter of hours before the media conversation shifted from simple horror and mourning to a discussion of the attack’s implication for atheism.

But connecting the killings in any way to atheism rests on a dangerous underlying principle. To begin with, the link between the religious or political persuasions of criminals and their criminal behavior should always be approached cautiously. While the “parking dispute” narrative pushed by Richard Dawkins is thoroughly discreditable, the violently insane have all manner of obsessions and can crib any set of principles to rationalize their acts. To suggest that the atheistic beliefs of Craig Hicks turned him murderous is akin to saying that Jodie Foster caused Reagan to be shot, or that Judaism caused the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre.

The blaming of communities of belief for the lunatics among them is precisely what lets atheists wrongly tar Christianity itself for the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller. Viewing such acts as a necessary consequence of the belief, of the belief “taken to its extreme,” unfairly blames a demographic for the seeds of violence in its metaphysics, rather than grappling with the violence in human nature more broadly.

A similar discourse was applied to civil rights protesters after two police officers were shot in New York by a man who had voiced anti-police sentiments on social media.

Atheism has needed new spokespeople for a long time. But to draw links between Richard Dawkins and a deranged triple-murderer is spurious, and rests on a principle that is rightly rejected when applied to other groups. By all means, speak of atheism’s failings, but do not do so in the context of this tragedy, whose only political meaning is that bigotry and violence are as poisonous as ever.

But I disagree on one small point:  religious zealots do need to dial back the rhetoric.  Here's why:  To quote Ken Ham, they "have a book."  The example of the social warrior rhetoric in this piece was apt for us atheists.  Someone with a mental disorder that creates a fixation on one idea would naturally express their mental illness according to their beliefs.  John Hinckley is one example.  Many less famous people have been killed or terrorized by individuals with obsessions.  You could make the case that Craig Hicks may have had enough impulse control to resist shooting someone who wasn't a Muslim, but these muslims weren't exactly dressing "foreign."   From what I've seen, this particular couple had violated his sense of parking right-or-wrong once too many times, and instead of taking his gun to menace them he took his gun with him to kill them.  The situation is as much an argument against handguns as atheist rhetoric.  If he hadn't had a gun he might have keyed the offending car instead.

The difference with religious nutters is that the broader society supports the framework for their obsession -- supernatural justice.  The murderer of Doctor Tiller probably thought he was going to be forgiven by God.  Suicide bombers get rewarded in Heaven (and their families get a big payoff for sacrificing a son).  They have a book that is bigger (to them) than the rhetoricians who may have stoked their anger.  And they don't have to be off their rockers to be pushed over the edge toward violent behavior.  A true believer could be persuaded to a delusional point of view in the absence of mental illness.  An atheist or parking spot social justice warrior cannot.


L.Long said...

The religious have options....
if their book o'BS says 'gawd will punish....'
then fine!!! its gawds job not there's. If it says in anyway 'Kill the gay' as the buyBull does then yes they are PROMOTING the killing, and they should be held up as responsible for what their people do. But atheism DOES NOT HAVE A DOGMA!!! We do not say do this or do that, so any media trying to link this killing to atheism are just religious aholes looking for an agenda of fear.

Infidel753 said...

Also, a religion is a definable and connected set of beliefs which, at least theoretically, can be considered to have a significant influence on all adherents of that religion. Atheism is not a belief system; it's simply the absence of one specific belief.

It's reasonable to assume that, for example, all or most Muslims have certain beliefs and attitudes in common, and that behavior which is observed to be common among some Muslims has some predictive value for the behavior of other Muslims. No such commonalities exist among atheists, any more than commonalities could be expected to exist among all people who don't believe in unicorns.

LadyAtheist said...

Indeed, the whole point of religion is to dictate beliefs and behavior. Atheism dictates nothing.